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The ultimate garden pests identification pictures

Pests are simply creatures that are going about their business, but their business happens to involve damaging a plant we have put our hearts and hard work into growing. Most insects are harmless, some are beneficial (pollination, eating other insects), but a few can cause real damage to our gardens and are deemed a pest. The trick is figuring out which creatures are on your plants and if something needs to be done to get rid of them. That’s why we created for you this comprehensive garden pests identification pictures and guide.

The old mindset of “get rid of every pest no matter what it takes” is out. It is replaced by “get a good harvest without hurting the environment or yourself”. This article outlines how to identify ten of the most common garden pests. Signs to look for on your plants, which plants they attack, and methods to try to get rid of them in the least-harmful way possible. Dealing with garden pests can be intimidating, but with some knowledge and patience anyone can do it effectively.  Let’s dive into the top 10 garden pests identification pictures!

Aphids

aphid identification picture
Photo credit rhs.org.uk

Identification:

Aphids are tiny (1-7 mm long) insects that can be green, black, yellow, pink, or white. They are usually able to be seen with the naked eye because they come in large numbers. Check on the underside of leaves, especially younger ones, and on flower buds and stems. 

Plant signs:

Aphids suck the sap out of all plant parts, so if you have an aphid problem you will notice stunted growth and weakened plants as well as distorted leaves. Mold will also grow on the honeydew that aphids secrete. 

Favorite plants:

Unfortunately, they will feed on anything and everything

Methods to try:

  • Biological control: if you see insects like ladybugs, praying mantis and hoverflies in your garden, welcome them in! They especially enjoy eating aphids and will help you in your efforts. Dill and fennel deter aphids and other pests while attracting ladybugs.
  • Plant traps: Aphids love certain flowers like nasturtium, mustard, cosmos, zinnias, and dahlias, so while it’s sad to sacrifice them, planting them nearby will help keep aphids away from fruits and veggies. 
  • Recipe: Aphids, as well as many other pests do not enjoy garlic. Add 100 g of crushed garlic to 4 liters of water and let it sit for 24 hours. Then boil it for 20 minutes and once it has cooled put in a spray bottle and lightly spray on your plants. 

Cabbage worms

cabbage worm garden pest identification picturePhoto Credit by York College of Pennsylvania

Identification:

One inch (2.5 cm) long caterpillars, hairy and light green with a faint yellow stripe on the back. They are usually found on the underside of leaves. As adults they are white/yellow butterflies with one or two dark dots on each wing. 

 

Plant signs:

Holes in leaves, especially along veins, as well as chewed off flowers. When there are many, they can defoliate plants, leaving only the veins of leaves. 

 

Favorite plants:

Members of the Brassicaceae family including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, radishes, turnips, and kohlrabi. 

 

Methods to try:

  • Plant purple and red varieties. It has been shown that anthocyanins, pigments which provide this coloring, are slightly toxic to caterpillars. Fewer eggs get laid on these varieties and less damage is done. Try planting both purple and green cabbage and kale and see if you notice a difference.
  • Try companion planting. Plants including marigolds, onions, sage, rosemary, thyme, and mint have been proven to deter numerous brassica pests. Read more about companion planting in our recent article.

Colorado potato beetle

potato beetle identification picture
Photo by @plantprotection
potato beetle larvae identification picture
Photo by @tuinmoesman

 

Identification:

Adults are a little less than one cm long, with tan and black striped backs. Larvae are smaller, rounder, and reddish with lines of black dots on their sides. 

 

Plant signs:

Damage will usually begin at the edges of leaves at the top of the plant and can expand to the entirety of the foliage (minus the veins). Both the larvae and adults will cause leaf damage. 

 

Favorite plants:

Members of the Solanaceae family, with potatoes being their number one choice.

 

Methods to try:

  • Again, being diligent with hand picking off any larvae you find in the spring comes up everywhere as an effective way to control this pest. They overnight in the soil at the base of plants, so look there in the early morning or nearer to the top as the day goes on. Throw them in a bucket of soapy water and say your goodbyes. 
  • Try planting an early-growing variety of your crop that tends to get targeted. Adult beetles emerge in mid-summer, so if your crop can mature before then you could avoid the worst of the problem. Look for varieties that mature in less than 80 days. 

Cutworms

cutworm identification picture
Photo by @thimbleberryeats

Identification:

There are many species of cutworms, so their color can vary from green to brown to grey. They grow up to two inches (five cm) long and will curl into a C-shape if touched. Adults are dark-winged moths. 

