6 Garden Pests Identification. Part 1
In this article I intend to take a closer look at some insect pests that can decimate our garden plants. I will also list some healthier more environmentally friendly ways to control these insects.
Today we are becoming more and more aware of the consequences of long term insecticide usage. It’s time to change old habits and care about the environment, our own health and the health of our beneficial insects.
If we continue on the path of the ‘kill at all costs’ attitude, very soon we will have destroyed the insect population on our planet. Many of these creatures are already in decline.
We may think that insects are a nuisance and getting rid of them would be a benefit to mankind. Well, think again. If we destroy the balance of nature, something mankind is well on the way to doing, we will eventually destroy life as we know it.
Our own gardens are very much a smaller example of the larger world. We need to be aware of the issues that confront the plants in our gardens in their day to day battle for a healthy life.
But I haven’t constructed this blog to go into depth about our own possible annihilation. This article is simply to inform you of some insect pests that can become an issue in your garden and the ways available for you to control them naturally.
Some More Information On Insects.
There is absolutely no reason to get flustered or upset because your garden is teeming with insects. Just remember that they aren’t all bad. Some are beneficially insects that eat those that are more likely to devour your plants.
Up to approximately a third of your produce can be eaten before the crop becomes unviable. If you plat a row of cabbages, then I would allow the insects to have one or two. This is particularly the case with catepillars. .
Not only can insects be a potential meal for others, they can also have some other useful functions; some pollinate, others burrow into the soil and aerate it, while yet others control weeds or decompose organic matter, releasing nutrients for the plants.
The whole point being that if we spray with chemicals we will kill both the good and bad insects, leaving our garden unbalanced and vulnerable to the next big issue; disease.
So, lets have a closer look at those insects that can become a problem.
Some of the More Well Known Pests.
APHIDOIDEA (aphididea family)
Aphids are small sap-sucking insects that will drain away the life of a plant and eventually cause it’s death. Ants “farm” these insects for there sweet excretions, and an infestation of ants generally points to and infestation of aphids.
Their are a number of different varieties of aphids and these include the Woolly, green, cherry and black peach. The Woolly and green ones are the most common and seem to do the most damage.
Most of us know what an aphid looks like and what damage it can do to our plants if their numbers multiply to a high level.
This is particularly the case with Roses. They can not only slowly kill a beautiful healthy rose plant, they can also help to spread disease.
What Do We Do To Control Them?
There are a number of ways you can control them, they are:
1). The finger control method.
You will find that the aphids nearly always congregate under the head of the flower. Simply run you fingers along the stem and carefully squash them. The squash easily so don’t put to much pressure on the stem or you will damage it.
2). The Jet of Water Trick.
Spray a strong jet of water onto the areas affected by the aphids and you will dislodge them onto the ground. They will be unable to return to the stems and will consequently eventually die.
3). Introduce predatory insects.
If the numbers are to vast for you to control, or you don’t like touching them, then you might think about adding predatory insects such as ladybirds, lace wings, hoverflies or birds.
4). Plant Tagetes or Marigolds throughout the garden.
These plants are widely used as a deterrent to both aphids and nematodes in the soil. Some people are skeptical as to the efficiency of using companion plants to control insects, but I can only judge by our own results. When these particular plants were placed in between our rose bushes they stopped the aphid attack dead in it’s track.
5). Home made soap sprays.
An organic spray made from soapy water and garlic and/or vegetable oil, helps to control aphids. However, as these substances break down quickly you will need to use them twice a week, preferably in the evening.
Here is a natural spray for you.
2 large garlic bulbs.
2 tablespoons of mineral oil or vegetable oil.
(Soak these together for several days)
Then add approximately 2 large cups of water and 1/2 a Tablespoon of a pure soap.
Mix together and leave over night… Mix again and strain into a container.. Dilute at a rate of 1 part of mixture to 50 parts of water. Use towards evening only.
Trichoplusia ni (Looper Variety).
These are leaf chewing insects that can decimate a plant in no time if left unchecked. Just be careful when removing or spraying them that you are not killing an endangered butterfly.
