Vegetable garden pests identification

How to Keep Insects and Animals Out of Your Garden

Ants

To get rid of ants for good, sprinkle cornmeal near ant hills. They’ll eat it, but they can’t digest it, which will cause them to die out. Wait a couple of weeks and your ant problem will improve.

Aphids

For aphids, chop up an onion, place it in a cup of water, and puree it until it’s liquid. Pour the concoction into a plastic spray bottle and use it to mist the plants aphids are attracted to. For best results, try it at dawn before the sun starts blazing.

Spider Mites

Spider Mites can be a nightmare for trees. To get rid of spider mites, take a pound of flour, five gallons of water, and a cup of buttermilk, mix it all together in a large bucket, and put it in a plastic spray bottle. Use it on your trees once a week, and that should keep the mite population under control.

Slugs and Snails

Did you know that snails and slugs like beer almost as much as people do? If you’re tired of these slimy pests invading your garden, leave a flat, shallow container—such as a pie tin—in your garden and fill it with a can of beer. Let it sit there for a couple of days, and you’ll probably find it full of drowned slugs.

Magic Bug Spray

If you have a general insect problem, or aren’t sure which nasty critter is the one destroying your plants, you can infuse your garden with a garlicky odor that will be unpleasant to insects—we call it our “magic bug spray.” Take 1/4 cup garlic and mix it with 2 cups water in a blender, strain it with an old nylon stocking, and scrape the paste into a jar. Add 2 teaspoons mineral oil and several squirts of liquid dish detergent. Carefully replace the lid on the jar and shake well. Transfer the solution to a spray bottle and use it on your garden in the early morning hours to keep insects away. It’s also great for spraying around your deck to keep away flying insects like flies and mosquitoes!

Deer

If deer are getting to your flower garden, throw a few mothballs on the ground. Deer hate the smell of mothballs. (Who doesn’t?)

Raccoons

To get rid of raccoons, try this equivalent of a phony “Beware of Dog” sign: distribute dog hair around your property. You can also try planting cucumbers, which both skunks and raccoons avoid like the plague.

Cats and Squirrels

First mix 1/3 cup flour, 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, and 2 tablespoons powdered mustard. Then use the mixture to sprinkle around the perimeter of your yard. Or, mix it with 4 cups water and 4 cups vinegar to make a spray.

For more all-natural ways to get rid of pests, check out our Bug and Pest Natural Remedies board on Pinterest. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for our Tip of the Day!

The suggestions offered here are for informational purposes only. The Authors and Publisher do not accept liability for damages arising from the use, attempted use, misuse or application of any of the suggestions included on this website.

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Are you frustrated by finding pests in the garden? Don’t waste time and money treating pests. Instead, follow this guide for preventing garden pests from becoming a problem at all.

This article may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

Pest problems can be disappointing when a hopeful garden season ends abruptly because of a pest infestation. This guide will help you better understand how your garden works so you can grow your best crops. Preventing garden pests is an essential part of your garden maintenance plan.

The Truth About Organic Pesticides

Dealing with pests and disease is a natural part of gardening. Even expert gardeners and farmers experience crop failure from time to time.

PREVENTING garden pests is far easier (and more fun!) than dealing with pest outbreaks AFTER they show up.

You might be surprised to learn that I don’t use pesticide sprays in the garden, even organic or homemade products. That’s because some natural solutions can be as toxic as chemical products to soil life.

Pesticides of any kind (even organic and homemade products) can kill beneficial insects. Killing insects is their purpose, after all! They can alter the pH balance of the soil, leave a toxic residue on the crop, destroy beneficial soil microbes, or a combination of these consequences.

Soap-and-water spray, for example, is commonly used for natural pest control. But it might also kill beneficial soil microbes and change the soil pH, depending on the brand and dilution.

I don’t want to damage my garden ecosystem or poison crops I eat, so I don’t fight pests. If I fail at preventing them, then I learn from them, but I don’t spray.

