10 Worst Garden Pests: How to Identify and Control Them

The first step to control garden pests is to identify them.

Once you know what they are, you can choose effective options to deter them from ruining your plants.

Colorado potato beetle

 

IN THIS POST

  • What are garden pests?
  • Top 10 garden damaging pests and ways to control them
  1. Aphids
  2. Birds
  3. Caterpillars
  4. Cutworms
  5. Deer
  6. Japanese beetles
  7. Moles
  8. Rabbits
  9. Snails and slugs
  10. Stink bugs
  • Garden pests grouped according to plants they damage  (a quick reference)

 

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What are garden pests?

Pests are animals or plants that harm the human body, human food or in any way affect human living negatively. 

Therefore, garden pests are pests that attack and eat vegetable and fruit garden crops.

Garden pests include insects, moles, skunks, foxes, racoons, mice, squirrels, rabbits, birds, deer, and even family pets if they are damaging your garden.

Top 10 garden pests that damage many garden crops (and how to control them) 

Here are 10 common pests that affect a wide variety of garden plants, along with pictures, description of the damage they cause, and ways of repelling or controlling them.

1. Aphids

insects pests - aphids

These tiny pear-shaped green or black bugs feed on plant sap and leave behind a sticky residue that will attract ants or other insects. They also transmit viruses that can kill plants. 

Damage aphids cause: leaves, stems or plant tips with distorted patches. Severely infested leaf and flowers drop off plants

Aphid control:

  • knock them off with a stream of water from a hose;
  • attract to your garden or purchase and release insects that destroy aphids: ladybugs, aphid midgets, lacewings, or parasitic wasps;
  •  spray them with neem oil mixed with water in a spray bottle for quick results;
  • cover crops with floating row cover to prevent problems.

2. Birds

flock of birds can destroy your garden
Birds are not always bad guys, they will eat weed seeds and harmful insects. When birds prey on your crop, however, you must see them as pests. Flocks of birds are like locusts. They can decimate entire berry patches or grain fields, and individual birds could be aggressive in attacking a particular crop. The worst offenders – starlings and blackbirds.

Damage birds cause: seeds you planted or young seedlings (especially corn) disappear because birds ate them; ripe fruit and berries are damaged (pecked on) or disappear (blueberries and cherries especially)

Bird control in gardens: 

3. Caterpillars

insect pests

Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths. They are one of the most annoying garden pests that feed on plants. 

To identify what kind of caterpillar you are dealing with, check out this American caterpillar gallery.

Damage caterpillars cause: leaves can have large round or ragged holes or be consumed entirely, sometimes leaves look like skeletons, because just leaf veins are left, flowers are eaten, caterpillar poop can be visible in the area of the damage.

Caterpillar control: 

  • handpick them off plants and destroy by placing in a bucket with soapy water 
  • attract beneficial insects that destroy caterpillars – lacewings, assassin bugs, parasitic wasps
  • sprinkle hot pepper around garden or mix homemade bug spray (check the recipe in this article)
  • if caterpillars are a serious problem, consider growing some crops, for example lettuce,  under floating row cover.

 

4. Cutworms

cutworm

There are several species of cutworms. They feed at night and on overcast days on stems of seedlings or transplants.

Damage cutworms cause: seedlings nipped off and lying on the ground, as if somebody cut them with scissors.

Cutworm control:

5. Deer

deer - garden pest
Deer can harm gardens and landscape in many ways year-round. When they get used to feeding in your garden, they will come back again and again.

Damage deer cause: trampled plants, torn or shredded leaves on the trees, broken twigs, stripped bark.

Deer control:

6. Japanese beetles

garden pests - Japanese beetle
Don’t be fooled by their pretty look! These cute metallic beetles with bronze wings and long legs are one of the worst enemies of your garden. When one Japanese beetle finds a good food source it emits pheromones to attract more beetles, so early removal is essential

Damage Japanese beetles cause: according to umn.edu Japanese beetles feed on the leaves, flowers or fruit of more than 300 species of plants. They skeletonize leaves, leaving them looking like a cheesecloth. Also, Japanese beetle grubs chew grass roots, causing the turf to brown and die.

