When we went looking for the answers to our pest questions, we didn’t have to look far. Mark Adams, owner of Mark Adams Greenhouses at Adams Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie and advisor to the Cornell Department of Ornamental Horticulture, knows more than a little about these unwanted visitors.
Aphids: Suck the juices out of the plants they inhabit. They multiply quickly and can take over an entire plant. If it gets too crowded, they even sprout wings and fly to another location.
Cabbage Worms: Love to eat cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale.
Slugs: Found when it is damp. They leave a slimy trail on plants, so you can easily identify if you have them. They will eat almost anything in your garden, but they love the leaves of plants including the salvia flower.
Flea Beetles: These jumping fleas come from the ground; they primarily eat when it’s hot and sunny early in the growing season, and feast on a variety of plants.
Japanese Beetles: Really big into roses, sweet potato vine, and zinnias; the adults dine on the leaves of the plants.
Leafminers: Will eat the leaves of spinach, beets, and Swiss chard.
There will always be pests in gardens, but there are three things you can do to prevent pests from the start, according to Adams.
Don’t buy plants with pests or signs of pests on them. Look for insects themselves in the soil and on the leaves, and holes on the leaves.
Clean up as much debris as possible in your garden before you plant new seeds or plants. Insects can make homes in the debris over the winter and stick around if you don’t clear them and their homes away.
Use row cover when possible. “Row cover works great for radishes and the broccoli family,” says Adams. “It does not work for root maggots, flea beetles, or other insects that come from the soil.”
If you do find your garden has pests, “Don’t panic!” says Adams. “Potential or beginning gardeners should not be put off by the possibility of pests. They are almost always a minor problem in the garden, if you see any at all. People are terrified that the pests are going to take over and ruin the garden. You can easily grow a garden with pests.”
“The first thing you should do is identify them by taking a photo and bringing it to your local garden center,” says Adams. “They can help you find an organic pesticide that is labeled for the pest and the plant.”
No one wants to spray chemicals or pesticides, but Adams says Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew is labeled organic — it’s made from materials left over from beer-making, and works on beetles, caterpillars, thrips, and more.
He also suggests keeping a diary of what you have planted, what succeeds and what doesn’t, and what you have used to prevent or treat pests year over year. That way, you know what has worked and what hasn’t every year.