Common Vegetable Garden Pests

Common Vegetable Garden Pests

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  1. In gardening, you must realize that even the healthiest of gardens will have some pests. In nature, there will always be pests invading our gardens; that is just a part of nature. It is our responsibility as gardeners to identify if the problem is severe enough to warrant intervention, and determine at what degree do we take care of the pest problem.

    In order to maintain a healthy growing garden, you need become educated in what pests are considered "bad pests." While you are gardening, regular inspection of your fruits and vegetables will allow you to discover pest or invasion problems early. The sooner you realize there’s a problem with pests; the easier it will be to manage. Below are the top 5 garden pests that are encountered when gardening, along with some natural remedies.



    Description: Aphids are a pear-shaped, soft bodied insect that is approximately (1/8 an inch) long. They are over 4,000 species of aphid and they may green, yellow, red, black or brown depending on the species. Adults are usually wingless, but can grow wings in high populations.

    Aphids are a common pest found on vegetables and fruit trees. Aphids feed in groups and suck the sap from the leaves, branches and shoots. Aphids found in small numbers are nothing to worry about. However, if heavy infestations may cause leaves and vegetables to  yellow, wilt, curl and can eventually inhibit the growth of the vegetable or tree. Aphids also leave behind a sticky substance called "honeydew." This substance promotes black mold to grow on the underneath of leaves, and may begin to attract ants.

    Control: Remove heavily infested leaves and branches. Use a powerful stream of water to hose off the infested plants. Insects, such as ladybugs are an aphids natural predator and will help control an aphid infestation. Ladybugs are commercially available in most garden centers. Purchase and release ladybugs when there are low infestations. If populations are high, you may have to use a natural, short-lived pesticide, then release the ladybugs to maintain control. You can use or botanical insecticides or an insecticidal soap to spot treat areas of infestations. Apply horticultural oils early in the season to eliminate any eggs that have been left to overwinter.

    Aphids are more likely to attack plants that have a high level of nitrogen and new supple growth. Avoid over watering and do not over fertilize your fruit trees and vegetables. Use only organic fertilizers that slowly release nutrients into the soil.


    Armyworm Caterpillar

    Description: Armyworm caterpillars travel in small groups and consume everything in their path. Armyworm caterpillars are approximately (1-3/4 inch) long and are most active at night. Armyworm caterpillars can be found hiding under dying garden debris to stay cool during the day. They will quickly consume beans, cole crops, corn and lettuce leaves. They will create shallow holes and gouge tomatoes and fruit.

    Armyworm caterpillars have distinctive stripes (yellow or beige) that run down the length of the armyworms body. Armyworms can be either brown with yellow stripes or green with light beige stripes. Armyworms will lay their eggs in fluffy masses on seedlings and on the leaves of mature plants. It only takes 5-10 days for the baby  caterpillars to hatch. Once hatched they will feed and destroy the crop for several weeks. Within 10 days, they will become a full grown armyworm. Adults lay one to six egg generations per year and some species of armyworm may overwinter in the soil.

    Control: The armyworm is not usually a common garden pest because they have several natural predators such as birds and lizards. Adding insects, such as lacewing and ladybugs to your garden will help control egg population and larval stage of the armyworm. Armyworms infestations can be found in early spring and summer. Check the underside of leaves, where these pests are most likely found. You can pull off these insects and place them in soapy water to destroy them. Use dipel dust, garden insect spray, or botanical insecticides to kill the caterpillars if the infestation is severe enough.



    Description: Cabbageworms chew large holes in cole crops and cabbage. Favorites of these pests include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and turnips. Cabbageworms move slowly, even though they are slow they are extremely destructive and leave fecal matter behind when burrowing in vegetables.

    Cabbageworms are velvety green, have many short  hairs, light yellow strips down their side and back and are approximately (1-1/4 inch) long.  Adult cabbageworm butterflies are white or pale yellow with a (1-2 inch) wingspan and will have three or four black spots on each of their wings. They can be found fluttering about the garden in early spring to late fall. They will lay eggs on the underneath of the crops leaves.

    Control: Use floating row covers to prevent adult butterflies from laying eggs. As with armyworms, pick off the cabbage worms and put them in soapy water. Use dipel dust,  Garden Insect Spray, or botanical insecticides to kill the caterpillars if the infestation is severe enough. If you can find trichogramma wasps, they can be released into the garden as well. The wasps will destroy and eat any larva and young hatchlings.


    Corn Earworm

    Description:  The corn earworm is the most destructive pests that attack corn. These caterpillars feed on the tips of the corns ears and devouring the kernels inside. They will foul corn with their excrement. The corn then becomes deformed and susceptible to disease and mold. The corn earworm is also known as the cotton bollworm when it is found on cotton plants. It is also known as the tomato fruit-worm when found in tomato gardens.

    Fully grown corn earworm larvae are approximately (1-1/2 inches) long, are light green in color and have light brown to black stripes the entire length of their body. Adult corn earworms are a nocturnal greenish gray moth that have a (1-1/2 inch) wingspan. They will have irregular dark lines and spots near the outside of their the fore and hind wings.

    Control: Use pheromone traps in fall and spring. Till the soil to expose any over wintered pupae to weather, wind and predators. Release insects such as damsel bugs, lacewings and minute pirate bugs to feed on earworm eggs and larvae. Spray or inject silks weekly with nematodes to help control the larvae. Use of botanical insecticides can be used if the pest level becomes intolerable.

    Use mineral oil to suffocate feeding larva. Just squeeze an eyedropper full of mineral oil inside each tip of infested corn, mix in a botanical insecticide as well as an extra precaution.



    Description: Grasshoppers are voracious feeders and consume approximately half their body weight per day in crops. Grasshoppers cause damage by consuming the leaves and stems of plants, and if the infestation is severe enough they can defoliate and entire garden or field.  According to the USDA It is estimated that grasshoppers are responsible for the consumption of up to 25 percent of the western United States available forage annually. Ten adults per square yard can be economically devastating. In a classic study the USDA showed that approximately 7 adults per square yard consumed as much pasture as a cow eats in a single day.

    Control: Cultivate and till all crops in the early spring to kill any eggs that may have been left to overwinter. Use of floating row covers will protect small gardens. Apply a biological pesticide to field margins and  undisturbed grassy areas. Extreme infestations will require multiple pesticide applications. Spread EcoBran to heavily infested areas for immediate grasshopper control. Dig a strip of clean soil between your garden and grass area. Grasshoppers don’t like to cross "clean soil" because they think there is no vegetation. The wider the strip the better control you will have.

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