Before you pick up that pesticide, consider this. Pesticides are made to kill bugs, and they don't discriminate. They will kill beneficial insects like the bees that pollinate our vegetables, and predatory insects too.
|Butterfly on zinnia flower (beneficial insect)|
In addition, some pest insects are resistant to pesticides, and they recover faster from chemical treatments than beneficial insects do. Essentially what we're doing by spraying pesticides is killing the good bugs and helping out the bad bugs, creating a much worse problem for ourselves in the future.
|Honey bees on sedum flower (beneficial pollinator)|
Before treating any infestation, make sure you know the pest you're dealing with. If you can't find it on the internet, put some of the insects into a clear, sealed baggie and bring it to your local garden center. They should be able to identify the pest for you.
|Japanese beetle (one of the bad guys)|
Stroll through your gardens on a regular basis and observe your plants. As you walk around, pay attention to signs of possible pest infestations; yellow or drooping leaves, holes in the leaves, leaves dropping off the plant, several bugs on a plant. If you see any of these warning signs, take a closer look to determine if there's a pest infestation, be sure to look under the leaves.
|Cabbage Looper damage on cauliflower leaf (bad bug!)|
If you find a pest infestation, begin treatment immediately. Soapy water will kill many insects on contact, and it's easy to use to target the pest insect without harming other insects. I recommend a mix of one teaspoon mild liquid soap (I use Ivory dish soap) to one liter of water. Use it to spray directly on the pest insects. Soapy water works best for small insects, larger insects can simply be picked off the plant and either squished or dropped into a bucket of water to drown them.
|Soapy water spray kills insects on contact|
Enlist the help of natural predators to fight the battle for you by encouraging them to come to your garden. Plant annual flowers in with vegetables and perennials to attract bees and predatory insects. Marigolds, sunflowers and zinnias are a good choices.
Birds are also beneficial predators that feed on pest insects. Invite them into your gardens by installing bird baths, feeders and bird houses.
|Ladybug larvae (good predator bug!)|
You can also increase the population of natural predators like ladybugs by purchasing them, then releasing them in your gardens. Buy them from a reputable dealer to ensure you get healthy ladybugs. Check with your local garden center to see if they sell them. I've released ladybugs in my gardens for the past two years and have seen a noticeable decrease in pest problems.
|Ladybugs (beneficial predators)|
Complete elimination of pesky bugs in the garden isn't a realistic goal. The key is to find a balance so that your plants will thrive despite having a few bugs munching on them. Mature, healthy plants can handle a minor pest problem; and with a healthy population of natural predators, nature will take it's course.
Bugs are a part of gardening, for better or worse. As a gardener, it's a good idea to become familiar with the common pests in your area so that you can identify a potential problem early. Also know the beneficial insects so you don't kill them by accident. Good luck, and continue to fight the good fight.
What are the biggest bad bug nemeses in your garden?
For information about specific common garden pests:
- Cabbage Looper - Holy Cabbage Leaves, Literally!
- Japanese Beetle - Japanese Beetle
- Squash Borer - Fighting The Squash Borer
- Aphids - Aphids (written regarding houseplants, but most tips work for the garden too)
- Flea Beetle - Attack Of The Killer Flea Beetles