Naturally Preventing Garden Pests

One of the keys to natural pest management is patience. For example, when we replaced our front lawn with an edible landscape, we had quite a few pest problems. I was really disappointed—we had put so much time, money, and effort into creating the garden. I wanted to save it from being devoured by pests!

Instead of making a rash action, however, I waited, and continued to practice all of the following techniques. While we were doing our part, the beneficial soil microbes were getting acquainted with this new environment. These soil organisms duked it out and eventually came into a balance.

We saw progressively more improvement each year as the soil ecosystem matured.

What do soil microbes have to do with pests?

The beneficial soil microbes help feed plants, keeping them healthy and well-protected against pests. If we had sprayed anything, it would have disrupted their establishment period and delayed the balance we desired.

It could have become a never-ending dependence on pesticides. Instead, patience was the answer.

our edible front yard

Read more: See How Easily You Can Create an Edible Landscape

12 Steps to Preventing Garden Pests

The following are some ways for preventing pests from taking over your garden without the use of chemicals.

For an example of how this can play out for a specific crop, see: Grow the Best Cucumbers with These 12 Steps

#1: Encourage healthy soil.

Healthy soil makes healthy plants with strong immune systems, which are better able to fight off diseases and pests. Healthy soils feed and shelter beneficial soil life.

Natural fertilizers help build healthy soil. Fish and seaweed fertilizer, used once a month, can activate soil microbes.

See: 7 Ways to Improve Soil Quality

#2: Choose resistant varieties.

This is an easy tip for preventing garden pests: Choose plant varieties that are naturally resistant to pests. Seed catalogs list varieties that are known for resistance.

For example, tromboncino squash appears to be more resistant to pests than other summer squash varieties.

Check out this article for more interesting notes on choosing resistant varieties.

#3: Plant in the right place.

Reserve plants that need full sun for full sun areas. Likewise, plant crops according to water needs. If a crop requires more water to stay healthy, grow it in an area that stays moist longer.

Crops may tolerate less than ideal conditions for a time, but eventually the stress will weaken them and they can succumb to pests. Planting in the right place is an easy step toward preventing garden pests.

#4: Attract beneficial insects.

Beneficial insects prey on pests, and they will naturally come to your garden in search of nectar, pollen, and shelter. Encourage them to stick around by growing flowers that meet these needs.

For example, some of my favorite annuals are: calendula, coriander, and sweet alyssum.

See: 6 Flowers to Grow in the Vegetable Garden

Plant tall flowers and perennials at the garden edge, such as: comfrey, sunflowers, and yarrow.

See: What is Comfrey and How to Grow It

Provide beneficial insects with habitat and they will lay their eggs nearby to grow an army. Beneficial insect patrols are key in preventing garden pests.

Swiss chard & sweet alyssum border

#5: Repel pests.

Strong-scented herbs can deter pests when planted among or near the vegetables. This is a super-easy way to support your efforts in preventing garden pests.

Some of my favorite strong-scented annuals include calendula, coriander, and garlic.

Plant strong-scented, perennial herbs at the edge. Anise hyssop, chives, and thyme are some of my favorites.

See: Grow Chives for the Best Strawberries

Would you like to learn more about improving the biodiversity of your garden to reduce maintenance and increase yield?

You’ll find loads of information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.

#6: Rotate crops.

Crop rotation confuses pests, reduces their concentration in specific areas, and helps you manage soil fertility.

Leave two to three years between planting members of the same crop family in a particular area.

Of course, this can be challenging in a small or shady garden. However, if a crop is overcome by a pest, don’t plant it in that spot for at least two years. Or plant a cover crop to allow that area to rest for a season.

This is a difficult step to take in preventing garden pests, but your patience will pay off.

#7: Practice interplanting.

Interplanting means alternating specific crops, herbs, and flowers to confuse pests. Pests enjoy monocrops, which is why industrial farms are often heavily sprayed with pesticides. Instead of monocrops, alternate rows of vegetables with rows of beneficial insect-attracting and pest-repelling herbs and flowers.

