Home & Garden

How to survive summer’s garden pests

Hooray for summer. Long days, bright sunshine and lots of action in flower beds and vegetable garden.

Unfortunately, not all of the action is welcome. Some of it flies or crawls in. Some of it just appears as unwelcome blemishes on the cherished tomatoes. But for many problems, there’s an easy, chemical-free solution. Read on.


Very common, this soft-bodied insect, usually about 1/10 inch long, tends to cluster on the underside of the soft, new growth of many kinds of plants, from roses to crape myrtle trees. They may be white, green, pink, yellow, gray or black. These are sucking insects that deplete sap from the plant, causing leaves to curl and appear mottled.

Solution: A vigorous stream of water will get rid of them. Repeat as needed.

Natural predators – such as ladybugs and green lacewings – help keep down the population of aphids. Absent these beneficial insects, consider an insecticidal soap or pepper-wax repellant. Ladybugs purchased in bags may be used on big plants, such as crape myrtle trees, that are heavily infested.

Blossom-end rot

This condition causes extreme distress for gardeners longing for early, perfect tomatoes. It’s caused by calcium deficiency in the developing fruit that leads to the tough, dark area on the blossom-end, which must be cut off.

Solution: There are two ways to avoid it: a handful or two of lime worked into the soil at planting time and even watering, especially when the plant is setting fruit. Both an excess and deficiency of water can lead to this problem. Usually it is a deficiency. The plants should get 1 inch of water a week. Sprays such as Rot-Stop that you can put on the foliage may help prevent further occurrences.


They are highly destructive of young foliage on vegetables and flowers . They munch on desirable perennials such as hostas and the beautiful blooms of petunias and marigolds. Slugs tend to be gray, brown or black and travel slowly along a slimy trail, often under cover of darkness.

Solution: They like to hide, so get rid of debris, such as bricks and rocks. Many kinds of slug traps are sold in stores. Several small ones are probably more effective than a single large one. Make your own trap by filling a saucer with beer and setting it where you know slugs are working. Several small ones are better than a single large one. Or set the leftover rind of grapefruit, cut side down and propped slightly with a small stick to attract and capture slugs.

Japanese beetles

A highly destructive pest of early to mid-summer, Japanese beetles attack many kinds of plants, including some of the most valuable such as roses. The key sign of damage is skeletonized leaves, but the beetles are usually easy to spot.

Solution: Shaking plants where beetles congregate early in the day can discourage further aggregation that day. Where beetles are few, they are easily knocked off the foliage and into a jar of soapy water. Various insecticides can help when used as directed. Many experts warn that traps tend to attract more beetles than they catch.


Cutworms go after seedlings or young, tender plants, especially vegetables you are growing from seeds in the garden. They can cause havoc and destruction in a single night. If a seedling has fallen over near the ground, cutworms are likely the culprit.

Solution: A barrier is required to keep them away, and it doesn’t take anything huge. Set short milk cartons with both ends cut around the plants. Or make a circle of light-weight cardboard, about 2 inches high, with the ends stapled together.

Other beetles

One of the world’s most destructive insects to food crops, this beetle is most often seen on tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants. Recognize it by the 10 black stripes on its yellow-orange body. Other damaging beetles include the Mexican bean beetle, which has 16 black spots on a yellow-brown body, and attacks cowpeas, limas and green beans. The striped cucumber beetle, which is orange to yellow with three black stripes and favors cucumbers, melons, squash.

These beetles chew on leaves and flowers of these vegetable crops, reducing vigor and production.

Solution: Knock beetles into a jar of soapy water, which will kill them.

Tomato hornworm

There’s no mistaking this pest. It’s a big caterpillar that is mostly light green with black markings and a big thorn on its tail that gives it its name. Hornworms chew leaves of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and potatoes and may feed on immature, green tomatoes and peppers that have not ripened.

There are likely to be just a few. Watch for them and pick off each caterpillar by hand and destroy it. Should a large infestation occur, use Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly called BT, a natural enemy of caterpillars.