Identifying Common Garden Pests

Pests are a problem for all gardeners. No matter how big or small your garden is, you will inevitably come across bad bugs. We started our garden in the fall last year and did not have too many problems with pests until the weather became warmer after winter. Be sure to inspect your garden on a frequent basis. The sooner you catch the pests, the easier they are to get rid of. Our first problem was aphids.

Aphids are small round or pear-shaped bugs that will be found primarily on the underside of the leaves on your plants. They come in a variety of colors including green, brown, yellow and black. They prefer leafy plants and we found them on our lettuce, spinach, tomato plants, and pepper plants. If left alone, they will infest the plants and eventually kill them.

When pests invade your garden, it is difficult to remove them in an organic way. A good method is to introduce beneficial insects into your garden, such as ladybugs and lacewings. During spring, it is easy to purchase ladybugs at your local nursery. If you do plan to use this method, be sure to release them at night so they are less likely to fly away or be eaten by birds. We tried ladybugs to control the aphids, but found they did not stick around for more than a few days.

You can also certainly kill pests by squashing them with your hands. We used this method with the aphids, many times. Yes, it did kill the majority of them, but the population always recovered, and after awhile, our backs could not take it anymore. If you have a very small garden with few plants this method may work. We gave up with squishing them and tried a soap spray consisting of 2 teaspoons of dish soap in a spray bottle of warm water. The soap is supposed to wash away a protective coating the aphids have and kill them. This method helped marginally, but the aphids eventually returned just as before. Another method is to mix water and vegetable or horticultural oil, but we did not attempt this method, as the oil can magnify the sun and burn the vegetation. In sunny Arizona we figured that could spell disaster.

Our final solution that took care of the problem was to purchase an organic pesticide called Pyganic. It is on the pricey side compared to non-organic pesticides, but we wanted to keep our garden organic and it worked extremely well. After one application of Pyganic, the aphid population was almost completely eradicated. About a week later, we did another application and have not seen a single aphid in our garden ever since.

We encountered many other pests besides the aphids, although the aphids proved to be the most invasive. The others did not increase in such large populations, but they were still somewhat damaging to the plants.

Squash Bugs
You will find these guys on squash plants. They come in many shapes and sizes depending on how mature they are. Their eggs are small, oval, and copper in color and are usually in clusters. Inspect your squash plants often for these clusters and squash them as soon as you see them. The methods we tried to get rid of these guys was squashing them and spraying with Pyganic. This helped to control the population, but we still found them lurking in our squash plants.

Cucumber Beetles

We first spotted these on our squash plants as well. When combined with the squash bugs, this led to the demise of most of our squash plants. They first attacked the crookneck squash, then our golden squash, and eventually ended up in the zucchini. They are small round beetles that have black and white stripes on their backs; sometimes they have spots instead of stripes. They fly around and liked many of our plants, including cantaloupe, watermelon, and eggplant. We squashed them whenever we saw them and also sprayed with Pyganic. This kept them in check.

Corn Earworms
We found many of these in our corn; almost every ear had their own earworm. They can be found in many different crops other than corn, such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and melons. If you get to the corn before the earworm has lived in there long, then you can prevent a lot of the damage. Most of our ears just had the top eaten up, but if allowed to feed in the ear long enough, they will go town! We just had to cut off the part of the ear that was eaten and the rest of the ear was edible. We found the damage from the earworm to be more of a nuisance than anything else, but these critters can be devastating to certain crops.

Now a new battle is beginning… white flies!

Recommended Reading:
The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy Without Chemicals [link]

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  • Freeholder1776

    Just to let you know, the link you posted for pyganic is broken. Also, I had an earworm infestation this year on my Country Gentleman heirloom sweet corn. I used and eyedropper to squirt a couple drops of neem oil mixture into each ear and while it killed the worms the damage had been done. The worms severed the silks and that led to very spotty kernel production on each ear. Next year I’ll spray with pyganic. I’m in Kingman, AZ fyi.

  • Sorry to hear about your corn! I guess earworms love it just as much as we do. The link is fixed and for reference, we use Pyganic Crop Protection EC 1.4 II.