Confusing pests is a sneaky trick for preventing garden pests from finding your crops. For example, I interplant my cabbage family crops with cilantro, calendula, and onions.

See: 7 Reasons to Grow Calendula.

aphids on calendula stalks (ladybug buffet!)

#8: Use floating row covers.

Summer-weight row cover allows water and light to penetrate while keeping pests out. You may only need to use floating row cover over young plants until they’re established. Weigh down the sides with heavy objects like bricks or rocks.

If a particular pest on a particular crop seems to be a recurring problem for you—and you’ve followed the other tips in this article to the letter—you might consider using permanent low tunnel hoops for the problem crop.

Be sure to lift the cover for a few hours each morning to let pollinators in.

#9: Create permanent walkways.

Permanent pathways encourage beneficial insects while temporary pathways that are tilled each year destroy them and their habitat.

The type of pathway material you use will depend on your specific situation. White clover, wood chips, or gravel are a few of my favorites.

Having permanent pathways allows you to have permanent beds where you can continue to build fertility over time. Better fertility can, of course, support your garden’s resistance to ‘catching a bug’.

#10: Found a few pests? Leave them be.

Having a few pests is actually a good thing. Seems counterproductive, but without a few pest “baits”, the beneficial insects that dine on them wouldn’t stick around! Beneficial insects are attracted to gardens that have their favorite foods.

In other words, the occasional pest “bait” is okay.

#11: Handle an outbreak.

When a few pests turn into an outbreak, remove infested plants to keep the damage from spreading.

It bears repeating that I don’t promote treating pests with pesticides—organic or not. Rather, start back at #1 above and work through the prevention tactics in this guide.

However, if you’re going to treat an outbreak, identify pests, beneficial insects, AND the larval stages of each. Take a look at the photo below: Did you know that these critters are ladybug larvae, a precious beneficial insect?

Destroying beneficial insects reduces the ability of your garden ecosystem to self-regulate.

TIP: Click here for a database of photos for beneficial insects and pests throughout their life cycles.

ladybug larvae on kale (beneficial predators!)

#12: Be proactive rather than reactive.

A pest outbreak is an opportunity to learn how to strengthen your garden ecosystem.

Example: Is your soil lacking a mineral that is making your plants sick enough to catch a “bug”? If so, what organic material might supply it?

Having a few pests is a natural part of gardening. It reminds me that I want to work with nature rather than against it. I choose NOT to wage war on nature, even when it means a lesson in patience.

TRACKING PESTS:

Keep notes of the pests you encounter, when they showed up, what treatments you try, and the outcome of those actions. When we become detectives, we can determine where to focus our attention in our journey to preventing garden pests.

With the purchase of my book The Suburban Micro-Farm you’ll get a variety of free bonus materials—including my monthly checklists with room for taking important notes like these!

SUMMARY:

Preventing garden pests naturally will strengthen your garden’s immune system so it doesn’t ‘catch a bug’.

Need more ideas for growing vegetables in the permaculture garden?

READ NEXT:

  • 5 Steps to a Vibrant Fall Garden
  • Choose the Right Trellis for your Climbing Vegetables
  • Growing & Harvesting Beets Year-Round

Have you been successful in preventing garden garden pests? What practices have helped you create a healthy garden?

>>> Get my free 19-page Guide to Organic Soil Amendments for more ideas:

Growing organic, chemical-free garden veggies is the way to go. Not only does it taste better, it’s healthier for you and for the earth. Sometimes growing a natural, chemical-free garden means that we have to deal with annoying pests, but you can interplant herbs and vegetables in specific combinations that ward off aphids, cabbage worms, and other pests that could hurt your precious veggies. With a little planning and the right mix of herbs and vegetables your garden can become a pest-free zone, naturally.

Here are some of my favorite companion plants for the vegetable garden and what they can do for you.

Alliums

Chives and onions are great to plant throughout the vegetable bed, not just for their own value as garden edibles, but because they ward off both spider mites and aphids. Chives make a great addition to a spring mix bed because they discourage pests and then you can snip chives and greens at once for a yummy, complete salad.

