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13 Common Pests of Leafy Vegetables: Photos, Prevention, and Control

Fredrick is an expert gardener, plumber, and author of farming guides. He loves to write about pest control, fish farming, and beekeeping.

Are Garden Bugs Eating Your Vegetable Leaves?

Garden pests can cause huge damage to leafy vegetables. If they are not well controlled or managed, they can greatly reduce the leaf quality or even kill the whole crop.

Just in case you didn't know, leafy vegetables refer to crops in the Cruciferae or Brassicaceae family. Examples of them include collard green, kale, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, rape, cauliflower, lettuce, celery, and turnip.

There are several pests that attack leafy vegetables, and all can be categorized into flies, bugs, mites, worms, and mollusks. If you grow greens or are planning to grow them, here are the most common pests of leaf vegetables, their prevention, control, and management. See clear photos of these harmful organisms to help identify the exact pest affecting your crop!

The Common Garden Pests of Leafy Greens, In Brief

  1. Leaf miners
  2. Aphids
  3. Thrips
  4. Cutworms
  5. Armyworms
  6. Cabbage looper
  7. Beetles
  8. Earworms and hornworms
  9. Green vegetable bugs
  10. Spider mites
  11. Stem borers
  12. Root-knot nematodes
  13. Snails and slugs

1. Leaf Miners

Leaf miners are destructive pests that suck sap and feed on the leaves, causing white tunnels or trails on the crop. The adult insect is a grey or white fly, while the larva or maggot is a greenish-yellow caterpillar with a pair of black mouth hooks. It is well known to cause great damage to beet, spinach, and chard.

These harmful insects can be controlled by a suitable insecticide. They can also be controlled by biological sprays, wasp predators which eat the larva and mechanical methods such as destroying infested crops and eliminating weeds.

Leaf miner causing a tunnel and trail.

Leaf miner causing a tunnel and trail.

2. Aphids

There are several species of aphids that attack greens, but the most common ones are peach aphids and potato aphids. These insects are usually small, pear-shaped with long sucking mouth parts and green, pink, orange, or dark red in color. They suck sap from the leaves and stems causing leaf cupping/curling and stunted plant growth. They can also transmit diseases such as mosaic and sooty mold.

Popularly known as plant lice, aphids can be controlled by a broad-spectrum pesticide which can be sprayed on the stems and on both sides of the leaves. However, aphids and other garden pests have become resistant to many broad-spectrum insecticides, pesticides and other killer chemicals which means that most chemicals out there do not help with these harmful organisms. When looking for the most effective pesticide for your vegetables, you should go for this Safer Brand pest spray which is known to control all kinds of garden pests.

The insecticide is made of natural and botanically derived ingredients which make it safe for people, animals, and birds. It is also quite suitable for pest control in fruit plants, flower plants, ornamental plants, hedges, and shrubs.

Aphids can also be controlled by biological methods such as beneficial parasites. For instance, ladybugs, brown lacewings, and aphidius feed on aphids and can therefore be used to control these soft-bodied bugs.

Aphids attack a leaf.

Aphids attack a leaf.

3. Thrips

Thrips are minute winged insects that feed on leaves and flowers, causing tiny spots, lesions, and downward leaf curling. They multiply faster and kill crops within two weeks if they are not well controlled. The light green, yellow, or black insects move in large numbers and can cause heavy damage to vegetable gardens.

There are a number of ways to control thrips, including the use of pesticides, garlic fire sprays, and predators such as mites and lacewing larva. Some mechanical methods such as weed control and intercropping can also help manage these garden pests.

Thrips feeding on a leaf.

Thrips feeding on a leaf.

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4. Cutworms

Cutworms are more destructive in their larval form, and as their name suggests, they cut the stems and leaves of seedlings and soft crops. The adult cutworms are large-bodied, dark moths with grey wings. There are three types of larva; black, granulate, and variegated, and all feed on the leaves, stems, and roots.

The pests can be killed by a suitable insecticide which can be applied after the worms appear in the garden. They can also be killed by parasitic wasps and flies, ground beetles, and beneficial viruses and fungi. In addition, they can be controlled by practices such as weed control, debris removal, and late planting.



5. Armyworms

The most common vegetable armyworms are beet and southern armyworms, and both are moths in their adult form. The moths are brownish-gray and damage vegetables by laying eggs on the flowers and leaves. The larva is more destructive: it bores holes on the crop crown and feeds on the plant tissue.

Armyworms can be treated with insecticides which are available for foliar applications. They can also be controlled by worm predators, parasitoids, and beneficial microbes. In addition, they can be managed through weed control and the destruction of crop residue.



6. Cabbage Looper

As the name suggests, this pest attacks cabbage, but it can be found on other greens such as broccoli, kale, turnip, mustard, cauliflower, and Brussels sprout. It is tiny and light green with silver markings or ridges and makes a loop when moving because it has only two pairs of legs. It affects crops in the larval form (caterpillar or grub) and also in the adult form (butterfly). It feeds on the leaves, causing ragged holes and other damages that lead to the loss of the crop.

