Vegetable Garden Pests & How to Kill ’em

I think the biggest mistake new gardeners make is thinking that vegetable gardening consists of planting seeds, watering them once and walking away.

And that might actually work for some things, but for the most part having a successful garden depends a lot on having a really good line of defence when it comes to pests. In the past I’ve found a shotgun works well with neighbours, but doesn’t do so well with leaf chewers.

It’s amazing how a .22 can take down a full grown man but not even phase a cabbageworm. Cabbageworms are tough little shitheads.

So today I’m going to share with you 2 of my most trusted, safe for the garden, pest control measures. That don’t require gunpowder or a license.

My favourite pest control to use is Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki. Otherwise known as BTK.

BTK is a a natural bacterium found in soils that does a great job of controlling (and by controlling I mean killing) pests while not harming beneficial insects.

BTK only targets leaf chewers. In other words those bugs that are eating your food before you get a chance to.

For Corn worms … Mix 1 part BTK with 20 parts mineral or vegetable oil and apply 5 drops to corn silks when silks have *just* turned brown.

For everything else, mix 1/4 tsp. of BTK in 2 cups of water and spray tops and undersides of leaves, as well as stems.  Repeat after rain.

BTK

Use on …

Cabbage Worm
Corn Worm 2

Neem Oil is another product that works well, but takes a bit longer to produce results. The only thing I use Neem oil for is in my attempts to control squash bugs. But what really works to control squash bugs is going outside with a pair of scissors twice a day and cutting the bugs in half. It’s gross. Like really gross. Yucky. Especially when you have to cut two squash bugs who are having sex in half.  It’s disgusting on a whole variety of levels.

But it works.

I also use the scissors to cut away the portion of the leaf that has the squash bugs eggs under it.

Mix 1/2 teaspoon of Neem Oil with 2 cups of water in a spray bottle and spray tops and undersides of leaves, as well as stems.

Neem Oil

Cucumber Beetle

 

Use on …

Squash Bug

 

Between the scissors, the shotgun, BTK and Neem Oil I’m hoping to be able to eat the majority of the produce I’ve grown this year  myself.  It’s not that I don’t like sharing.  It’s that I don’t like sharing my food.


75 Comments

  1. Marti says:

    Ok, did we have to see the pictures of the bugs on the corn? I think I’m still going to be too scarred from looking at these pictures to eat the corn when it’s in the season. You’ve ruined it for me.

  2. Marti says:

    I prefer them smiling with hats… like Mr. Peanut. Yes, I do.

    • Karen says:

      Mr. Peanut isn’t a bug. He’s a dancing peanut. Clearly you’re drunk so I’m going to end this conversation now. ~ karen

      • Marti says:

        Am not! I just grew up on a farm. Hate bugs. Why do you think I live in Washington, DC anyway? To get away from those bugs!

        Perhaps this is all part of your research project to find out what a series of ugly-bug photos will do to page views on your blog?

  3. Raymonde says:

    Which one do you use on aphids? The little buggers always survive everything I throw at them and at the ants that bring them to the plants! Help Karen, a young cherry tree’s life is at stake!!!

    • Karen says:

      Oh brother. Aphids are a PAIN. The best thing for aphids are BIRDS! My roses get aphids and honestly … I hand squish them. I know. Gross. And not totally practical for a cherry tree. I can also say I’ve used Insecticidal Soap very successfully with whiteflies, but haven’t tried it with aphids. Might be worth a shot. ~ karen!

      • Raymonde says:

        My cats scare the birds away…
        I’ve tried Insecticidal soap. They aren’t put off by it, at all, in fact they just love it, they even tell their aphid friends to come over and party…
        I’ve tried every Pinterest trick out there, the yellow tennis ball covered in vaseline, vinegar and water, blue Dawn and vegetable oil, you name it… Sigh…
        You’re right, the internet lies…

        • Karen says:

          If they’re really bad, as a last resort what I would do is stand out there twice a day with a hose on very sharp spray and blast them right off the tree. ~ karen!

          • Raymonde says:

            I’ll give it a try! It’s a much better idea than mine, tempting them away from the tree with peanut butter and jam sandwiches…

            • Kate says:

              Best thing I’ve found for aphids are ladybirds. I think you can buy them from garden stores or plant something similar to Sweet Alyssum/ Queen Anne’s Lace/Coriander/Carrot and let it flower. They’re sensitive to pesticides so if you’ve been spraying your aphids, this might be why they’re not coming to the rescue!

            • Nanette says:

              You need ladybugs for the aphids! Here in Texas they can be purchased at many nurseries or garden centers. We’ve even ordered them online. Just follow the directions about turning them loose. I think you need to let them loose at dusk and perhaps even moisten the ground with water. Good luck!