Basil

While most people find the strong fragrance of basil pleasing, it is too intense for mosquitoes and flies and they will avoid the plant. Position basil plants near patios, garden benches, or hammocks—any outdoor space where you want to be able to relax without getting bugged! You can find out about more mosquito-repelling plants and learn how to make an anti-mosquito planter here.

Dill

Dill repels spider mites, squash bugs, and aphids, but attracts tomato horn worms, so be strategic about where you plant it. By growing dill at a distance from your tomatoes, horn worms will be attracted to the dill and drawn away from the tomatoes.

Garlic

Spider mites, aphids, Japanese beetles, and even fleas hate garlic. It is such an effective way to deter pests that attack various plants that I like to scatter a few garlic plants throughout my garden, in addition to planting a designated garlic patch (I love garlic, in case you haven’t guessed). Bonus: it will also keep vampires away.

Lavender, Rosemary, and Sage

These aromatic herbs not only prevent pests, they also attract beneficial insects! Allow them to flower and helpful pollinators will flock to your garden, while the intense fragrance of lavender, rosemary, and sage will cover up the scent of your precious veggies so that carrot rust flies, cabbage moths, and bean beetles won’t be able to find and devour them.

Mint

Mint is a great pest-fighter in the garden as it deters aphids, flea beetles, cabbage moths, and ants. That being said, be careful when growing mint around your other plants because it is invasive and can take over the whole garden if you’re not careful! I suggest planting mint in pots and setting up the pots throughout the garden. This way, you’ll get a good amount of mint to harvest and use, and it will repel pests without infringing on the other plants in the garden. Everybody wins—except for the pests.

Wormwood

Wormwood acts as a deterrent to cabbage worms, slugs, carrot rust flies, black flea beetles, and white cabbage butterflies. Grow wormwood in your veggie patch near lettuce and cabbage to keep your greens safe. You can get varieties that thrive in either sun or shade, so choose the one that makes sense for your vegetable bed. Wormwood also comes in many beautiful ornamental varieties such as Silver Brocade wormwood which has delicate silver-gray leaves, so it can pull double duty in the garden as eye-catching ornamental and vegetable body guard.

More Tips for a Happy, Healthy Garden:

  • Create a No-Till Garden and Retire Your Tiller Forever
  • Organic Ways of Getting Rid of Pests in the Garden
  • All About Alliums
  • Beating the Heat: Protect Your Plants from Heat Stress
  • Three Ways to Save Seeds from the Garden
  • The Home Gardener’s Guide to Shovels and Spades

No gardener wants to see insects wreaking havoc on a bed full of ripening produce. Luckily, it’s possible to keep unwelcome visitors away. Since some pesticides can hurt the beneficial bugs that actually help your plants, try these easy control measures first before resorting to the strong stuff.

1. Aphids

Radu Bercan/

These tiny, pear-shaped critters have long antennae and two tubes projecting rearward from their abdomen. They usually hang out on most fruits and vegetables, flowers, ornamentals, and shade trees throughout North America. Aphids suck plant sap, causing foliage to distort and leaves to drop; honeydew excreted on leaves supports sooty mold growth; and feeding spreads viral diseases. To control these bugs:

  • Wash plants with strong spray of water
  • Encourage native predators and parasites such as aphid midges, lacewings, and lady beetles
  • When feasible, cover plants with floating row covers
  • Apply hot-pepper or garlic repellent sprays
  • For severe problems, apply horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or neem oil

2. Cabbage Maggot

studio 2013/

These stick to cabbage-family crops, especially Chinese cabbages, and live throughout North America. The maggots tunnel in roots, killing plants directly or by creating entryways for disease organisms. To control these destructive creatures, try these methods:

  • Apply floating row covers
  • Set out transplants through slits in tar-paper squares
  • Avoid first generation by delaying planting
  • Apply parasitic nematodes around roots
  • Burn roots from harvested plants
  • Mound wood ashes or red pepper dust around stems

