Over 4,000 different types of aphids exist and attack plants. If their numbers are low, they might be unsightly, but won’t actually harm plants. It’s when populations boom that their feeding damages plants, causing leaves to curl or flower buds to fail to open. As aphids feed, they release a sticky honeydew, enriched with plant sugars. These sugars grow mold, attract ants and create another layer of problems. Ants will actually guard aphids to protect them from predators so the ants can harvest the honeydew. When you spot a cluster of aphids, remove them with a spray of water from the hose, or kill them with insecticidal soap or a sprinkle of diatomaceous earth. Birds and predatory insects eat them, including ladybugs and lacewings. Avoid using pesticides in your garden and let these natural controls help take care of aphids for you.
Aphids appear in great concentrations in early spring, when plants are pushing new growth. These sucking insects love to feast on tender, juicy new growth.
Easy Solution: Knock aphids off plants with a spray of water. Or mix your own spray using 3 tablespoons of liquid soap and 1 cup of water. This solution must touch the aphids’ bodies to kill them. Apply every few days as needed. Rinse the solution off plants after a few hours.
Native to the Mediterranean, artichoke is a perennial in Zones 10-11 and sometimes overwinters in Zones 8-9. Elsewhere, it’s an annual and needs a long growing season to pump out those tasty buds. Slugs go after young plants, and aphids and earwigs attack at the later growing stages. Consistent watering is key to plump, tasty buds.
Leaf lettuce is a snap to grow, but raising a picture-perfect head lettuce is definitely tricky. Pests like aphids, slugs and earwigs all feast on the leaves, and growing conditions need to be spot on. Head lettuce needs uniform moisture and a long, cool growing window. Once summer days start lengthening, lettuces go through a process known as bolting, where they start to flower. Bolting destroys the head and makes leaves taste bitter.
Problem: Swarms or clouds of tiny white creatures fly into the air when you move your plants. Solution: You’ve got whiteflies, insects related to aphids that suck plant juices. They make a sticky substance called honeydew that can attract fungal diseases. Spray the plant with an insecticidal soap, following label directions. You’ll probably need to re-treat. Some gardeners use a homemade spray of 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5 parts water and one tablespoon of mild liquid soap. The good news is that some houseplants, like this red Anthurium, are seldom troubled by these pests.
Cheerful and bright, marigolds make an easy-to-grow addition to any garden plan—in pots or planting beds. These perky annuals bring terrific color all season long. What you might not know is that marigolds pack a punch to many insects, including mosquitoes, thanks to chemical insecticides they release. That’s why marigolds have such a strong odor when you touch them. Both flowers and leaves release the chemicals, but blossoms deliver the strongest punch. Other insects that marigolds deter include aphid, whitefly, thrips, tomato hornworm, Mexican bean beetle and squash bug. Tuck marigolds into pots on the patio to make summer evenings less buggy. Or use them in the vegetable garden to help repel pests.
Earwigs inspire terror with those giant pincer claws on their backside. Those claws are used to grasp prey, including slugs, aphids and insect larvae. They’re also used to fend off predators. Earwigs fill two roles in the garden. On the positive side, they scavenge and consume decaying organic matter and eat other plant pests. But when populations are high, they can damage desirable plants by feeding on the soft tissue of seedlings, new shoots and flower petals. One easy way to deter earwigs is placing rolled up newspapers around the garden as traps. The earwigs crawl inside, and you can shake them into a bucket of soapy water. Diatomaceous earth also works against earwigs. Sprinkle it at the base of plants, on earwig clusters or anywhere earwig populations are high.