One of the most common caterpillars is the “Looper” or “cabbage moth”. There’s nothing worse then waking up in the morning and going out to check your vegetable garden only to find your plants half eaten. This can happen over night.
However, there are some preventative measures that can help you control the insects causing this destruction.
A). Those Fingers again.
If you don’t mind using your fingers, check the plants every evening just before dark for caterpillars on the leaves. Make sure you look thoroughly at both the top and underside of the leaves. Simply pick the creature off the leaf and throw it on the ground. It may sound cruel but at this point it’s best to squash it.
B). Encourage Bird life.
Birds are the main enemy of caterpillars. If you study up on what local birds love to eat them, you can then set up a bird have in your garden to attract them. Place several bird baths in the garden near the vegetable plot. Make sure they are hidden slightly in the garden foliage so that the birds will feel safe from predators.
These bird baths will encourage those looking for water sources to stay in the garden. Remember, if they feel safe, they will stay.
C). Home made spray.
Check the recipe above, it will work for caterpillars as well.
D). Companion plants.
Most butterflies don’t like Nasturium flowers. If you plant these in among your plants they will help deter butterflies from visiting those areas and laying there eggs o the leaves of your plants.
E). Neem Oil.
If the infestation is to large to handle then you might like to try Neem oil. If you go down this track just remember that, although it is a natural product, it can also be deadly to some predatory insects.
These are another nasty little caterpillar type insect. Some varieties of the night flying moth parent will lay there eggs in dry soil areas after mating, others place there eggs in tall grass or weeds. When the larvae hatch they head towards plants.
Some types will attack the stems either just above or just under the ground, others will head for the roots. Hence there name “cutworm”.
Below are some simple ways to control them.
A). More Fingers.
Hand pick them off the plant every evening. Take a flash light with you as it’s when it gets dark that the grubs are most active.
B). Sprinkle Coffee Grounds or Crushed egg Shells.
This is a simple preventative your those cutworms that attack the stems. Since they have to crawl from there dirt hatching spot to the plant base, they won’t cross the coffee grounds or crushed eggshell barrier.
C). Diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous earth is a natural product made from ground up fossils. The powder is placed around the plants and will kill insects on contact when they walk over it.
D). Companion Planting.
It is said that if you plant Tansy on all sides of your plants the cutworms won’t go near them.
E). Predatory Insects.
You can also release tricogramma wasps into your garden. Check with your local agriculture experts to find out where, how and if, you can purchase them. This is best done weekly for three consecutive weeks. The wasps will attack the eggs paralysing them.
F). If All else fails you could try using Bacillus thuringiensis.
This is a natural insecticide used as a spray, it only kills butterflies and moths. But a warning, it will kill the good insects that pollinate your plants, as well. Only use this spray as a last resort.
4). Scale Insects.
There are many thousands of varieties of scale insects world wide. In this article I will endeavor to cover the more prevalant types.
These include the Brown Olive, Frosted, Red and White Wax scale, and the common mealy bug.
Scale pests are tiny coccids that fasten to either the leaves and stems of a plant and live off the sap that they suck from these plants. White oil spray is one of the standard remedies to control these insect pests.
Many of these scale insects produce a ‘honey dew’ that feeds a form of black, sooty mold or fungus. Once you have eradicated the scale problem, you will find that the sooty mold disappears as well.
Now For Some of The Different Types.
i). White Wax Scale. Coccoidea
This particular insect can be mostly found feeding on plants such as Citrus trees, Camellia’s and gardenias. It is immediately noticeable because of it’s white covering.
They can be particularly difficult to remove because of the wax protection.
ii). Brown Scale.
The Brown Scale insect, also known as the Brown Olive Scale. Can be found on citrus plants, Olive trees, Roses, oleander, geraniums and many other plants.
I have seen our own rose bushes severely damaged or even killed by an infestation of this insect.
iii). Frosted Scale.