        • Amie Mason says:

          Plant some nasturtiums, they are a fantastic companion plant (or sacrificial plant). Aphids love it and it keeps them distracted and off your veg.

          You could also mix together garlic, a very small amount of chilli flakes, (too much will burn your plants), vinegar, oil and dish-washing liquid. Put it in a spray bottle and spray the aphids. The oil should restrict their mobility, chilli will burn them and the garlic and vinegar should ward off any other pests.
          I had an infestation of black aphids two years back on my lime tree – this method worked and I haven’t seen them since. I used mostly oil, which meant they stuck to the plant and starved. I squirted them off with a hose after a week.

          Karen – you could also place broken egg shells around the base of your plants. Slugs, snails and some caterpillars won’t cross the sharp shards. It’s not fool proof, but it is a deterrent.

      • Didneywhorl says:

        Nematodes. Sprayed all ovah.

    • Alisa says:

      If you can manage to attract some ladybugs to your garden, that’ll fix the aphids. I used to have a ton, but now the ladybugs have taken over and I rarely see an aphid anywhere, ever. Amazing.

  4. Mother ship says:

    Yes! For aphids- blast them with water! Daily- and it will work!

  5. Nathalie says:

    Get some ladybugs for the aphid problem. I’ve also used Neem oil if it’s really bad.
    I just read about baking soda mixture. Have you ever tried that?

  6. so, shall I assume you don’t get tomato horn worms or that they’re so awful you’ll be saving an entire post for them?

    http://www.flickriver.com/photos/tags/hornworm/interesting/

    they’re BIG.

    they have a HORN.

    The don’t just mow down tomato leaves that eat your tomatoes. Literally.
    http://debsgardens.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/the-tomato-hornworm-has-arrived/

    Did I mention they’re BIG?
    http://blog.nutrientsforlife.org/2011/07/how-to-identify-and-remove-tomato-horn-worms/

    and they’re hard to find because they’re masters at blending with the tomato plant.

    basically………they are scary and they suck.

    • Lisa says:

      I found a tomato hornworm in my roses this spring! I all my gardening years, that was only the 3rd one. They can do a LOT of damage though.

      I had a bug that defoliated my oregano plant last year, and I eventually dusted it with insecticide (and then did not eat any for the rest of the year) but it took me until Christmas to identify that little sucker.

      Meet the four lined plant bug (with a stupid name)
      http://www.extension.umn.edu/projects/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/e121plantbugs-fourlined.html

      It says Bt and neem/insecticidal soap are only moderately effective in the spring, and not much works on the adults except the insecticides.

      So far so good this year, but watch out for these guys.

      • Andrew says:

        Those hornworms are awesome pests… Harmless if scary. I find the best means of taking care of them is inviting select kids who need bait to fish with to collect them as soon as I notice entire leaves vanishing off of my tomatoes. They are next to toxin proof so the bacterial/nematode based compounds are the a fair hope to slow them down. Another method predatory insects (the worms tend to collect the nicotine from their diet (tobacco leaf, potatoe leaf, and of course Tomatoes) so birds often swear them off.

        I look for Preying Mantis egg clusters every fall and simply collect them where I find them (you can also find them online). They keep my containers pretty well thinned out of anything smaller than a mouse – including one very unlucky hummingbird.

        There are several species of parasitic wasps that control all smooth skinned caterpillars effectively though you might wind up feeling guilty as it is not a quick death for the crawly. Lots of the more troublesome paper wasps, yellow jackets and hornets will take on caterpillars but I mention this only to be fair to their niche in the ecology. The last two especially can get really nasty to anything short of a bear and folks can get hurt or worse.

        Toad and frogs are classic answers. Plenty how to attract/keep them around your yard and garden sites on the web. Have to put up with some noise but hard to argue with the results. Keep in mind some of these have defense from predation (sic? “being eaten”) that can injure or kill cats and dogs but most are irritants so generally safe. Assuming we discount the folks with phobias and weak hearts out there especially if you have curious children proud of their new discovery wanting to know what you know about their new long tongued friend bringing them inside long enough to lose interest and let itself out.

        The last control method on the natural side I am aware of is the plethora of insect hungry non-venomous -(anyone guessing the next word yet?) snakes of your local area. I am unaware of how to attract them more than randomly to a given site but minus the heart attack feature of their unannounced appearance they are a great ally.

  7. marilyn says:

    definitely karen the hose! its the best idea.

