by Teresa Odle
Each year, American gardeners face frustrating problems with their edible or ornamental gardens. Many of these are caused by likable critters and others by creepy crawlers. Controlling pests requires a little knowledge and attention. Here are MasterGardening.com’s Top 10 garden pests and a few control tips:
1.Deer- Sorry, but these lovely, peaceful animals were tabbed as causing the most widespread wildlife damage in a USDA national survey. Gardeners who live near them don’t help matters by inviting them near their gardens when they want to impress visitors. The first step in managing deer is to stop providing winter feed or salt. Clean up all unharvested fruits and vegetables, too; these steps make your property less attractive come spring. If you still see telltale signs of deer damage, jagged edges on torn leaves or bark scraped off trees,you can try deer repellents, scare devices or fencing. The type of fence depends on your needs, such as the size of the area that needs protecting.
2. Snails and slugs- Mollusks are unattractive and can do extensive damage. They’re hard to eradicate, and no fun to hand-pick and discard. Fertilizer salts can dehydrate snails, but be sure to use commercial products that have bands of fertilizer for your plants, not table salt, which can harm plants. Sprinkle in a protective border around the plant. Some snail and slug baits are organic, but others are extremely toxic to children, pets and wildlife, so be sure to check the labels and use with caution. And keep mollusks away by removing debris from shaded areas.
3. Aphids- Often hard to see, they show up on new shoots, blooms and the undersides of leaves. Aphids literally suck the sap out of the plant, which produces curled leaves, yellowish spots and a honeydew that ants love. Start by spraying the plant with a steady but soft stream of water every few days until they go away. You also can apply insecticidal soap. Home soap remedies can work but be sure to follow mixing directions and rinse the soap off sensitive plants after it’s had a chance to work on the aphids.
4. Moles and gophers- Depending on the region of the country, one of these critters may be active in the garden year-round. Moles and gophers dig underground tunnels, which can damage lawn and plant roots. Sometimes gardeners can deal with moles, knowing they eat insect larvae and eventually will move on. Most barriers won’t keep out gophers, but rodent fence or hardware cloth may keep a mole out of a flowerbed. Sonic devices are effective against moles and other burrowers. Place the devices in the tunnels to drive them from your property. Smoke bombs and other repellents can also be an effective way of controlling moles and gophers.
5.Japanese beetles- These distinctively metallic green or copper beetles attack plants from the time they’re larvae in the ground, feeding on roots, until they’re adults ripping foliage from plants in the summer. Surveying for grubs in the ground can help a gardener know if the problem is serious enough to address chemically. Pyrethrum is a good defense for these pests, who love turf and nearly every vegetable and ornamental in the garden. If you use traps, be sure to place them away from the garden; the lures inside attract the beetles.
6.Caterpillars- These seemingly still and innocuous crawlers can do major damage to plants. Cutworms, which are the larvae of Miller moths, can chop off plant seedlings. Farmers dread the corn earworm; the tomato hornworm also plagues home gardeners. The large, creepy worm is hard to find on plants because of its leafy green color. It’s best detected at dawn and dusk. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is the best biological control for caterpillars. Or you can pick the hornworms off and choose your own method of destruction.
7.Rabbits- Cottontails and jackrabbits do similar damage. They really love leafy green vegetables but also go after
ornamentals and strip bark in fall and winter. Raccoons do more damage to the house than the garden but love fruits, berries, nuts and grain. First, make your garden less attractive to critters by cleaning up wood piles, overgrown shrubs, dropped seeds from bird feeders and securing trash can lids. Try a protective repellent around the perimeter of your garden. Chicken wire fencing may keep them out, but rabbits can get around chain-link fences. To trap rabbits, try dried alfalfa or clover for bait in cold weather, apples, carrots or cabbage in warm weather. Trapping is about the only control for raccoons. Marshmallows, grapes, prunes and peanut butter will lure raccoons, but not cats, into the trap.
8.Lawn grubs- White grubs are immature larvae of June or May beetles. They feed on all types of grass roots and damage lawns. The grass eventually feels loose and can roll up. The problem is they’re down under, where the gardener can’t see them. But moles digging in the turf or flocks of birds feeding on the grass are possible signs of white grubs. Sampling by digging about three inches deep under edges of affected turf can confirm presence of and help identify lawn grubs. See product listings sure to control the grubs plaguing your turf.
9.Ants- They’re mostly a nuisance and fire ants have a painful sting. But contrary to popular belief, some ants can damage plants. Imported fire ants feed on plant seeds and other insects, which can offset the balance of beneficial insects in the garden. Ants also can tend aphids on ornamentals, protecting aphids from other insects and thus helping them destroy plants. Besides, they’re just annoying and destructive around children and structures. Direct mound applications of granules work best to control these pests.
10.The Gardener- That’s right, control of nearly every pest begins with the care,or neglect of the gardener. It starts with selecting plants appropriate for the climate and less attractive to your region’s pests. Regular and appropriate watering keeps plants healthy, which helps them fight off diseases and many pests. Careful monitoring, quick action and simply paying attention to what’s happening in and around the garden, then researching and purchasing the best products to fight off pests can help ensure that plants remain pest-free. Visit MasterGardening.com for all your deer fencing and garden pest control needs.