This occurs mostly on deciduous fruit trees and ornamental trees. Stone fruit such as Apricots, plums and nectarines seem to be most commonly attacked.
As with other scale insects, it’s presence inevitably leads to a development of sooty mold.
iv). Red Scale.
This pest is one of the worst insects to affect and damage citrus trees. If the damage is particularly bad it can cause the death of the tree.
v). Meal Bugs. Pseudococcidae
There are a number of different varieties of mealy bugs that attack various types plants within different ecosystems. Some will attack certain types of trees, shrubs and flowers and others infest the shade and hot houses of the horticultural industry. They are also a common pest of succulents.
They can be distinguished from other scale type insects by there many legs and white coloring. Other scale varieties lack legs, or at least noticeable ones.
Although mealy bugs are soft soft-bodied creatures, they secrete a protective powdery wax layer over themselves that can make them difficult to exterminate. This layer is what gives them there name, as it makes them look as though they’ve been covered in meal or flour.
How Can We Control Them?
As I previously stated, all scale insects can be very difficult to kill, and can be devastating to your plants. If not controlled they can destroy plants such as roses within a few months.
So what can we do if we don’t want to use chemical insecticides? There are a number of different ways to control them. Let’s have a closer look.
A). Early prevention.
If we keep an eye on our plants every day we can stop an infestation before it starts. Removing any scale you might see using a sharp knife or scraping blade will help to keep numbers down.
B). Water jet.
Once again you will need to catch the infestation early. Simply remove the scale using a strong jet of water from you garden hose. However, this treatment will need to be used on a very regular basis as it doesn’t take long for these creatures to take control.
C). Soap Mix.
Should you already have a larger infestation of scale then you may want to try a pure soap recipe, such as the one I described above. The soap will smother the insect and kill it. Again, you will need to do this on a regular basis. Probably twice a week would achieve results.
Many people claim that soap recipes don’t work. Unlike insecticides that will stay on the plant killing insects for several weeks, soap recipes have a short effective life span, and to work efficiently they need to be used several times a week.
In the case of wet weather you will need to spray again immediately the rain is finished.
D) Pyrethrum based sprays.
These are natural insecticide sprays that paralyze insects that they come into contact with.
Although I’m not an advocate of using insecticidal sprays, there are times it is necessary to use them to gain control of an insect infestation that might not be manageable using other methods.
Natural Pyrethrum sprays are allowed to be used under organic guidelines in most countries.
E). Neem Oil
So what exactly is neem oil? It’s best described by this extract obtained from Wikipedia .
“Neem oil is a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of the neem (Azadirachta indica), an evergreen tree which is endemic to the Indian subcontinent and has been introduced to many other areas in the tropics.”
There are many Neem oil products on the market and most are very effective against insect invasions. The oil is sprayed onto the the plants and the insects will feed on the the leaves and stems of that pant, digesting the oil.
This is one of the safest of all the natural insecticidal sprays available on the market. The Bees, Birds and other smaller animals aren’t known to be affected by it because they don’t consume the plant.
F). Natural Predators.
There are a number of predatory insects that eat mealy bugs and these include lady birds, lacewings and hoverflies. Several wasp species will also feed on them.
I’ve always believed that providing a good, attractive, environment for these beneficial insects will go a long way towards building up there populations.
For birds you will need to provide water, usually in the form of birdbaths and ponds. But the same can be said for wasps and other insects. Many will need water for survival or to develop mud homes. Others will need Hollow logs or other materials to build there dwellings.
I hope to write an article on the various homes you can construct, and conditions you will need to meet, that will influence them to not only visit your garden, but to stay.
You will need to visit your local garden or agricultural centers for more information on obtaining these ‘good’ insects.
Nematodes are small, worm like insects that attack the roots of both ornamental plants and vegetables. If you notice your plants turning yellow and/or becoming stunted, they have most likely been affected by nematode invasions.
I have seen the devastating results of these creatures attacks on gardenias and other ornamental shrubs. However, the most likely candidates to encounter these pests are usually flower seedlings or vegetables such as beans, beetroot, carrots peas and tomatoes.