  8. Natika says:

    I’m not much of a gardener, but I once had success using ice on an infested houseplant. I rubbed it all over the surface of the leaves (right over all the bugs and their eggs) carefully using tongs. Probably won’t work for a cherry tree though, but maybe you could try extremely chilled water when blasting them and see if it speeds things up a bit.

  9. Alex says:

    Last year they KILLED my cucumbers in 3 days. That’ll teach me for trying to go away for the long weekend with my family. I’ll try Neem oil next year when I am brave enough to try and grow cucumbers again.

  10. Wendy says:

    I use painter’s tape (the wide kind) rolled backwards around my hand to get the eggs off the back of leaves. You can use Duct tape, but it tears the leaves up. Works REALLY well!

    Cabbage worms hate cayenne. I sprinkled the plants with that and it helped a lot. Unfortunately I sprinkled it too late. But it does work.

    • Karen says:

      Painter’s tape! That’s a great idea! Thanks. ~ karen

    • Chrissy says:

      Painter’s tape is a great idea! I’ll have to give that a try. I’ve also been meaning to try a small portable vacuum. I’ve heard that works for squash bugs, though I enjoy the scissor method.

      • Ellen Partridge says:

        A portable vacuum? Bloody brilliant! I’ll be trying that tomorrow. I’ll try the painter’s tape on the eggs as well–much better than shredding the leaves in my effort to scrape the disgusting things off.

  11. karol says:

    Ugh, hand-squashing, and scissor-cutting bugs in the garden – now I know why I don’t grow stuff. I hate bugs – especially in my food. They’re the reason I won’t buy corn still in it’s husk. I’ve had too many little squirmy surprises when I got them home. I buy the city slicker version (shucked and packaged all pretty)and gladly pay 3 times as much for bug free corn. Gardening vegetables/fruits sounds very stressful to me.

  12. Sabrina says:

    Ooooh, I have been wondering if the TBK works, feel encouraged to give it a try now.

    Have had minimal success with my attempts to use biological control so far: the ladybird larvae I ordered for my aphid problem had vanished by day two (the aphids, meanwhile, multiplied and multiplied) and the nematodes I tried for the slugs seemed to do absolutely nothing at all.

    Luckily, the aphids seem to have just cleared up on their own though, and I’ve resorted to beer traps for slugs. But my French beans and purple sprouting broccoli are looking pretty sorry for themselves…

  13. Terry says:

    What can I do about earwigs? Help they eat everything. Flowers and veg.

  14. Miriam says:

    Any idea how to get rid of thistles, burdock, milkweed, dandelions, strangle weed, etc etc. Cuz that’s what I’ve got. And my linden tree has weird growths on the leaves. They look like spikes. Perhaps you’d like to use them to stab your bugs?

  15. Amanda says:

    I need to get on this – I just noticed the other day that SOMEONE was making snacky treats out of my wee eggplants. 🙁

  16. Linda Barnett says:

    You rock! This is awesome.

  17. Jasper says:

    Thanks… that was gross…

  18. Audrey says:

    A couple of days after I planted my tomatoes this year they were covered in aphids. I mixed 1 part ground black pepper to 1 part flour in an old spice container with holes in the top and sprinkled the plants and the soil around the tomatoes with the mixture. The aphids left and haven’t been back. I think this would be good for keeping critters away too.

  19. Elle Bee says:

    It is amazing how fast they find nice young plants. I put some cauliflower in & the next day something had eaten it! Thanks for the tips.

  20. Amie says:

    Pillbugs. Everywhere. Yes, they are detrivores and eat only dead stuff, but they are eating my amaryllis, irises and any seeds I plant. I tried diatomaceous earth based powders, I’ve tried insecticidal soaps, but the buggers just won’t stop!

    Thankfully I am moving out of my apartment tomorrow, and hopefully my new house and garden will not have these things. I gave up on a vegetable garden for 2 years because I couldn’t keep anything alive with these guys. I want my veggies back, dammit!

  21. Angie S says:

    I’m ashamed to admit it…. bugs are one of the main deterrents to me planting a garden.

  22. Nancy W says:

    Will try that btk if I can find it….folks be careful spraying vinegar on the plants it could kill them…I use it as a weed deterrent…oh those little cabbage worms are the bane of my garden.

  23. Deb says:

    Gross as this sounds…horn worms are GREAT bait for fishing. I use a stone to cut in half and then bait them up. They don’t pull off the hook like fish worms do.

