Common Garden Critters
How to Identify & Properly Handle Them
For the vast majority of us the question is not WILL we deal with aphids but rather WHEN will these nasty little critters arrive. Aphids are soft-bodied insects that use their piercing sucking mouthparts to feed on plant sap. You will find them in mass numbers along the stems and on the underside of leaves. If left untreated aphids will cause the leaves to turn yellow & wilt, and they can eventually kill the plant (especially if it's an annual).
You have several options in treating for aphids. The best defense is an offense. Take the time to closely examine your plants at least once a week. If you see the white flakes (as seen above on the leaf) then you've got aphids. Insecticidal soaps are an effective way to safely get rid of aphids, but you MUST make sure that you spray all the stems and underside of leaves to get the spray to come into contact with the aphids. Insecticidal soap works only if it comes into contact with the bug, there is no residual effects.
If your plants begin to literally disappear in front of your eyes in just a matter of a day or two then caterpillars could be the culprit. These voracious villains find the leaves of our garden plants simply irresistible. Look for leaves that have obviously been chewed on or they have been completely removed back to the stem. Another telltale sign is their black pelleted poop. If you see little black balls on your leaves then odds are you have a caterpillar above that leaf happily eating your plant.
Treatment for caterpillars can vary depending on the variety and number present. For the large Tomato Hornworm (as seen in the far left picture), you can easily pick them off the plant and squish them. (They are large, juicy caterpillars but you will normally only have 1-3 of them on a plant.) For smaller caterpillars or if you have a large infestation of them you can use Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which is a naturally-occurring bacteria that makes pests sick when they eat it. After the insects eat the bacteria, their guts rupture and they die. Bt is therefore one of the safest natural pesticides you can use in terms of controlling caterpillar pests of vegetables or fruits without harming beneficial insects.
If you're a Southerner then you are all too familiar with this pesky beetle. These destructive and invasive bugs have a wide appetite and will devour your grass, trees, perennials, and annuals. The good thing about them is that they are easy to spot so you won't be left guessing who the culprit is.
Controlling Japanese beetles is one of the trickiest battles a gardener faces. The safest (yet most time consuming method) is to go out in the cool of the morning with a bucket of soapy water and scrape the beetles off the plants into the bucket. After a time the beetles will drown and then you can empty the bucket. A common yet "controversial" method is to set out beetle traps. These traps are effective in trapping the beetles but the controversy lies within that if the traps are not set in the proper place they can actually bring more beetles into your yard. And that just defeats the whole purpose doesn't it? There are insecticides on the market that you can spray on your plants that are effective in killing the beetles but they can also cause harm to beneficial insects that might also visit the plant. You as a gardener will have to decide what is the best method for your garden in controlling these destructive pests.
Writing Spider aka 'Charlotte'
Contrary to what some people believe, not all bugs are bad. In fact if we didn't have insects in this world we would be in major trouble! As gardeners we should not only desire to have beneficial bugs in our gardens, but we should create an environment that is an inviting home for them. Ladybugs, spiders, and praying mantises are some of the most common beneficial bugs that you are likely to find in your garden. They all are great hunters of the destructive pests that like to harm your plants. It is important to choose herbicides and insecticides that do not harm these garden friends.
Bees are one of the hardest workers in your garden and thankfully in recent years the public has become aware on how important these little winged friends are to us all. Bees are one of the most prolific pollinators and without them we wouldn't have fruits, vegetables, and some flowers & trees. There are many people who are very afraid of these sweet friends but they shouldn't be! Both honeybees & bumblebees are very gentle and friendly as long as you do not harass them. I have spent many years in the garden surrounded by them and I have never gotten stung by one. A great way to tell the difference between a honeybee (our friend) and a yellow-jacket (not our friend) is that honeybees are hairy. It is easy to spot their fuzzy little bodies compared to the sleek bodied yellow-jacket.