Whether you were born with a green thumb or are relatively new to home gardening, there’s nothing more aggravating than seeing your efforts thwarted by vegetable gardening pests. All that time and energy you put in to preparation and tending only to see it squandered. It can be enough to make you give up hope altogether.
But vegetable gardening pests aren’t just a nuisance. They can actually be hazardous. Particularly if you’re relying on conventional pesticides to help kill them.
We probably don’t have to warn you about the dangers of chemical pesticides. One glance at a warning label on the back of a bottle alone should be sufficient enough to tell you shouldn’t be spraying it anywhere near a vegetable garden! Luckily, there are much safer, natural and effective ways of killing vegetable gardening pests. But first, let’s identify some of the main ones you should be concerned with.
1st Garden Bug: Aphids
The biggest problem with aphids is that they’re relatively harmless in small numbers. Until they breed. And quite extensively. And once you start seeing mold, fungus or damaged leaves on your crops, by then it’s frequently too late.
- Aphids can be recognized simply as being tiny, wingless and oval-shaped,best known for having piercing mouth parts.
- Aphids are most notable by hatching over the winter, leaving mass infestations early in spring.
Nearly any crop imaginable can be affected by aphids, but beans, cucumbers, gourds, legumes and lettuce tend to be particularly attractive.
- Aphids can be fought effectively by constant monitoring during winter months and sprayed with simple ice water. If you’re noticing mildew in late winter and early spring, we recommend counteracting with a good year-round fungus and mildew killer, such as Summit Year-Round Spray Oil.
2nd Gardening Pest: Cutworms
What makes a cutworm such an annoying garden pest? It’s because they primarily feed off young seedlings right at the surface of the soil. What makes it worse is that many newcomers to gardening have no way of knowing just how to differentiate them from less harmful invertebrates.
- Cutworms can be recognized by curling into the shape of the letter “C” once they are disturbed.
- Infestations tend to occur in spring when plants or vegetables are still young, and tend to occur overnight.
- Crops damaged can include carrots, celery, endives, legumes, peas, peppers and tomatoes.
- Cutworms can be fought very simply by collaring your crops with a simple cardboard tube from a roll of paper towel inserted a few inches into the soil. For average to severe vegetable garden infestations, we recommend the use of Bonide BT Caterpillar and Worm Killer.
3rd Garden Pest: Potato Beetles
While also known as the Colorado potato beetle, this vegetable garden pest isn’t just confined to the Rockies; or potatoes for that matter. You’ll find them virtually anywhere in the Continental U.S. And to make matters worse, they cluster on the underside of leaves—making detection even more of a chore during winter months.
- Potato beetles can be noted by having a dome shaped body and are a deep red color at the larval stage, gradually turning to yellow as they mature. Eggs are orangish-yellow and cluster on the underside of leaves.
- Burrowing occurs during winter, with rapid maturation into adults towards early spring and can completely defoliate a garden.
- Crops damaged can include eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and squash.
- Potato beetles can be especially troublesome since egg masses frequently have to be crushed by hand during the winter season prior to maturation. We recommend a concentrated garden variety spray, such as Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew, for maximum results.
4th Vegetable Garden Pest: Flea Beetles
Flea beetles can do a collective host of damage to crops primarily because they’re tiny enough to go virtually undetected. A handful may only cause cosmetic damage; but a host of them can put your vegetable garden at serious risk.
- One of the tinier vegetable gardening pests, flea beetles can be noted by being just a few millimeters long and having dark colored bodies with a shiny metallic luster.
- Infestation occurs in early spring, starting at first with weeds until the first hint of garden crops begin to sprout.
- Crops damaged can include beans, cabbage, carrots, corn, cucumbers, endives, gourds, lettuce, peppers, radishes, spinach and watermelon.
- Delay planting until comparatively late in the season and de-weed your vegetable garden year round, even during the off season. Early detection can usually be offset by a high concentrate all purpose spray, such as Monterey Liquid Garden Insect Spray.
5th Garden Insects: Cabbage Looper
While cabbage loopers primarily attack brassica plants, you can also find everything from melon crops to tomatoes ravaged in their wake.
- Typically, cabbage loopers are a caterpillar which is pale green in color with a white vertical stripe found in its middle.
- While cabbage loopers are more common in the northern parts of the country, they can be spotted both during spring and summer seasons.
- Crops damaged can include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, gourds, kale, melons, peas and tomatoes.