 

Plant signs:

Cutworms target seedlings, “cutting” them at the base of the stem. Alternatively, they will chew the outer tissue, creating a girdling effect. Look for severed seedings or those that are wilting due to girdling. 

 

Favorite plants:

A large variety, including tomatoes, brassicas, beans, and lettuce. 

 

Methods to try

  • Create plant collars. If you have had a problem with these before and have a small garden, try protecting freshly transplanted veggies with cardboard or aluminum foil. A toilet paper roll works great, encircling the stem until it is less tender and less likely to be attacked. 
  • Birds love eating cutworms. Creating a bird-friendly garden will help control cutworms and other pests. Read this article to learn about creating a bird-friendly garden. 

 

Flea beetles 

flea beetle identification picture
Photo by @naturefold

Identification:

There are numerous species with varying looks, but they are most commonly dark and shiny. They are tiny (1/16th of an inch) and will be most recognizable by their quick movement including the distinctive flea hop when approached. 

 

Plant signs:

Small, round holes in leaves. They prefer younger leaves so keep a watchful eye on seedlings. 

 

Favorite plants:

Different species of these beetles prefer different plants. Those in the Brassicaceae (cabbage) and Solanaceae (nightshade) families are the most susceptible. 

 

Methods to try

  • Companion planting: Basil has been found to repel flea beetles, so try planting it near any crop you are concerned about. Catnip has also been found to be a good repellent. Happy pets, happy plants, happy life.  
  • Try placing sticky cards like these, above vegetables. These are also great for aphids and other flying pests, which are attracted to the color yellow and will get stuck on the card. While some beneficial insects could get stuck, they are not attracted to the color in the same way as the pests.  

Leaf miners 

leaf miner identification picture
Photo by gardeningknowhow.com

Identification:

Leaf miners are the larval stage of some moths, sawflies, and flies, as well as some beetles. They are about 1 cm in length, pale green or yellow but are difficult to see as they find their way to the inside of leaves. 

Plant signs:

This is one of the most distinguishable signs in the garden – the pale winding line on leaves that is rather mesmerizing as it shows how the larvae ate within the leaf without ever creating a hole all the way through. 

Favorite plants:

Lettuce, cabbage, spinach, beans, beets, peppers, ornamental flowers, and citrus trees

Methods to try:

  • At the first sign of a tunnel being formed, squeeze the leaf between two fingers at that spot. This should kill the miner before it can do real damage. If there is substantial damage, pick off infested leaves.
  • A healthy plant can withstand a good amount of this type of damage, so it is really only a problem for leafy vegetables where you are meant to eat the damaged part. So if you do not grow lettuce, spinach, etc. there is no real worry here.

Slugs 

slugs identification picture
Photo by The Green Conspiracy

Identification:

Slugs are soft bodied animals that flourish in moist conditions and come out to eat at night. They leave slime trails, so the presence of these are a giveaway. 

Plant signs:

Large irregular holes in leaves or whole seedlings simply vanishing overnight are signs of their presence. They will also target the fruits of plants like strawberries and courgettes.

Favorite plants:

Lettuce, cabbage, strawberries, pepper, courgettes, cucumbers, and beans

Methods to try:

  • Copper barrier: many slugs will not cross copper because of the minor electrical current it produces. Try surrounding your plants with copper coins or lay down copper tape which is made specifically for this problem.
  • Traps: try laying down half orange or melon peels around your plants. Slugs are attracted to their scent and will get stuck once they get inside. Checking your plants at night and removing any invaders is also a good idea. 
  • If you are concerned about this pest, be aware of growing plants from seed as slugs can demolish small seedlings. Only transplant once plants are hardy, as they will have a better chance of survival.

Spider mites

spider mite identification picture
Photo by planetnatural.com

Identification:

Spider mites are the tiniest of the tiny, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. They are reddish-brown or pale in color, which would not be helpful in identifying one on its own because of how small they are, but “luckily” they live in colonies so are identifiable.  

Plant signs:

They usually hangout on the underside of leaves, sucking out the plant’s fluids. If they go undetected, you will notice leaves turning yellow or pale, drying up, and eventually falling off. As they are closely related to spiders, they will also create a cottony webbing that will appear under leaves and on stems. 