Cabbage looper can be managed with pesticides, worm predators and beneficial viruses, and bacteria. It can also be managed by mechanical and physical methods such as crop rotation, squashing the butterfly eggs, and picking off the caterpillars. Concerning crop rotation, introducing lettuce after cabbage can eliminate the pest from the garden.

Cabbage looper.

Cabbage looper.

7. Beetles

The most common beetles in vegetable gardens are cucumber beetles, seedcorn beetles, click beetles, and flea beetles. The cucumber beetles are small, oval-shaped and have yellow or green thorax and abdomen. The seedcorn beetles are dark brown with light-colored bands on the wings. The click beetles, also known as wireworms, are dark brown and have short hairs and a large tooth-like projection. The flea beetles are tiny, dark and make flea-like movements and feed on the leaves causing holes and patches.

These harmful insects attack almost all parts of vegetable crops, including the roots and crowns, and can spread diseases such as bacterial wilt and mosaic virus. They are well known to cause notched leaves, irregular patches, and window panning on the leaves.

Concerning control, the four beetles can be killed with botanical insecticides which can be applied after the pests have been identified. They can also be controlled through crop rotation, early planting, weed control, flood irrigation, and introducing predators such as birds, spider preys, and ladybugs.

Seedcorn beetles causing patches on a leaf.

Seedcorn beetles causing patches on a leaf.

8. Earworms and Hornworms

Earworms are pinkish-brown or greenish-brown caterpillars with microspines all over their bodies. On the other hand, hornworms are green and have a hornlike projection on their back end. The two caterpillars feed on the leaves and bore the stems causing great damage to the crops.

The worms can be controlled effectively by pesticides which need to be applied frequently as the pests operate outside the crop and deep in the crown. They can also be controlled through the destruction of crop residues and the use of predators, parasitoids, and beneficial microorganisms.

Concerning the pesticides, garden worms exhibit different behavioral characteristics which protect them from most of these killer chemicals. So you should go for a chemical that's formulated to kill the organisms even when they are exhibiting the most protective behavior.

I can only recommend one worm killer which has shown to be highly effective in my garden. The Monterey pesticide targets and kills caterpillars (earworm, hornworm, armyworm, cutworm, loopers, stem borers, etc) and adult forms of insects and arachnids such as whiteflies, crickets, bugs, mites, scale crawlers, and earwings. It is just good for all garden pests, but more suitable for the larvae which are worms and caterpillars.

This worm killer is made of sulfur, insect-killing soap and potassium salts which are not harmful to people, pets, and wildlife. The 3-in-1 substance is formulated to kill harmful organisms, prevent fungi and saturate foliage. In addition to being used in leafy vegetables, the pesticide can be used in flowers, fruits, trees, and shrubs. It is ready to use and comes with its own sprayer.

Earworm causing holes on foliage.

Earworm causing holes on foliage.

9. Green Vegetable Bugs

The most common vegetable bugs are mealy, squash, and stink bugs. The three pests are well known to pierce the stems and leaves and suck the sap, causing crop distortion and stunted growth. They are pale pink, grey or white and popular in sheltered gardens.

These bugs can be controlled by natural sprays such as garlic fire and predators such as wasps. They can also be managed by methylated spirits, smothering oils, and physical methods such as squeezing and crushing with a hand.

Squash bug.

Squash bug.

10. Spider Mites

Spider mites are two-spotted arachnids that change color from pale green to orange or red when the weather becomes cold. They suck chlorophyll from the leaves, causing white translucent spots and a silky web that can cover the whole crop.

The garden pests can be controlled by natural predators such as beneficial mites, ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, and spiders. They can also be eradicated by an organic spray which needs to be applied on a weekly basis.

Spider mites.

Spider mites.

11. Stem Borers

As the name suggests, stem borers penetrate the stems and feed on the stem tissue causing sudden wilting of the crop. The most common borers in vegetable gardens are the squash vine borer and the European corn borer. The vine borers are cream-colored while the corn borers are light pink or gray with raised, dark spots all over their bodies.

Stem borers can be eliminated by pesticide sprays and practices such as removing and destroying the affected crop and clearing weed debris. They can also be managed by beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps, lady beetles, and lacewings.

European corn borer on a vegetable stem.

European corn borer on a vegetable stem.

12. Root-Knot Nematodes

Root-node nematodes are microscopic worms that feed on plant roots. They cause root-knot galls which prevent the roots from absorbing enough water and nutrients. With time, the affected crop withers and dies as a result of a lack of water and nutrients.

These parasitic worms can be controlled with chemicals such as nematicides and fumigants. They can also be controlled through crop rotation, raising pH, heating soil, and abandoning the affected garden for some time (shifting cultivation).

