Late-night munching isn’t always a good thing. Especially when it’s your well-cared-for veggies and garden plants that are the main course for garden pests. Here are some tips for controlling their binging.
It can be very disheartening when you head out to water your garden in the morning and those tender leaves and blossoms you have been taking such good care of have been munched on in the night. Unless there are deer and rabbits in your garden, the culprit is sometimes hard to determine. But with a little bit of detective work, you can figure out the uninvited guest and plan for ways to stop his snacking.
The three main invaders we find in a vegetable garden are aphids, cabbageworms, and slugs or snails. Here is a run-down on how to identify which pest you have in your garden and find natural or chemical solutions to stop them.
Instead of obviously eaten plants, when aphids are a problem, the plant or leaves may be misshapen, curling, or stunted.
You will most often notice this on tender shoots and buds. One of the first clues that this is the work of aphids is the white “skins” they shed as they grow. You will find it scattered on the leaves like little white flecks of ash. Upon further inspection, you will likely see the aphids themselves.
Aphids are commonly green but can be white, black, grey, or even pink. They have small pear-shaped bodies with long antennae and you can sometimes feel a sticky substance on the leaves known as honeydew – a byproduct of their lunch.
Since they are not very hardy, you can easily spray aphids off of the plants with a strong stream of water. You could also introduce natural predators like ladybugs or lacewings. They will happily eat away at the problem.
If more aggressive measures are needed, you could use a natural product like Neem Oil. Neem Oil coats soft-bodied insects and suffocates them. It also coats eggs and prevents them from hatching. For chemical management of aphids, you can choose from a variety of insecticides including Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer
or Sevin Insect Killer*
Cabbageworms are small hairless caterpillars usually found as you start to see cabbage moths in the evening – their white wings with one or two black spots hovering over the garden.
They are a suspect if you see large holes cut from the center or the edges of leaves, especially on cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, chard, and kale. They leave black sticky poop on the underside and in the crevices of leaves. They are mainly nocturnal, so you’ll need to look with a flashlight to find them.
The easiest way to control cabbageworms is to pick them off with your fingers. You can drop them into soapy water to finish them off, or you can relocate them (but they may find their way back). You could also introduce natural predators like praying mantids. They find caterpillars and other insects an evening delight.
Finally, you could use an insecticide such as Bonide Insecticidal Soap or Bonide Bt (Thuricide)* Both of these products are specifically labeled for caterpillars.
Slugs and Snails
It is sometimes difficult to see that silver trail leading to your tender greens, but when you do, you can bet it’s a slug or a snail that has been feasting on your garden.
Even without this telltale sign, if your plants have been eaten down to the stem or further in one night, chances are you are dealing with slugs or snails. You may also notice a serrated pattern where the eating took place. Slugs and snails like to eat in rows until the leaf is gone. If you want more evidence, break out the flashlight and look through your garden at night. Slugs and snails are nocturnal and prefer to dine by moonlight.
That slimy body is a benefit to you when trying to control this gastropod. Its body is sensitive to sharp objects so creating a barrier around your plants is a good deterrent. Diatomaceous Earth, crushed eggshell, or hazelnut shell mulch can create effective borders that slugs and snails will not want to cross.
Introducing natural predators to your garden is another great way to reduce the slug and snail population. Ducks are a particular favorite and can be quite adept at keeping the garden slug and snail free. Praying mantids are also happy to help, although they are not quite as hungry for slugs and snails as our feathered friends.
There are also slug and snail baits available. These baits have chemicals in them to attract and kill slugs and snails. They are very effective in reducing the population of slugs and snails in your garden and are generally safe around kids and pets. Corry’s Slug and Snail Killer and Sluggo Slug and Snail Killer are both tried and true options for bait.*
In the end, we all have to come to terms with the fact that our gardens will likely be shared with a few unwanted guests. Controlling the damage starts with recognizing the problem. Once you know what (or who) you’re dealing with, you can choose the solution that best fits your gardening style. So when you find invaders in your garden, don’t worry – you have the knowledge and the tools to take care of the problem.
*Whenever you use a chemical insecticide, make sure that you follow the instructions and only use it to control listed insects.