    • Kim says:

      So they don’t sting with the “horn”? I’ve always been quite careful with them not to touch it. Nowadays I give them to the chickens — protein bar. *lol*

      • Andrew says:

        They can’t sting with it. It is nearly soft. It is to misdirect predators on where the head of the bug is? OH look here where that big eye spot is and my antenna is eat that first! They will spit on you if you handle them too roughly and it stains and often will smell of nicotine. By now I am sure your chickens are on a three ‘pillar a day habit but they sure do a fantastic job weeding and pesting (eating bugs) for a garden lot.

        Be sure it is a ‘hornworm (green, long for thickness, a single horn near eyespots away from the eating end of the ‘pillar- oh look it up on line) – there are many stinging ‘pillars out there that will leave a lasting mark on both your memory and your hide! In my youth mistook a saddleback moth caterpillar for a horn worm… Yep early in my careful not to crush the gentle – ‘oly long list of colorful expletives – what have I grabbed hold of and how do I apologize so it will let go? My uncles being well boys and brothers would lead a doomed saddle back off a leaf and on to each other as pranks… eventually the ‘pillar would find an ear, a hand, or the nape of the victims neck who would instinctively swat it off and force the insect the offending and local body parts. My guess it the next few minutes were followed by curses, running/chasing, and general mayhem in gratitude of such humor.

  24. Chris says:

    The only thing you forgot is a picture of yourself in a straw western hat, a holster with scissors on one side and an insecticide sprayer on the other. Top it off with your wellies and a smile when you ask the bugs “Feel lucky today – punk!”

  25. Another Karen says:

    Snails aren’ts bugs, but they are pests and they love my succulents. The cheapest way to get rid of them is mixing 1 part ammonia to 4+ parts waters and spritz away. You have to repeat every week or after rain, but that really works and it doesn’t harm the plants. It’s icky to watch them literally disintegrate (they bubble and turn to slime), but you know they won’t come back.

  26. Cathy says:

    Squash bug looks like the stink bug; gives off foul odor when squished—a final “yea? Smell this”

  27. Patti says:

    Whoa. That squash bug looks enormous! I believe this is why your zucchinis didn’t work out well last year, is that right? Ew! Don’t like!

  28. Jeannie B. says:

    BUGS, they’re everywhere! The first time I cooked fresh corn, as a young bride, I took the corn out of the pot and there were cooked worms at 45 degree angles, sticking out of the cobs. I will never forget that sight as long as I live. I think that this wet humid weather that we’re having now in southern Ontario is causing all these critters to multiply exponentially. Aphids by the zillions. The only bug that I truly respect, is the “SPIDER”.

  29. Heather says:

    Yikes! The corn worm picture freaked me out a bit! Another thing to note, those squash bugs don’t just eat winter squash, they will decimate your summer squash just as fast. I lost a huge Zucchini plant last year in 2 days! The first day, 2 leaves were wilted and there were just a couple bugs, the second day the whole thing was wilted and the whole inner plant was hollow and filled with bugs. It was awful!

    • Andrew says:

      That sounds like Vine Leaf borer Beetles which are the bane of my garden’s existence. Attack anything with a good hollow stem or vine. Melons, squashes, cucumbers, I gave up and stopped planting those for a few years hoping to figure out a good method to defend against them. There have to be more on their destructive diets.

  30. Amy in StL says:

    Okay, I did NOT know about corn worms. I’m growing corn for the first time this year and I’ll be sure to get some BTK because I’ll be pissed if my sweet corn has worms. Pissed!

  31. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I looked up the Squash Bug online and this is what The Utah State University Extension says..Squash bug is a “true bug” with piercing-sucking mouth parts in the leaf-footed bug family. HA!..Seriously..Put that on your list of TRUE STUFF..Fellas Dad..TRUE BUGS..HAHAHA!! I find this highly amusing..maybe cause I couldn’t sleep last night and had to drive for 4 hours today..

  32. Shauna says:

    So for our 4 vineyard vines and our tomato plants, etc. my husband uses a mixture of kaolin clay powder and water in a spray bottle and sprays it all over the plants. It’s organic, non-toxic and most importantly, it works to keep the bugs away. Something to do with the clay being like glass for the bugs and it cuts them.

    • Jennifer says:

      I’ve heard good things about kaolin clay (I believe the brand name is Surround), but haven’t been able to find a retailer in Canada. I’m going to guess you’re in the US? If you’re Canadian and know where to get kaolin clay in Canada (in quantities for a home gardener, not an orchard) please share the info! Striped cucumber beetles are my garden nemesis! Thanks.

      • Cussot says:

        Kaolin clay is also sold as an ingredient for such homemade cosmetics as facial masks. You may be able to find it at a bulk store or health food store.

      • Dee says:

        Kaolin clay is used in hand crafted soap, so google for soapmaking groups or suppliers. Maybe Brambleberry in Seatlle or Majestic Mountain Sage in Utah both are suppliers for soapmakers.

