Garden insect pests and plant diseases are just part of the gardening experience. There's a lot you can do to help prevent attacks on your plants.
You can identify insect pest damage in one of two ways: Seeing insect activity or the damage insect pests inflict. Your first line of defense should be prevention, pest traps/barriers, biological controls, and earth-friendly pest control products. Chemical sprays should only be used as a last resort.
Here is our list of 10 common, small insect pests that can wreak havoc on your plants and garden vegetables that you should be watching out for.
1. Aphids: Aphids are tiny (about 1/8" in length), pear-shaped insects that vary in color (yellow, green, red, brown, black) depending on the species and their food source. There are more than 4,000 known aphid species in existence, and they feed on all kinds of plants.
As aphids feed on your plants, they produce a sticky, sugary substance (honeydew) that can goop all over your vehicles and lawn furniture. This honeydew not only attracts ants from everywhere, but it also can produce a dark, sooty mold on your plants' leaves, which blocks nourishing sunlight and is not healthy for the plants' growth.
2. Fungus Gnats: Fungus gnats are another pests typically associated with the indoors, and they typically thrive on and in the damp soil of your houseplants, but they may also make a home in your garden's damp soil and make a nuisance of themselves outside, especially if you live in a temperate climate.
Fungus gnats attack your plants through their larvae. After they lay eggs in the soil, the eggs will hatch, and the larvae will latch on to the roots of your plants and feed on their nutrients. This can weaken and even kill off your plants.
3. Fruit Flies: Fruit flies are tiny flies that have a reputation for hanging around your kitchen in search of ripening fruits, vegetables, and other rotting/fermenting materials, but they can also be drawn to fallen/rotting fruits and vegetables in your garden.
Fruit flies in your garden likely mean that you need to clear out decaying/rotting material from your garden and compost it. You should pick up and get rid of fallen, rotting fruit every day during the summer.
4. Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers are small, narrow, wedge-shaped insects measuring about 1/4" in length, that will scatter and fly quickly if disturbed. There are several species of leafhoppers (more species than there are of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians combined!) and they vary in color from green, to yellow, and sometimes to brown. They frequently feature colorful markings. Adult and nymph leafhoppers are expert jumpers and can run directly sideways if they need to.
Leafhoppers feed on just about any kind of plant, but some species are very plant-specific. Some species of leafhoppers may also feed on smaller insects, like aphids.
5. Scale Insects: Scale insects (or just "scales") are unique insect garden pests because they don't look anything like other insects. They are also immobile for almost their entire adult life. Instead of the crawling, 6-legged insects you're used to seeing, scales look more like bumpy growths on your plants.
Scales feed off of your plants, mainly your houseplants, by sucking the sap out of the leaves and stems. This parasitic feeding can cause deformed/stunted leaf growth, leaf discoloration, unattractive yellow/brown spots, and even leaf drop.
6. Leaf Miners: Leaf miners are any of the numerous species of insects which, during their larval stage, live in and eat (tunneling through) the leaf tissue of plants. These can include moths, flies, sawflies, some beetles, and flies.
Leaf miners don't affect a plant's grown by feeding on it, but they destroy the edible leaves of many vegetable plants. Vegetable leaf miners feed on squash, beans, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, peas, and on several other plants. Leaf miners do not affect plant growth but destroy the edible leaves of vegetables.
7. Mealybugs: Mealybugs are tiny, unarmored insects, related to scale insects. They are usually found in moist, warm environments, and are soft-bodied and often "fuzzy" in appearance.
Females are the most visible, measuring at only about 1/10" in length. Many mealybug species feed on the juices of houseplants, greenhouse plants, and some trees. They can also be transmitters of several plant diseases.
8. Spider Mites: Spider mites are tiny plant pests, related to spiders. They are so tiny they are barely noticeable, ranging from light green to reddish in color, and often feature two dark spots. Some Spider mite species produce a web-like substance that may cover leaves and stems.
Spider mites suck the chlorophyll (greenish pigmentation) from your plants' leaves, which results in white spotting on the leaves. This literally saps the life out of your plants, and weakens them.
9. Whiteflies: Whiteflies are minuscule insects that also feed off of various plants by sucking out their sap. They are known to prefer and cluster in vegetable and ornamental plants, particularly in warmer weather and climates.
Larger whitefly colonies expand on the undersides of leaves, and are initially hard to detect. Like aphids, they produce sticky honeydew after feeding and can cause yellow leaves and leaf drop. Some species have a very wide range of host plants that includes many crops. These pests are difficult to manage once their populations spike.
10. Thrips: Thrips are tiny, common insect pests in indoor and outdoor gardens, as well as in greenhouses. They are usually yellowish to black in color, and feature feather-like wings. To the naked eye they look like very tiny, dark threads. These little pests (less than 1/25" in length) do their damage to plants by sucking out their juices and scraping at their flowers, leaves, and fruits. Plant leaves can become discolored, splotchy, and then die and fall off. Injured plants look twisted and scarred.
Thrips attack plants and feed in large groups, and some of their preferred host plants include carrots, beans, onions, squash and various other garden vegetables. They also may feed on flowers, like roses and gladioli. They are known to spread viruses like impatiens necrotic spot virus and the tomato spotted wilt virus.
How to Get Rid of Garden Insect Pests
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