Decode the clues that sneaky garden gremlins leave behind and banish the little buggers with these pro tips. From voracious vermin to destructive insects, pest issues are pretty much inevitable in any garden. Left unchecked, these villains will feast on foliage, ruin ripening fruit, and wreak havoc with root systems. The trick is to nip a pest problem before it gets out of hand—and that takes some deciphering.
1. Rampant Runways All Over The Beds.
Two-inch-wide runways at or near the surface of the soil indicate that your garden has been violated by voles. Unlike moles that tunnel underground, voles resemble round, short-tailed mice with thick brownish-gray fur. They run above ground, tunneling only to feed on the root systems of trees and shrubs. Once voles seriously gnaw away, you may notice trees beginning to lean due to damaged roots. What’s more, a deep layer of mulch applied too close to these plants makes accessing roots easier for voles, as it’s less dense than soil to burrow through.
2. Vegetable Seedlings Severed At Ground Level.
You plant tomato seedlings and next thing you know, they’ve been decimated! This is the handiwork of cutworm caterpillars that live in the top two inches of soil to prey upon the tender outer stem tissue of seedlings. Some of their favorites veggies include tomatoes, kale, broccoli, and cabbage. These caterpillars grow up to two inches long, may be green, brown, grey, or yellow, and curl into a “C” shape when disturbed. Protect young seedlings at the base with collars made of toilet paper tubes or aluminum foil, inserted a half-inch into the ground.
3. Slime At The Crime Scene.
Depending on species, snails and slugs may be gray, black, orange, brown, tan, or multi-colored—but you’ll seldom spot them during the day as they prefer to prey at night. You may, however, spot the slime trail these gastropods frequently leave as they move around the garden, munching primarily on hosts and young seedlings. Snails and slugs can simply be removed by hand and, because they prefer dark, wet environments, you can dissuade them by watering the garden only in the morning so foliage will be dry by sunset.
4. Vegetable Foliage Covered In Black Pellets.
As tomato and tobacco hornworms feed near the top of nightshade family plants (including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants), they leave behind a trail of excrement resembling small dark pellets. Look closely and you’ll likely see the well-disguised culprits, whose lime green coloring is excellent camouflage. The caterpillar’s plump body has white V-shaped markings along the sides and a distinctive soft horn at the end. Inspect your plants frequently, handpicking the hornworms as you find them.
5. Mottled And Crispy Squash Leaves.
If you grow any member of the cucumber family (including zucchini, pumpkins, squash, and melons), you’re ringing the dinner bell for the squash bug. Adults, which often feed in groups, are dark brown with an oval-shaped flat body—and they’re hard to control. So inspect the undersides of leaves regularly for the presence of their bronze-colored egg clusters, which can easily be removed with a piece of tape.
6. Distorted Plants Besieged By Ants.
Aphids are the gourmands of bugs—they’ll eat basically any plant! But they’re especially fond of new plant growth, devouring sap with their sucking mouthparts. Aphids are so small, you might not even see the pear-shaped insects; what you may see, however, are lots of ants, attracted by honeydew—the sugary substance aphids excrete as they feed. Fortunately, control is as easy a strong blast of water from the hose to dislodge the tiny terrors.