Favorite plants:

Many including tomatoes, eggplants, strawberries, beans, and ornamental flowers 

Methods to try:

  • Dust and water stress will encourage mites. Pouring water over your plants (giving them a little shower) a few times a season will remove dust and keeping plants well-watered in general will prevent water stress. In case mites are already present, spraying the plant should also wash away the mites. 
  • If there are a lot of them, remove all infested parts of plant. If possible, move the plant away from others so that the mites can’t spread, and if not consider sacrificing the whole plant. For the well-being of all! 

Tomato hornworm

Tomato hornworm identification picture
Photo by @engineering_organic

Identification:

Big, green caterpillars with white stripes and a horn on their head. Hard to miss except that their color blends into leaves very effectively. You can find them during the day taking cover under leaves. As adults, they are large, brownish moths that are nocturnal. 

Plant signs:

Big bites out of leaves, especially at the tops of plants. They also often leave dark excrement behind on the tops of leaves. 

Favorite plants:

Members of the Solanaceae family including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Tomatoes do seem to be their favorite.

Methods to try:

  • Hand-removal: Just like slugs, this may be the most effective method if you are dealing with a manageable number of plants. While they do blend into leaves, they are so large that once you get your hornworm eyes on, they’ll begin to pop out. 
  •  Some parasitic wasps will lay eggs on the backs of hornworms, which will eventually kill them. If you see wasps around, maybe try not to panic-kill them. Other insects like ladybirds and lacewings will also target young hornworms and eggs. Bringing wildflowers and biodiversity into your garden can help attract beneficial insects. 

Vine weevil and vine weevil grub

Vine weevil identification picture
Photo by rhs.org.uk

Identification:

The vine weevil is about 10 mm long, black with mottled brown patches and bearing long antennae. They are active in the spring and summer. Grubs are the vine weevil’s offspring and are active from late summer through the winter. They can be more problematic due to the fact that they live in the soil where they are hard to spot and eat roots which are vital to plant health. They are also about 10 mm long, white with a brown head, legless and c-shaped. 

Plant signs:

The vine weevil eat leaves and symptoms are irregular-shaped notches along leaf margins. Because the grub targets roots, it will be hard to see the damage. Instead look for them at the base of the plant. If undetected the whole plant might begin to weaken. 

Favorite plants:

Strawberries, cabbage, carrots, beets, onions, radishes, tomatoes, and spinach as well as a wide range of flowers

Methods to try:

  • Physical barrier: If you have had a problem with weevils in the past, it might be a good idea to put netting or sticky barriers around individual plants (only applicable if you mostly grow potted plants). As they do not fly, this will prevent infestation. 
  • Removal: Inspect plants at night as this is when they are most active and remove them by hand. Putting them in a jar of soapy water is an easy (although still sad) way to say bye to our little friends.
  • Soil inspection: If reusing soil, check it thoroughly in the spring for grubs, and remove them before planting anything. 

Extra tips to manage garden pests: 

  • Write it all down. Documenting when pests arrive, how long they stay, the extent of damage they cause, and what works for improving the situation is the best way to prepare for the next season. Each garden will present a unique set of conditions and pests, and therefore only you can be in charge of the necessary problem-solving.
  • Having healthy plants is the best preventative measure out there. Pests are much more likely to attack a stressed plant as it presents an easier target. This can be a particularly interesting thing to record: do you notice weak-link plants getting targeted? If so, then the problem-solving changes to how do I improve my general plant health? 
  • Most infestations will not cause a plant to die. Don’t jump into a panic at the first site of a pest. Monitor it and wait to see if the problem solves itself (time to come out and feed ladybugs!).
  • Sometimes, however, even the strongest plants get attacked and serious damage does occur. A very effective, albeit slightly more harmful natural insecticide recipe might be in your cards. Mix 6 mL Neem oil and 3 mL dish soap into 4.5 liters of warm water. Pour into a spray bottle and spray a generous amount on all leaf surfaces whenever you notice mites. Neem oil is extracted from the Neem tree, so it is natural, but it affects 400 species of insects, so be aware it will harm good ones too. It is non-harmful, however to plants, bees, birds, and mammals (including us).  

Let us know if you have any questions about these garden pests identification pictures. And share your stories, we’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Happy and (hopefully) pest free gardening!

Sources

https://gardenerspath.com

https://www.planetnatural.com/garden-advice/

https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/

https://blog.plantwise.org/2011/08/30/pest-fighting-anthocyanins/

https://ebcommunitygarden.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/2/0/122028035/fs224.pdf

https://www.almanac.com

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