Spring is an exciting time for everyone, but especially gardeners. The time to begin their yearly botanical endeavors is quickly approaching. However, it is not all smooth sailing no matter how skilled of a gardener one is— there are dangers in the form of garden pests lurking around the corner. Garden pests lay in wait for your new plants to begin growing, which when they’ll come out in full force, hungry from winter dormancy. By diligence and taking preventative action, you can stop these pests from wreaking havoc on your garden.
Aphids can come in many colors and species, all of which can cause damage to your plants. These pests use their piercing mouthparts to feed on plant sap and juices. They can be found feeding in groups on new plant growth or the undersides of leaves, which kills them, as well as stems and buds. An aphid infestation can actually be exacerbated by over-fertilization with nitrogen. The plants most affected by aphid damage include geraniums, roses, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrot crowns, kale, and cabbage. You can plant certain herbs that will attract wasps, who prey on aphids, to help control an infestation; however, spraying them off with a garden hose is most effective.
Corn earworm is a pest that migrates to Michigan every year carried on weather fronts; it overwinters in the southern United States, where it is also a pest of cotton and soybeans. Aptly named, corn earworms feed on ears of fresh corn. These worms are the biggest threat to sweet corn in Michigan because once they enter the ear, they become impossible to remove.
The worms attack corn silk, which results in moldy and deformed ears. Controlling corn earworms can be a difficult task that requires year-round vigilance.
Colorado Potato Beetles
Potato beetles have a yellow shell with ten narrow black stripes. In the spring, the females lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves.
When the larvae hatch, they feed on plant vegetation for 10-30 days before reaching adulthood. Potato beetles continue to feed on the foliage, which leads to the death of the plant. Use a floating row cover on potato plants to prevent these beetles from reaching the plants. Hand pick adults and larvae from the leaves and drop them into a cup of soapy water.
Cucumber beetles cause severe damage to crops like cucumbers, watermelons, and cantaloupe. These yellow-green beetles don’t limit the extent of their damage to feeding; they also cause bacterial wilt.
The bacterium that causes bacterial wilt lives in the stomachs of the cucumber beetles— in the spring when they emerge to feed, they spread the bacterium from their mouthparts and through their excrement. Once inside, the bacterium quickly multiplies which produces blockages that cause the leaves to wilt and die. The beetles unwittingly pick up the bacteria from the exterior of the plant and transfer it. There is, unfortunately, nothing that can be done to save a plant infected with wilt. Early preventative measures are essential to halt the spread of bacterial wilt. Cover crops with a row cover and remove as plants flower to help control these beetles.
No gardener wants their hard work to be compromised by garden pests. Knowing what to look for is the first step toward protecting the fruits of your labor!