One of my favorite aspects of gardening is that I get to eat what I grow. Local, fresh, organic produce that is nutritious and tastes fantastic. Unfortunately, that food doesn’t just taste fantastic to me. It tastes fantastic for everything, including garden pests. Below is a list of 12 common garden pests and organic solutions to deal with them.
Proactive Pest Control
The best way to deal with common garden pests is to not have them. And while that perfect world doesn’t actually exist, there are a few ways to create an environment that is less susceptible to pests. A key way is to have healthy soil and therefore healthy plants. Healthy plants are less likely to be damaged by pests. You can have healthy soil by making sure it has the right nutrients with composting and other fertilizers, along with using proper crop rotation in your garden.
You can also use companion planting so that you don’t group plants together that are susceptible to the same types of pests.
For larger pests, such as birds and rodents, and neighbors (I jest.. maybe) you can use borders, fences, and netting to help prevent larger animals from crawling or flying into your vegetable garden.
And for some produce, such as tomatoes, I find that picking fruit early before it’s fully ripe ensures I get to be the one who eats them (after they finish ripening on the counter).
12 Common Garden Pests
Below is a list of 12 common garden pests that I have found in my own backyard garden, and organic solutions to help deter each. Depending on your location you may have other common garden pests that are not included in the list below.
Aphids are small little insects that seem to multiply overnight and suck the nutrient-rich sap out of the leaves of your plants.
Identification: Look under your leaves, especially squash, cucumber, and melon leaves. If you see your leaves covered with tiny little yellowish ovals, you’ve got aphids.
Organic Solutions: Aphids are pretty easy to get rid of. Organic solutions include neem oil, ladybugs, diluted soap in water, insecticidal soap, and even a blast of water.
2. Cut Worms
Cutworms are brownish or greenish caterpillars that you can sometimes find curled into a ball in your soil. They feed at night and burrow into the soil during the day.
Identification: Cutworms do the most damage to tender corn plants or any other small, tender plants. If one of your plants appears to have been cut with a pair of scissors at ground level, and your little plant is detached from the ground and just lying there, there’s a good chance you’ve got cutworms.
Organic Solutions: Make plant collars that go around your tender plants while they’re still young. Toilet paper rolls can work for this. Creating a ring of coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth, or eggshells sprinkled around your plants can help.
3. Cabbage Worms
Cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars that eat cabbage family crops.
Identification: Irregular holes in your cabbage leaves or other cabbage family crops.
Organic Solutions: Companion planting can help. Row covers can prevent eggs from being laid. Cornmeal and diatomaceous earth being sprinkled can also help.
Leafminers are insect larvae that eat through your leaves, leaving behind a trail of where they were.
Identification: You can tell you have leafminers by noticing the scribble-like markings on your leaves. The damage done is mostly aesthetic.
Organic Solutions: You can remove the leaves with leafminer trails. Neem oil and insecticidal soap can help at various stages, but they won’t eliminate your leafminers.
5. Mealy Bugs
Small white bugs found in warm, moist climates that will suck the sap from your plants.
Identification: Small white cottony masses found on leaves, stems, and fruit of plants. Can causes leaves to yellow and curl. Common with greenhouses, houseplants, avocado, and other fruit trees.
Organic Solutions: include neem oil, insecticidal soap, and even a sharp blast of water (but not so strong that it damages your plant).
6. Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails are nocturnal creatures that have preferences for low-hanging plants in shaded damp areas.
Identification: A slimy trail in your garden can be a sign that you have slugs or snails in your garden
Organic Solutions: Beer in a shallow plate will attract slugs away from your plants. A ring of diatomaceous earth or eggshells added around your plants can help deter them as well.
7. Spider Mites
Spider mites are like teeny tiny spiders. Relatives to the spider. They’re reddish brown or pale in color. They prefer hot and dry conditions, live underneath leaves, and feed on plants by sucking the sap from them.
Identification: Commonly found on houseplants and under leaves. Leaves can turn yellow, dry up, or drop off.
Organic Solutions: ladybugs, increased humidity, neem oil, and insecticidal soap can help.
8. Squash Vine Borers
Squash vine borers are the larvae of a black and orange moth that looks more like a wasp which is active during the day. They literally bore into squash stems, which are hollow, and feed on them. This can destroy the plant.
Identification: Commonly found around squash plants. If you notice a leaf or branch of your plant go limp, chances are if you look closely you’ll find a hole somewhere at the base of the stem. Once a vine borer has gotten into the stem of your plant, there’s a good chance it won’t survive, and there’s very little you can do. Spraying the plant won’t help once the vine borer is inside.
9. Tomato Hornworms
Tomato hornworms are giant green caterpillars that are found on tomato plants as shown below.
Identification: Tomato hornworms focus on tomato plants. If you’re not growing tomatoes you probably won’t have an issue, though you may also find them around your pepper plants. Tomato hornworms sort of blend in, but if you start noticing branches going MIA overnight, spend a few minutes staring at your plant until you find them.
Organic Solutions: The best way I have found is to check the underside of the tomato leaves early in the season. If you see a bunch of little eggs clustered together under any of your leaves, pinch them off and discard. It’ll usually just be a couple of leaves and stops the issue before it starts. If you miss the eggs, you’ll probably end up having to handpick the tomato hornworms off your plant. You probably won’t find too many, but even one can do a lot of damage.
Borage deters tomato hornworms. When I started planting borage as a companion plant I noticed fewer tomato hornworms. It didn’t eliminate them, but I found I had fewer.
Finches, bluejays, and blackbirds are also like tomato hornworms. So if you have a birdbath or bird feeders to attract birds to your yard they will probably go after those tomato hornworms. If you also grow fruit, then this might not be something you want to do, as the birds may go after that as well.
Whiteflies are another insect that sucks the sap out of plants. They can cause leaves to yellow and plants to become weak and susceptible to disease.
Identification: Check the underside of leaves for little whiteflies.
Organic Solutions: include neem oil, ladybugs, diluted soap in water, insecticidal soap, and even a blast of water.
Birds are more likely to go after fruit, depending on the variety. (With the exception of sandhill cranes which will stab your cabbage for sport, so I’ve heard). Berry bushes and fruit trees should be protected if you’re concerned. Fruit should be picked when it’s ripe and not left on the tree. I personally don’t have any bird issues with citrus. Blueberries and stonefruit, like peaches, are what I’ve noticed to get the most attention.
Identification: If your blueberries go missing overnight, or you see small bites out of fruit you may have bird issues.
Organic Solutions: Bird netting helps, as long as it doesn’t touch the fruit where a bird could just peck right through it. Hanging shiny reflective objects in your garden can deter them.
12. Larger Animals
A few rodents and additional animals you might find in your backyard garden include raccoons, opossums, armadillos, rabbits, squirrels, mice, rats, voles, and deer.
Identification: Usually when I find holes and plants dug up I can rule out birds and insects. Also, the large consumption of plants overnight is another telltale sign of a larger furry friend. And by a friend… I mean not.
Organic Solutions: Borders, nettings, and fencing can help deter larger animals and keep them out of your garden. Keeping your garden clean and tidy can also help keep critters out. Don’t let fallen fruit sit in your garden.
What’s your most common garden pest? Comment below!