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How to Rid Your Yard of Five of the Worst Garden Pests

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

These aphids were eating my desert globemallow plants until I released several thousand ladybugs into my backyard. The ladybugs love to eat aphids without doing any harm to any of your plants.

These aphids were eating my desert globemallow plants until I released several thousand ladybugs into my backyard. The ladybugs love to eat aphids without doing any harm to any of your plants.

Aphids Will Eat Almost Anything

There aren't many plants aphids won't attack, feeding on the foliage and stems, especially during dry days and hot temperatures. These tiny, teardrop-shaped devils will leave your foliage yellow, speckled, mottled, brown and/or wilted.

Some other symptoms of aphid damage are stunted growth, low yields, decreased rates of growth, and death. Because of the way they feed, aphids foster viral and bacterial diseases, both more difficult to control than the population of the aphids.

The Solutions

Water or Insecticidal Soap: You won't want to spray insecticides on aphids because of the threat to the beneficial insects that may be nearby. Instead, blast them with a spray of water from your garden hose, or apply a gentle insecticidal soap.

Ladybugs: Ladybugs do no damage to your plants and they are fun to watch in your garden. They also will turn your aphid infestations into their own brunch. You can buy hundreds of live ladybugs online from different places. This is my own personal favorite solution to aphids.

Yellow Bowls of Soapy Water: If you set out a bowl of soapy water, make sure the bowl is yellow (the brighter the better). Aphids are naturally attracted to anything yellow, will jump into the water but the poor things can't swim a stroke.

You can buy yellow sticky traps that will attract aphids, but I don't recommend them because they can inadvertently catch beneficial insects.

Ugly Blobs of Slime: Slugs and Snails

Slugs (and snails), in my humble opinion, are ugly little strips of slime that can make your gardening life pretty miserable so if you see them, you must get rid of them. They will leave behind unsightly holes in the foliage of your beautiful plants. If you have some potentially prize-winning plants, they will not know the difference and will leave them looking ragged and ruined.

The Solutions

Crushed eggshells: If you simply want to protect your plants from slugs and snails, you can spread a wide layer of crushed eggshells around them; they are sharp enough to cut into their bodies and they know not to cross them. The eggshells will keep them away from the plants but they will move on to other ones so I prefer the next solution.

Kill them: If you are okay with my own preferred "death sentence" for them, either sink a shallow container filled with beer into the ground or place a half-empty bottle of beer on its side. The mollusks will crawl inside the beer and die.

I have no qualms about getting rid of slugs or snails, so whenever I see one, I pluck it off with tweezers and drop it into a bottle of beer to possibly die happy (it's the least I can do), put the lid on the bottle (I use a soda bottle) and throw it into the trash bin.

There are many different species of cutworms in many different colors—solids, striped or spotted. They can reach up to two inches in length and tend to feed only at night. This photograph shows some red-backed cutworm larvae.

There are many different species of cutworms in many different colors—solids, striped or spotted. They can reach up to two inches in length and tend to feed only at night. This photograph shows some red-backed cutworm larvae.

Cutworms: The Sneakiest Pests Around

Cutworms, the larvae (caterpillars) of several species of brown moths, are very stealthy and extremely sneaky, hiding just below the soil during the daytime, only to emerge in the darkness to feed on your plants, especially the ones that are newly planted and tender. Usually, you will see the damage cutworms do before you see the cutworm itself and the damage is unmistakable.

If the main stem of a plant is small enough, you might see a clean cut at the base, completely toppling; if the base is too thick, they will choose, instead, to climb up and eat around the more tender parts of the plant. The damage is usually seen at planting time, in spring or early summer.

The Solutions

Plant collars: To protect your plants, you can make a cutworm collar from either paper towels or toilet tissue tubes (see video below).

Diatomaceous earth: Sprinkle diatomaceous earth (a natural powder made of ground-up fossils) around your plants and it will dehydrate and kill the cutworms when they crawl across it (avoid getting it in your eyes or inhaling it).

Coffee grounds or eggshells: If you don't have diatomaceous earth, you can sprinkle used coffee grounds or crushed eggshells around your plants.

Create a cutworm-predator-friendly garden: Make your yard attractive to the natural predators of cutworms, which are meadowlarks, fireflies, blackbirds and toads.

Japanese Beetles

In their adult form, Japanese beetles only live about two months but during those two months, they can destroy the beauty of your plants by eating away at the foliage, giving it a skeleton-like appearance. They feed on the flowers, fruit or leaves of more than 300 species of plants but normally the damage is only cosmetic in nature, which many gardeners find reason enough to get rid of them.

If you have turfgrass, Japanese beetles are your enemy. They will chew the roots causing the turf to turn brown and die; grub-damaged turf will pull up easily from the soil.

The Solution

Drop cloths: Cover your plants at night with a large drop cloth and in the morning, when the beetles are the most active, you can remove the cloth and spray the attached bugs with soapy water. You could also put on some gloves, pluck them off by hand and place them in a bottle of soapy water.

Fermented fruit cocktail: Buy a can of fruit cocktail, set it out in the sunlight for a few days so it ferments. Then, open it up and set it on top of a brick placed in the center of a bucket of water. The fermented fruit is very attractive to them and they will try their best to get to it and the water will drown them. Keep this little concoction away from the plants you are trying to protect.

This is a list of the plants that the Japanese beetles favor over most others, so avoid planting them if you live in an area that gets regular infestations:

  • American linden
  • Apple
  • Apricot, cherry, peach, and plum
  • Beans
  • Birch
  • Crab apple
  • Crape myrtle
  • Grapevines
  • Hibiscus
  • Japanese maple
  • Norway maple
  • Pin oak
  • Raspberry
  • Roses
Japanese beetles can skeletonize your plants, turning healthy leaves into a skeleton of veins during the summer. They feed on the tissue between the major veins.

Japanese beetles can skeletonize your plants, turning healthy leaves into a skeleton of veins during the summer. They feed on the tissue between the major veins.

The Least Favored Plants of Japanese Beetles

My advice is to always choose your plants wisely and these are among the least-favored plants of Japanese beetles but that does not mean they are immune to infestations if the food supply of the beetles is limited:

  • Ash
  • Boxwood
  • Burning bush
  • Clematis
  • Dogwood
  • Fir
  • Forsythia
  • Hemlock
  • Holly
  • Lilac
  • Magnolia
  • Northern red oak
  • Pine
  • Redbud
  • Red maple
  • Spruce
  • Yew

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

Comments

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on December 03, 2019:

Thank you so much! I appreciate you taking the time to read my articles.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 03, 2019:

Exactly that these the worst pests to have in a garden. Your helpful tips will clear them away and our gardens will be pest free and our plants will grow greatly.