|Written By Lara Wadsworth
One of the surefire companions of gardening is the unfortunate presence of pests. Very rare is the gardener who has never had a pest in their crop. Springtime can especially be anxiety-ridden because that is when all the dreaded pests are scheduled to make their first appearances! Here are the most common springtime pests that we see in our gardens and what to do about them!
Snails and Slugs
Slugs and snails love the wet weather that accompanies spring. They can be cute to kids, but in large quantities, they can eat up leaves and fruits overnight.
- Prevention: Avoid overwatering. Many climates don’t require much additional watering beyond spring rains and snow melt until mid to late spring. If certain plants need more water than others, try to target only those that need it with the hose or watering can.
- How to get rid of them: When you notice lots of slugs or snails flocking to your garden, the easiest way to get rid of them is hand removal. When there are so many that the task seems unattainable, you can try a cup of beer. You read that right. Beer! Simply bury a cup filled with beer in the soil so that the rim is at soil height and wait. The slugs and snails are attracted to the sugars and yeasts in the beverage and will crawl right over and fall in. Bury several cups in multiple places if needed.
- Detering companion plants: Rosemary, Lavender, Marigolds, and Black-Eyed Susans.
Aphids are tiny insects that suck the sweet juices out of your plants. They reproduce astonishingly fast, and can truly disseminate a crop in large numbers. They come in various colors, from green to black to red, but they look like tiny little teardrops with legs. Most people can see them with the naked eye, but they are usually smaller than a sesame seed. They are typically found on the underside of leaves, on budding flowers, or on nearby stems.
- Prevention: Maintain healthy and strong plants. Periodically spray your leaves (on top and bottom) with a mixture of water and dish soap. This will make the leaves slippery, and the aphids will not be able to attach.
- How to get rid of them:Once aphids are present, you must act fast! They reproduce so efficiently that they can become a serious problem very quickly. If you have noticed only a few, take a towel or paper towel with either horticultural oil or rubbing alcohol and wipe the leaves clean of the aphids. If you have lots, spray your leaves with horticultural oil every day and wipe the leaves with rubbing alcohol until you can’t find them anymore. Aphids can jump, so check all your plants frequently on all sides of the leaves before you proclaim yourself triumphant.
- Note about ladybugs: Ladybugs famously eat aphids! However, before you rush to buy a bottle of ladybugs at the garden center, consider the effects. Most ladybugs sold are non-native. This has created a problem in recent years with invasive ladybug species. Instead, plan to use plants that attract ladybugs naturally such as fennel, yarrow, alyssum, and dill!
- Detering companion plants: Garlic Chives, Bunching Onion (green onion), Dill, and Fennel.
Spider mites are literally a member of the spider family but instead of feeding on other insects, they suck the juices out of plants for sustenance. They most commonly look like tiny red or white dots typically found on the underside of leaves. Check your plants frequently as they are hard to see until the problem already exists! A microscope, loup, or magnifying glass can be helpful in identifying these little creatures.
- Prevention: Spider mites like hot, dry conditions. Prevent this by spraying your leaves with water every other day. This will create an undesirable environment for the spider mites. You can also try the water and dish soap trick mentioned above in aphid prevention.
- How to get rid of them: Spraying water on the leaves can be surprisingly effective in getting rid of spider mites as well. When it is just a handful of plants that are infested, I like to wipe off the leaves with rubbing alcohol. This will kill the spider mites quickly. Frequent applications of horticultural oil spray can also be very effective and safe for large infestations.
- Detering companion plants: many of the allium family like Leeks, Onions, Chives, and shallots.
Whiteflies are tiny white bugs with wings that suck on sweet plant juices. They create a sticky substance on the bottom of leaves from their feeding which can attract molds and mildews. They are usually able to be seen with the naked eye.
- Prevention: Spray your plant leaves (top and bottom) with a mixture of water and dish soap. If any whiteflies are present, they will die. If not, the dish soap will make the leaves hard to hold on to when they do arrive.
- How to get rid of them: Alternate sprays of water and dish soap with a horticultural oil such as neem oil. The combination should drastically reduce the population to a manageable level or eliminate it altogether.
- Detering companion plants: Basil, Catmint, Chives, Dill, and Marigolds.
Caterpillars and Other Worms
These can come from a wide variety of different species, but they are all frustrating. They chomp on leaves and then turn into moths or other types of flying insects to spread the ‘joy’. They are typically quite easy to spot as they are large enough to see with the naked eye and gaping holes that are hard to look past.
- Prevention: The best way to prevent these is to plant strong-smelling companion plants that they don’t like (see below).
- How to get rid of them: If you already find yourself with these chomping bugs, the best way to get rid of them is hand removal. Check your plants every day and physically remove them! Another method of control includes the safe and non-toxic microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis, which is commonly found in soils around the world. This microorganism, when thoroughly sprayed on the leaves, will thwart the caterpillars and other harmful worms (not earthworms), potentially preventing them from coming next year. You can buy it at most garden supply stores from a variety of brands. Springtime is the best time to apply this product.
- Detering companion plants: Mint, Lavender, Mugwort, and other herbs.
|Lara Wadsworth, True Leaf Market Writer
I am a native of Southwestern Michigan, where I also reside, and I love all things plants! I got a Bachelor's Degree in Horticulture and found the first work-from-home job I could get. Now, I spend my days writing for TLM, playing with my dog, eating delicious food with my husband, and plotting my next landscape or gardening move. I believe everyone should get down and dirty in the soil now and then. Happy Gardening!