What’s Eating My Garden?
Aphids, slugs, snails, caterpillars, whiteflies, Japanese Beetles, spider mites, scale insects, and thrips; these garden pests are the Georgia gardener’s nemeses. Some suck the life out of plants, some like to chew on fresh greenery, and others bore through stems eating away nutrition and leaving stalks hollow.
How Healthy is your Landscape?
If these symptoms are present in your plants, then it’s time to evaluate the health of your landscape. Avoiding pests in your garden starts with carefully tended soil. Before planting, test the soil to ensure the pH is above 6.5 (7 is ideal for good plant health). Bring a sample into your local extension office, or purchase a kit from your local garden shop.
When the soil is right for planting, choose plants that are less likely to attract bugs, such as marigolds. Be selective about what plants to include in your garden, and carefully inspect their leaves weekly to catch any developing pest problems.
What Garden Pests Cause Gardeners the Most Grief?
- Aphids – Aphids can be green, yellow, black, red, brown, or gray and grow to about ¼ inch long. Since their colors vary, they can be confusing for gardeners to identify, so look for two tailpipes—one on each side of the abdomen. If the leaves of your garden plants look wilted or curled or new leaves look distorted, you likely have an aphid infestation. Other symptoms can include stunted plant growth. Check the underside of plant leaves where eggs, bugs, or their exoskeletons will be visible.
Aphids are suckers that thrive in the weeds, so be sure to pull weeds regularly from around your healthy plants to avoid them. Natural enemies to the aphid are parasitoids, which use aphids as a host to grow their own population. Wasps and flies carry these organisms, so they can be beneficial to garden plants.
- Slugs and Snails – These pests are mollusks that chew on various living plants and also decaying ones. Slugs and snails share the same slimy, legless body type, but snails can be distinguished by their spiral shell. Their eyes are located at the top of their tentacles, which are used for feeling and tasting. As they move along plants, they leave behind a shiny, slimy excretion that reveals their path.
Slugs and snails enjoy eating tender plant leaves making odd-shaped, ragged holes in them as they go. They are prone to low-lying plants, such as strawberries, and purple hearts. To deter slugs and snails, remove damp hiding places in the undergrowth of your garden. Applying natural repellents such as powdered diatomaceous earth will help rid your garden of these pests.
- Caterpillars – These little pests are another leaf chewer. Tent caterpillars and Fall Webworms are the most common types of caterpillars found in Georgia Gardens. They might be pretty, but they are a danger to your plants. They chew on leaves and stems and burrow in plant tissues, making them hosts for the next generation. Webworms are named for the web they form at the “Y” at the end of a tree branch or plant.
Caterpillars leave holes, excrement, and webbed or rolled leaves behind as evidence they are causing a problem for your plants. If you see them, picking them off is a good method of control, and placing larvae in soapy water is an organic way to rid your garden of these pests. Chemical methods are available for ridding your garden of these pests. Contact Simply Green for effective chemical removal.
- Whiteflies – These pests are sap-sucking insects. They are very small and can infest a garden quickly in warm weather. They use their needle-like noses to poke holes in the phloem, the pathway inside the stems that feeds the entire plant. After sucking the plants dry, leaves turn yellow or dry out and fall off, and they may be covered with a black, sooty or sticky residue.
To get rid of whiteflies, remove infected leaves and use water sprays and reflective mulches. Yellow sticky traps also can be used to eliminate these pests. Neem oil is an insecticidal treatment that has proven effective at reducing, but not eliminating populations of whiteflies. The No. 1 strategy is prevention by introducing natural predators such as lacewings and small ladybeetles.
What Ornamental Garden Pests Cause the Most Damage?
- Japanese Beetles – Japanese Beetles are about a ½ inch long with blue and green metallic heads and brownish bodies. They feed on the upper leaf surface chewing holes throughout the lush, green growth. Although the damage they cause is not deadly to the plant, their feeding pattern leaves behind a lacy appearance, which makes the plant look unhealthy. These beetles can devour entire flower petals still leaving the plant alive and well without affecting the plant’s longevity.
Controlling populations of Japanese Beetles is challenging because chemical options could kill off healthy organisms and create potentially harmful runoff. Natural predators of Japanese Beetles include birds, spiders, and stink bugs. If you choose a chemical treatment, contact Simply Green for the most effective and safest chemical applications.
- Spider Mites – Spider mites got their name from the silky, spider-like web they weave. They damage plants by sucking the nutrients from healthy plant cells. Spider mites are nearly microscopic so it’s best to use a magnifying glass when inspecting plants. Another detection method is to place a piece of white paper under a leaf and tap it to loosen the mites.
Evidence of spider mite damage are light dots on the leaves or leaves may turn bronze. Heavily damaged leaves will turn yellow and fall off the plant. Severe infestations reveal a thin webbed layer. Controlling these pests involves water. Spider mites are less likely to survive in water-stressed environments. Chemical control sprays are not recommended because chemicals kill off natural predators. If chemical control is preferred, experts suggest insecticidal oils or soaps. Neem, canola, and cottonseed oils have also proven an effective treatment for spider mites.
- Scale Insects – Scale insects are related to whiteflies and aphids but have protective waxy or shell-like bumps or scales to cover them. These insects feed on sap, extracting fluids from plant tissues, thereby causing leaves to yellow or drop. In severe cases, an entire plant will die. The feeding activity of scale insects can also lead to the development of black, sooty mold on plant surfaces.
To control scale insect populations, physically remove the scales using a soft brush or scrape them off with your fingernail. Pruning to limit branches is also effective. Horticultural oil or insecticidal soap can help control scale insects. These products suffocate or disrupt the pests’ outer waxy layer, leading to their demise.
Scale insects’ natural predators include ladybugs, lacewings, or parasitic wasps. Attract these beneficial insects by planting nectar-producing flowers or using biological control agents specifically designed for scale insects. In severe infestations, systemic insecticides can be used. Contact Simply Green for treatment options.
- Thrips – These tiny—1 to 2 millimeters in length—pests pierce and suck plant cells causing damage to leaves, flowers and fruit. They have brown, black or yellow slender bodies with long, narrow wings that are fringed with hairs. They feed on sap, leaving behind silver or bronze streaks on foliage.
Cultural control methods include removing and destroying infested leaves and flowers. Prune affected plants to allow air and light to penetrate the environment, which thrips do not like. Predators such as mites, ladybugs, lacewings, or parasitic wasps will feed on thrips. Use insecticidal oils or soaps to drench infected plants. If choosing a chemical option, contact Simply Green for a consultation and treatment plan.
Simply Green Lawn Care Plus can help!
Simply Green experts educate homeowners on the importance of proactive pest management and the environmental significance of organic and sustainable pest control. Remember to check leaves often for signs of pesky invaders that can ruin your garden. Be aware of predatory bugs that will feed on pests, and not your plants. Research and choose pest-resistant plant varieties. Healthy plants are more resistant to pests. Adequate water, sunlight and nutrients promote strong plant growth, and proper pruning and spacing prevent overcrowding, which helps reduce the risk of pests and disease.
Maintaining a balance in your garden’s ecosystem is key to promoting plant health and attracting beneficial insects and cultivating a thriving garden. If you need any help with your lawn or garden, please contact Simply Green.
About Simply Green Lawn Care
Simply Green aims to provide the highest quality lawn care, mosquito control, and lawn pest control services to Georgia residents.
We are locally owned and operated which allows us to be accessible, attentive, and responsive for customers in Georgia.
Our well-trained team is easy to work with and determined to exceed expectations.
All our plant health care specialists are Georgia Department of Agriculture Certified and maintain their Category 24 applicators license.
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