- De-weeding your vegetable garden in winter and early spring can help keep your crops free of cabbage loopers. For more severe infestations, we recommend a spray high in bacillus thuringiensis such as Bonide Caterpillar and Worm Killer.
6th Noxious Garden Insect: Cucumber Beetles
Cucumber beetles don’t just attack your crops. They actually transmit bacterial mold to a host of vegetables, making them one of the more physically harmful and dangerous vegetable gardening pests to contend with.
- Cucumber beetles are found in two forms: striped (with three horizontal bands) and spotted (with up to a dozen black spots.) Both are oblong in shape with pale yellow bodies and black heads.
- Typically, you’ll find these pests to feed off pollen, daffodils and grass until sprouts emerge in mid-spring.
- Crops damaged can include beans, cucumbers, eggplant, gourds, melons and potatoes.
- Fertilizing your vegetable garden early in the season with a fast acting organic fertilizer like Jobe’s All Purpose fertilizer can help prevent larval growth. But once cucumber beetles reach maturity, we recommend using a high quality liquid concentrate like Monterey Garden Insect Spray.
7th Vegetable Gardening Pests: Squash Bugs
Squash bugs can be a particular nuisance due to the fact they don’t just suck up sap. They like to hide in debris, leaves and wood and grass piles, frequently breeding in clusters for multiple seasons on end.
- Squash bugs can be recognized by being flat, winged bugs which are dark brown or black in color, with light orange stripes on their undersides.
- Squash bugs tend to be at their most troublesome during the early summer season, although larvae can begin to populate at virtually any time of year.
- Crops damaged can include cucumbers, gourds, melons, pumpkins and squash.
- Keeping your garden debris free and open can be discouraging to squash bugs breeding. However, many people may find that’s simply not an option. A great all-purpose organic pesticide we recommend for multiple types of pests (not just squash bugs) is GrowSafe Bio-Pesticide.
8th Gardening Pest: Tomato Hornworms
One of the most damaging of all vegetable gardening pests. Just three or four mature tomato hornworms are enough to destroy a healthy tomato plant virtually overnight.
- At an early stage, a tomato hornworm is a light, whitish yellow, gradually becoming green with 8 distinctly v-shaped white marks on their body as they molt.
- Typically, tomato hornworms can begin appearing as early as late winter but can breed multiple generations as late as early fall and tend to breed most strongly during the initial stages of foliage.
- Crops damaged can include eggplants, fruit, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes.
- For the most part, hand picking tomato hornworms is the most effective way to get rid of an infestation. It’s also one of the most time consuming and messy. You may find using a cold pressed neem seed oil, such as Neem Bliss, during foliage season to be an incredibly helpful preventative measure.
9th Vegetable Garden Insect: Bean Leaf Beetles
Why bean leaf beetles are considered such a particular scourge is the fact that they tend to cluster in gardens for multiple generations, ensuring both current and future bean crops are irrevocably ruined unless strong preventative measures are put in place.
- Since bean leaf beetles vary in color from pale green to red, they’re not always easy to tell. One easy way to distinguish adult beetles, however, is to look for a black triangular markings on the shell protecting its head.
- While bean leaf beetles pupate in the soil during early spring, they feed off the very roots of plants themselves and emerge, hungry and destructive, in four to six weeks.
- Crops damaged can include legumes, peas, snap beans and soybeans.
- Bean leaf beetles tend to attack sprouts when they’re at their youngest; and constant monitoring sometimes isn’t enough. One excellent high concentrate organic pesticide we like to recommend is Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew from Bonide.
10th Worst Garden Bug: Corn Borer Caterpillars
Corn borer caterpillars (also known as European corn borers) may inflict the most damage on corn. But there are also vegetable gardening pests capable of ruining a wide variety of crops. And while they’re easy to spot, they’re not always easy to eradicate; especially considering they can endure successive generations in a single growing season.
- Corn borer caterpillars are distinct for having light pink or grey bodies spotted with dark dots and light brown heads. They’re most notable for boring into stalks, ears and other debris left over from previously harvested crops.
- Moths tend to emerge during late spring, but can molt into multiple generations as late as August. In fact, it’s practically a given that you can expect to find at least generations of corn borers during any given season.
- Crops damaged can include cabbage, corn, beans, eggplant, legumes, okra, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes.
- Since corn borer caterpillars derive their name from boring into harvested stalks, weeds, leaves and other debris, thoroughly clean your garden at the end of each harvest. If you find this doesn’t help, consider a heavy duty bacillus thuringiensis based solution, such as Bonide Caterpillar and Worm Killer.