  33. Trina says:

    Does Ed Lawremces dish detergent mix work for these? 40 parts water to one detergent? I know it works on aphids.

    • Erin says:

      Ed’s soap and water spray – it works great on earwigs – but you’ve got to hit them with it. I go out in the evening with a flashlight and spray them. They initially run around like crazy then *boom* they are dead. Very satisfying.

      At the same time, I carry scissors for the slugs and cutworms that are also active at night. Perhaps my neighbour lady thinks I’m nuts but my veg thanks me.

  34. Barb says:

    Squash bugs? I’ve got the solution! I spray them with watered down dish soap. Kills them DEAD. Especially the babies. I find that I have to get rid of the eggs on the underside of the leaves, too. That is where they all live- I planted “spineless” zucchini this year, hoping to spare my arms the aggravation. The combination works like a charm. My zucchini was nearly bug free last year- first time!

  35. Becky says:

    Karen,
    Whatcha got for chipmunks? They ate my sugar snap peas right to the ground, they ate my bush beans, they stipped the leaves from my pole beans, they ate half of the one measly strawberry I got on my new plants, and they ate ALL the unripe blueberries.
    I’m going to war. I sprayed cayenne and garlic, and spread dog hair around.
    If I can talk my hubby into it, I will “treat” with human urine, and if i can find some coyote scent or something, i may try that.
    I am building some fences this weekend from double layer chicken wire, but I think that will only slow them down.
    If I can find a source for castor beans, I will be throwing them in their burrow holes, like mini hand grenades.
    I read 9v batteries may work, but its only a temporary fix and only works until the battery loses its juice.
    I’m hoping you have some other miracle cure for these furry little rodents.

    • Christine says:

      Just to save you wasting time and money, I will tell you what we’ve tried that doesn’t work. All the homemade cayenne/jalapeno/onion/pepper flake concoctions failed. Seemed like they were working for 2 or 3 weeks then it looked like they learned to like the hot stuff like me. Ammonia soaked rags on the perimeter, on trees, on the fence on the rocks around the garden plots: their desire for our crops overcame their distaste for this (and urine, and Vicks vaporub, and vegetable shortening with a LOT of cayenne in it). 2 Feet of chicken wire keeps the rabbits out, but not the squirrels. The sprays that have dried blood and putrescent egg didn’t work. We don’t want to kill the birds so decided against electric fence mesh wire. We are going to try traps next and then drown them if we catch any (then maybe hang them on the fence as a warning). I would love to get one of those motion sensitive sprinklers like the ‘scarecrow’; or a motion sensitive strobe light. Those might be fun even if they are not effective. Probably only deter cats. We live in town where neighbors are likely feeding the little darlings and they have no natural predators. Our 2 favorite sayings are, “I have an idea!” and “I refuse to surrender!”

  36. Pam'a says:

    For the Americans, BTK is usually labelled “Bt” Down here. Big B, little t. No idea why. It’s effective, and will be located among the other organics plant stuff. Ladybugs/ladybirds and praying mantises/mantids are also very effective.

    Death to bugs!!

  37. Teresa says:

    I love your blog! Quick question; I’ve got Neem Oil in my cabinet to treat hot spots on my dog. Can I use this? It doesn’t say “for the garden” is this the same thing?

    Thank you!

    • Karen says:

      Teresa – If it’s 100% pure Neem Oil then it is the same thing. Mine says it’s for “leaf shine”, nothing about using it for pests. ~ karen!

  38. Caarin says:

    I’ll have to try these. I’ve found a concoction of 30 drops each of peppermint, rosemary, and cinnamon essential oils, 1 cup of red pepper flake “tea” strained, a good squirt of dawn dish soap and water works great. Spray on everything and the ground around it, keep critters great and small off your plants (including bastard deer) Oh, and a birdbath in the garden has cut out the squash bugs completely here, there’s a lot of fat-n-happy birds about now!

  39. Karla says:

    Ok, I’m late to the pest chat but wondering if anyone has any experience with black flea beetles? They are feasting on my potato plants, and I can only imagine what kind of damage they are doing to the plant roots. Help!!

  40. Dale says:

    A point to add to this post, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not put anything that will kill caterpillars on your milkweed plants. I am surveying methods to protect my milkweed plants in my garden from leaf chewing pests, in particular earwigs in the top of my milkweed plants that are eating the buds as they try to form. I’m going with soapy water to start and earwig traps this evening. Other ideas accepted. My .22 will come out next.
    All hail the pretty Monarch!!!

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