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What's Bugging Your Garden? - 4 Common Garden Pests To Look Out For

Updated on April 18, 2011

They're creepy, crawly, and sometimes slimy; you hate having them around and do whatever you can to get rid of them. They destroy your work and cause you endless aggravation. No, we are not talking about lawyers or politicians. We're talking about garden pests. Whether your garden is vegetable, victory, sustainable, organic, natural, flower or other, you have probably had them. And if you are here that means you definitely want to get rid of them.

Garden pests range in size from considerable caterpillars to minuscule mites, are found on the plants, at ground level or just beneath the surface; some even bore into the plant stems. Some bugs can be beneficial to your garden, but most need to be eliminated. Ridding your garden of pests can take a lot of careful work and a certain amount of strategy. It is an ongoing process, so don't be discouraged if you don't see immediate results. Your garden is worth it.


Cutworms | Source

If you are at all squeamish about bugs then the good news with cutworms is that you probably won't see them until they start feeding. The bad news is that you probably won't see them until they start feeding.

Cutworms are the caterpillar form of the Turnip Moth, are typically 1-2 inches in length and are stout and soft-bodied. Like moths they are primarily nocturnal; they eat at night and tend to burrow during the day. That is why you typically won't notice cutworms until after you begin seeing the damage they inflict.

Cutworms eat all kinds of plants and usually feed on the lower parts of the stems, causing the plant to fall over as if cut . Eggs are usually lain in late fall, lay dormant over the winter. Cutworms hatch in the early spring and go through several different generations until they transform into moths in the late spring. Since they feed on most vegetables and feed early a heavy cutworms infestation in early spring is often devastating for your garden.

Cutworms love...Asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, celery, corn, lettuce, peas, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. They also love to lay their eggs in weeds and leftover plant remains after the harvest.

Cutworms hate...a well tilled gardens and birds. Tilling your garden before you plant will help kill eggs and reduce the plant residue where they can hide. Tilling your garden in the fall after you harvest can also destroy cutworm-larvae hiding places. You can also place collars around plants, with one end pushed about an inch into the ground and the other raising up several inches. This will make it difficult for most species of cutworms to access your plants. You can also urge birds to visit your garden and eat the cutworms with a well-placed feeder or bird bath.

Tomato Hornworms

Tomato Hornworms
Tomato Hornworms | Source

Don't be fooled by the name of the tomato hornworm. Just because they have horns does not mean they bear any similarities to magical unicorns. In fact, if you get them in your garden, you will not be enchanted by them at all; you will likely be disgusted.

Tomato hornworms are large green caterpillars that can grow up to four inches long. Even though hornworms are large does not mean that you will spot them right away. They can be very difficult to locate because they closely resemble leaves. The only way you might be able to spot them is by identifying the characteristic white strips on their back and the black or red horn they have on their behind.

As their name might indicate, hornworms have a favorite vegetable they like to feed on: tomatoes. These pests will eat holes in your green tomatoes, causing them to rot. They also tend to chew through leaves and stems, causing a great deal of damage to plants. These caterpillars will transform into moths in June and July, who will subsequently lay eggs that take only one week to hatch. These caterpillars will then pupate in the soil, which will hatch in the early spring of the following year.

Tomato hornworms love…tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and potatoes. They also love leaves and stems and have been known to eat through fruit as well.

Tomato hornworms hate…people who locate them on plants and pick them off by hand. Picking these pests off plants once they become large caterpillars is the most effective way to get rid of them. Hornworms also hate a well-tilled garden. If you till your garden well at the end of the summer when your tomatoes have finished producing, you will destroy any pupae of the hornworm. Tilling the soil in late summer or fall is crucial because many insecticides won't work once hornworms are full grown.

Cabbage Loopers

Cabbage Loopers
Cabbage Loopers | Source

Even if you are not a fan of the tasteless green vegetable known as cabbage, you probably still don't want bugs devouring it once you have taken the time to actually plant it in your garden. For some strange reason, cabbage loopers love the stuff and will eat through your green veggies before you even realize they are there.

Cabbage loopers are light green in color and closely resemble small caterpillars. They have a pale white stripe along each side and other thin stripes down the back. When fully grown, loopers can grow to be about 1.5 inches in length. When loopers transform into moths as adults, they are grayish-brown and have a small silver spot in the middle of each wing. 

Cabbage loopers will eat through lots of green vegetables including peas and cabbage. They also chew through leaves of many different types of plants, which can cause a great deal of damage to your garden. Cabbage loopers go through many different life cycles, which can make them difficult to spot and identify. Loopers lay eggs in the late summer or early fall on the upper surface of leaves. The pupa then develops over the winter and hatches in the early spring. The caterpillars will continue to grow over the course of the spring and will then transform into moths in late summer.

Cabbage loopers love…beets, cabbage, cotton, kale, lettuce, peas, potatoes, tomatoes and leaves. They also love hiding on stems and the tops of leaves. They are also attracted to lights during the nighttime.

Cabbage loopers hate…when row covers are installed in gardens before moths can lay their eggs. Loopers also hate lime and wood ash; they will avoid coming into your garden if they smell it. Smaller loopers also dislike flour and salt; they will often die if you sprinkle it on them when you notice them.


Aphids | Source

There is one reason aphids should be your favorite garden pest: they will not eat the prized vegetables in your garden. However, there is also a reason that they should be your least favorite: they feed on the sap of vegetables and other plants, killing them without actually eating them.

Aphids are very tiny insects that are usually yellow, green or brown in color. They have tiny little pear shaped bodies and have long horns poking out their backsides called cornicles. Aphids have soft bodies and can reproduce very quickly, escalating the problem in your garden very quickly.

Aphids are one of the most destructive garden pests. While they do not actually eat plants themselves, they suck the sap from leaves and stems, causing plants to curl up, become yellow and eventually die. They will move around your garden quickly from flowers, to vegetables, to trees. Many times when an aphid sucks the sap from leaves and stems, they pass viruses to the plants that will usually kill them.

The lifespan of an aphid is very short, causing multiple generations of the insect to hatch and die over the course of a year. Aphids hatch in the early spring, all of whom will be wingless females. In just a couple of days, they will start to clone themselves, giving birth to numerous smaller aphids, known as nymphs, each day. Aphids will continue to clone themselves over the course of the summer until the weather begins to cool. At this time, some aphids will spontaneously become males. Aphids will then mate and females will lay their eggs in late fall.

Aphids love…roses, alfalfa, lettuce, maple, walnut, bamboo, oak and grape vines. They love sap from all plants and leaves and will usually feed on one plant until they have sucked it completely dry.

Aphids hate…ladybugs. Ladybugs are one of the main known predators of aphids, so you can build structures to attract ladybugs to your garden and kill off these unwanted pests.

More Resources:

For more information on black widow spiders, insects, and other pests, visit The Pest Nest!


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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for a very interesting and very informative hub!

    • daisyjae profile image

      daisyjae 6 years ago from Canada

      This is extremely useful info for gardeners, i am going to tweet this one! Thanks for writing it.