Japanese beetle control: 

  • shake them off in the morning into a tarp and drown in soapy water
  • cover plants with floating row covers
  • drench sod with parasitic nematodes to kill larvae
  • use Japanese & Oriental beetle trap
  • spray plants with ‘Surround’ organic pesticide (kaolin clay) to deter Japanese beetles. (Learn more about’ Surround’ here).

7. Moles

molehills

Moles are burrowing animals that eat earthworms and other small invertebrates. They usually make holes in the ground, which can be a problem for people who have gardens or lawns near their homes.

Damage moles cause: you can see mole hills in the garden, lawn or flower bed with uprooted plants. 

Mole control: 

8. Rabbits

rabbit - garden pest

Rabbits – yes, those little cute bunnies :), are garden pests that can eat a lot of plants in your garden. 

Damage rabbits cause: they will usually chew on any edible plant they find: seedlings disappear, older plants are eaten on the top, cut off above the soil level or missing, bark on young fruit trees gone. Tooth marks are left on tree trunks. Rabbit droppings, which look like blackberries, can be seen nearby.

Rabbit control:

9. Snails and Slugs

garden pests - slugs and snails
Slugs and snails are not insects, they are mollusks, though in the garden they cause as much damage as insect pests. The body of a slug is completely soft, and it doesn’t have any teeth. The body of the snail has a shell.

Damage snails and slugs cause: seedlings disappear, rugged holes in the leaves, slugs and snails or slime trails seen.

Slug control: 

To learn more about natural slug control, check out #3, 6, 9, 11, 14 in this article.

10. Stink bugs

stink bugs

Stink bugs are known for their shield-shaped body and unpleasant odor. There are several species of stink bugs: brown and green stink bugs are the most common. According to collage of agriculture of Clemson.edu stink bugs feed on plant juices of 52 plants, including bean and cowpea seeds, okra pods, ripening tomato fruit, stems of melons and asparagus, as well as eggplant, potato, peach, and strawberry.

Damage stink bugs cause: the fruit or plant will look like it was pricked by many tiny pins

Stink bug control:

  • keep the garden area free of weeds and debris,  especially, do not leave spent cucumbers, zucchini and squash plants in your garden 
  • spraying fruits and vegetables with organic Surround insecticide (which is essentially a kaolin clay) is effective in deterring stink bugs.

Now, after a detailed description of the top 10 garden pests, I want to provide you with this list of pests according to the type of plants they affect, so you can have a handy reference.

Garden pests

(grouped according to plants they damage)

Garden pests damaging many garden crops: 

  • aphids, armyworms, birds, cats, cutworm, caterpillars, deer, dogs, flea beetle, Japanese beetle, leaf footed bugs, leafhoppers, leafminers, mice, moles, rabbits, racoons, slugs and snails, spider mites, squirrels, stink bugs, tarnished plant bug, thrips, whiteflies;

Insect pests damaging cabbage family crops: 

  • cabbage looper, cabbage maggot, imported cabbage worm;

Insect pests damaging squash family crops:

  • cucumber beetle, squash bug, squash, vine borer;

Insect pests damaging bean family crops:

  • Mexican bean beetles, caterpillrs, aphids, bean leaf beetles;

Insect pests damaging Solanaceae (nightshade) family crops that includes tomatoes, eggplants, pepper, potatoes:

  • Colorado potato beetle, potato aphids, leafhoppers, flea beetles, caterpillars; 

Insect pests damaging corn:

  • European corn borer, corn earworm, stalk corer, Japanese beetle, slugs, cutworms, earwigs, racoons, birds;

Insect pests that affect tomato plants:

  • tomato fruitworm, hornworms aphids, tomato russet mites, flee beetles, spider mites, whiteflies, tomato pinworms;

Garden pests that damage fruits:

  • apple maggot, codling moth, Japanese beetle, mealybugs, leafrollers, Oriental fruit moth, peach tree borer, plum curculio, scales, birds, squirrels, racoons, deer.
common garden pests (with pictures)

 Pin for later reference!

Final thoughts on garden pests

We all know how the joy of gardening can be negated by pesky garden pests that wreak havoc on your plants!

This article covered 10 common pests capable of ruining your garden, showed you how to identify them based on the damage they cause, and provided you with some natural ways to control or deter them, so you can enjoy your garden again!

You have read:

How to identify and control garden pests

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