You can reduce nematode incursions by taking the following actions.
A). Plant resistant varieties.
Planting those vegetables that are more resistant to an attack. These include Capsicums, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli and sweetcorn.
B). Rotate Crops.
In the case of vegetables, using a rotating crop system (we will be taking a closer look at this in a future blog).
C). Removing and destroying the roots of infected plants.
This is self explanatory so I won’t go into it any further.
D). Green cover Crops.
Planting green cover crops in the area you are going to build your flower garden or vegetable beds. When chopped down and added through the soil these crops release a gas that is toxic to nematodes.
E). Add Organic Matter.
Continually adding organic matter such as manures and composts to your soil at least once a year. Nematodes are trapped by the fungi that develop in this mix.
This works best for vegetable garden, but is a bit more difficult to implement successfully in a flower garden unless you completely dig the area up.
Solorisation simply means you clean up the area that is affected and cover it with 4mm thick plastic. Make sure the area is thoroughly cleaned first, and the edges of the plastic are tucked in under the soil. This stops any air getting in plus will prevent the plastic from blowing away in strong winds.
Keep an eye on the soil temperature. You want to reach an extreme of 50 Celsius or approximately 120 F. Do not let the soil temperature go any higher then this as you want to kill the bad pathogens and leave the good.
Leave the plastic on for approximately one month. You can then cultivate the area and replant.
G). Encourage Natural predators.
Like most insect species, Nematodes have developed some predatory species that attack the root nematode types. However this is a complex subject to explain and probably not a reliable control for the home garden.
If you take the actions mentioned above, in particular making sure you develop good, healthy, organic soils enriched with manures and composts, you will both discourage nematodes and encourage those other insects that eat them.
6). Snails and Slugs.
molluscs. Cornu aspersum
Snails and slugs are one pest in the garden that can demolish a plant over night, particularly young seedlings. These pests aren’t fussy, they’ll eat just about anything plant.
There are good and bad snails and slugs, but unfortunately most people are unable to tell the difference, hence they kill any that they see.
Both snails and slugs tend to hide under leaves, debris, wood, moist foliage and even stones. They chew the leaves of the plant and then lay there eggs in the soil nearby. A small infestation of the bad boys can soon lead to enormous problem.
So What Can I do?
There are a number of ways to control them without having to resort to pesticides.
A). Garden maintenance.
Clean up the garden and keep weeds and debris to a minimum.
Handpick any you might see off the plant The best time to do this is either in the early morning or towards evening. Place them in a bucket of water and detergent. This will kill them. The alternative is to stand on them with your boots.
C). Sawdust or Grit.
Place sawdust or shell grit around each of your seedlings. Snails and slugs don’t like to venture on these materials.
D). Natural Baits.
Use natural baits such as Beer or milk in small containers to attract them. If you half fill the containers with either of these fluids the snails will come for a drink and fall in and drown.
E). Use Diatomaceous earth.
If you sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the plants the sharp edges will cut through the snails mucus causing it to dehydrate and die.
F). Create a habitat.
Develop your garden to be a natural habitat for birds, lizards and frogs . These animals, and others, will help control many insect pests as well as snails and slugs.
That’s Part 1 of 6 Garden Pests Identification completed.
I hope you benefited from part 1 of garden pests identification. Part 2 will be available shortly.
Just remember that it’s always easier to to reach for the chemical sprays to rid ourselves of insect pests. But is this the best alternative?
I will be honest with you, I used the easier methods for many years but when I studied the natural methods, saw the results of using chemicals and weighed up the benefits of going natural, my decision on which path to take became easy.
I have witnessed both farming and gardening friends suffer with cancer from having used chemical sprays. I have seen the results to soil fertility and toxicity caused by these sprays.
Going natural isn’t an easy path. It’s more laborious and takes some serious study to understand, but the benefits are definitely worth while.
If we want to leave our children and grandchildren with a cleaner, self sufficient and healthier earth, it’s the only path to take.
Happy Gardening. Jim
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