Root-knot galls caused by nematodes.

Root-knot galls caused by nematodes.

13. Snails and Slugs

These are soft-bodied creatures that feed on the foliage and stems. They can really cause great damage to the seedlings and tender crops. Snails have a shell on their dorsal side while slugs lack it.

The mollusks can be controlled by baits, traps, barriers, and repellants. They can also be controlled by planting resistant crops alongside the vegetables, changing cultivation methods, manual picking, and introducing predators such as chicken, salamanders, and newts. In addition, they can be managed by killer chemicals and pesticides.

Snail feeding on a kale leaf.

Snail feeding on a kale leaf.

Handle Those Pests!

Leafy vegetable pests are quite many, but these are the most common ones. You can easily prevent, control, and manage these harmful organisms with the substances, practices, tasks, and methods discussed in this article. If there is a crop pest that you can’t control or manage, you can get assistance from an entomologist, pestologist, or agricultural extension officer.

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: There is something eating leaves of spinach seedling and I can't find the pest. How can I deal with this pest?

Answer: From the article, get the EcoSMART Organic Garden Insect Killer and the Safer Brand Garden Spray and you will definitely deal with the pest!

Question: I’m growing collard greens, mustard greens, and turnips. Something is eating the collards almost as fast as they sprout. I’m in southern CA. I was wondering if there is a common bug that will eat them, and how can I get rid of them?

Answer: There are some bugs that feed on young leaves, and you can kill them with pesticides such as the EcoSMART Organic Garden Insect Killer and Safer Brand Garden Spray. Follow the links in the articles to get the pesticides.

Question: What insecticide is used to eradicate leaf miners?

Answer: EcoSMART Organic Garden Insect Killer! It kills leaf miners and all other pests.

Question: What is attacking the start of my peas? They are eating the leafy greens very quickly.

Answer: It is a worm (i.e., earworm, hornworm or loopers) Cutworms can be involved. Use Safer Brand Garden Spray to kill it! Follow the link from the article to get the spray.

Question: What chemical is used to kill red spider mite?

Answer: The EcoSMART Organic Garden Insect Killer can eliminate red spider mite and many other garden pests.

Question: Do you have a resource for controlling crop diseases?

Answer: See how to control crop diseases here -

Question: What is the best pesticide for leaf miners?

Answer: You can try the EcoSMART Organic Garden Insect Killer mentioned in the article. It's a new pesticide that targets a large number of pests, including leaf miners and aphids.

Question: What is poison capri useful for?

Answer: Not useful, may be you can try to control pests with it!

Question: Where does stem borer occur on a plant?

Answer: On/in the stem of any crop, and you can control it with Safer Brand Garden Spray.

Question: Does crop rotation help to kill vegetable bugs?

Answer: Yeah, but not quite effectively. You need to get the pesticides.

Question: What Insecticide should I use to eradicate spider mites?

Answer: EcoSMART Organic Garden Insect Killer is pretty effective for these pests and others.

Question: Do I have to use both sprays you mentioned to be successful in getting rid of worms eating my greens?

Answer: No, use the one that's recommended in the article for worms.

Question: How can I deal with a virus that targets leafy vegetables, such as my field of bitter gourd plants?

Answer: Viruses are not really a pest, but a disease-causing organism. See this article about diseases -

Question: Is it okay to used Kakawate leaves extract against insect pests like aphids, flea beetles and diamondback moth?

Answer: Some studies say it can control pests - so you can try!

Question: What are Tiny brown bugs on eggplant leaves?

Answer: A photo can help, but you can just use the pesticide under aphids or leaf miners.

Question: I ate a small dead worm from Mexico I found in my snow pea. Could I get sick?

Answer: Yeah, because some worms are carriers of disease-causing micro-organisms that can infect humans. But in your case, it is not likely.

Question: I have red leaf lettuce, and on the back are hard black things that come off easily; what are they?

Answer: I guess they are a group of bugs, eggs or droppings.

© 2017 Fredrick JS


Fredrick JS (author) from Intercontinental on April 29, 2020:

@Zikhusele you can try the control measures mentioned in the article.

Zikhusele on April 29, 2020:

What can I use to control these pets they are destroying my spinach, I have tried Knox warm, but no difference its getting worse holes everywhere please help I am lossing

RCH23 on May 25, 2019:

I have found Neem Oil to be an effective pest control. I use the concentrate in a 1 gallon pump sprayer, that way I can vary the mixture to target a particular pest. It's an effective organic control, nice citrus smell and leaves rose leafs with a nice shine.

patson on August 14, 2018:

thanks this info is helpful

Deng Aluk Chol on March 30, 2018:

i am really learning different type of common pest of leave vegetables. they have been destroying my crops for so many years. at least, i am now learning how to control them.

this is just helpful to me.

Gerald on February 20, 2018:

Thrips have wiped out my crop of kales before I could identify the problem. Therefore the article is a blessing

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