3. Caterpillars

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Caterpillars are soft, segmented larvae with distinct, harder head capsule with six legs in the front and fleshy false legs on rear segments. They can be found on many fruits and vegetables, ornamentals, and shade trees. Caterpillars chew on leaves or along margins; some tunnel into fruits. To deter them:

  • Encourage native predators and parasites
  • Hand-pick your harvest
  • Apply floating row covers

4. Cutworms

Sarah2/

Cutworms are fat, 1-inch-long, gray or black segmented larvae most active at night. They are found on most early vegetable and flower seedlings and transplants throughout North America. Cutworms chew through stems at ground level; they may completely devour small plants in May and June. For control:

  • Use cutworm collars on transplants
  • Delay planting
  • Hand-pick cutworms curled below soil surface

5. Colorado Potato Beetle

Sergiy Kuzmin/

Adults are yellow-orange beetles with ten black stripes on wing covers. They’re found on potatoes, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, and petunias throughout North America. These beetles defoliate plants, reducing yields or killing young plants. To control:

  • Apply floating row covers
  • Use deep straw mulches
  • Hand pick
  • Attract native parasites and predators
  • Spray with neem oil

6. Mexican Bean Beetle

Malcangi Valentina/

Adults are oval, yellow-brown, 1/4-inch beetles with 16 black spots on wing covers, while larvae are fat, dark yellow grubs with long, branched spines. They are found on cowpeas, lima beans, snap beans, soybeans in most states east of the Mississippi River as well as parts of Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah.

Adults and larvae chew on leaves from beneath, leaving behind a lacy appearance. To control:

  • Apply floating row covers
  • Plant bush beans early
  • Hand pick
  • Plant soybean trap crop
  • Out out lures to draw spined soldier bugs (predators) to your yard
  • Spray with insecticidal soap or neem oil

7. Flea Beetle

InsectWorld/

Flea beetles are small, dark beetles that jump like fleas when disturbed. They hang out on most vegetable crops and are found throughout North America. Adults chew numerous small, round holes into leaves (most damaging to young plants), and larvae feed on plant roots. For control:

  • Apply floating row covers
  • Spray plants with garlic spray or kaolin clay

8. Tarnished Plant Bug

Steven Ellingson/

These are fast-moving, mottled, green or brown bugs that have forewings with black-tipped yellow triangles. They can be found on many flowers, fruits, and vegetables throughout North America. Adults and nymphs suck plant juices, causing leaf and fruit distortion, wilting, stunting, and tip dieback. To control these bugs:

  • Keep your garden weed-free in spring
  • Apply floating row covers
  • Encourage native predatory insects
  • Spray young nymphs with neem oil

9. Japanese Beetles

Kellis/

Adults are metallic blue-green, ½-inch beetles with bronze wing covers, while larvae are fat, white grubs with brown heads. They can be found on many vegetables, flowers, and small fruit in all states east of the Mississippi River. Adults skeletonize leaves, chew flowers, and may completely defoliate plants while larvae feed on lawn and garden plant roots. To control these insects:

  • Shake beetles from plants in early morning
  • Apply floating row covers
  • Set out baited traps upwind of your vegetable garden on two sides and at least 30 feet away
  • Spray beetles with insecticidal soap

10. Scales

SIMON SHIM/

Adult females look like hard or soft bumps on stems, leaves, or fruit; males are minute flying insects and larvae are tiny, soft, crawling insects with threadlike mouthparts. They can be found on many fruits, indoor plants, ornamental shrubs, and trees throughout North America. All stages suck plant sap, therefore weakening plants. Plants become yellow, drop leaves, and may die. Honeydew is also excreted onto foliage and fruit. For control:

  • Prune out infested plant parts
  • Encourage native predators
  • Scrub scales gently from twigs with soft brush and soapy water, and rinse well
  • Apply dormant or summer oil sprays
  • Spray with neem oil

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