How do I figure out what bugs are destroying my [insert plant/flower/tree here]?
I'm going to start with a story. The summer I turned eight we moved into the first home we actually owned since moving to Missouri two years before. It had a yard big enough to keep the dog we could finally get and enough bedrooms that I no longer had to share one with my younger sister, who was a fitful sleeper to say the least. It also had multiple trees in the front yard, including one that was absolutely perfect for climbing. There is a picture in existence somewhere of me and my friend Matt sitting up at the top of that tree completely barefoot.
Unfortunately, this beacon of childhood joy died all-too-quickly and had to be cut down because "it was an eyesore" at the edge of the intersection where our corner lot sits. Needless to say, I was heartbroken. Most of the damage was done long before we had actually moved in. The perpetrator of such an injustice was an aggressive infestation of boxelder bugs (also poor drainage, but that’s irrelevant here), and I have nursed a seething rage for them ever since. This blog entry will serve as my PSA for the safety of all good climbing trees everywhere.
Most people who have a home garden, whether floral or vegetable in nature, have put a lot of time, money, and effort into its development. Because of this, it is important to ensure it is protected from the damage of pests. Effective and environmentally-conscious pest management can be that insurance. There are insects that are beneficial to a garden and those that are detrimental. Identification is the first step to differentiating between the two. Those that are beneficial are best left to go about their business, but the pests hellbent on destroying your heirloom tomatoes (or your best climbing tree) should be dealt with swiftly. And Keller can do that for you. Here a just a few of the myriad insects that can be found in your garden, both the good and the bad.
Beneficial insects and other invertebrates are those whose presence positively affects a garden, orchard, or agricultural farm. They do this either by contributing to the quality of the soil by assisting in the breakdown of decaying organic matter or controlling existing populations of detrimental pests as their natural predators. These beneficial insects are sometimes used in pest management as a biological control on populations you wish to eradicate from an area. They are, however, considered nuisance pests when they happen to wander indoors.
Centipedes / Millipedes
Centipedes and millipedes tend to be a mixed blessing. When found indoors, they are an unwanted nuisance, but when found outside in a garden, they enrich the soil by breaking down decaying organic material. They control pest populations by feeding on unwanted and destructive insects plaguing gardens.
Asian Lady Beetles
Multicolored Asian lady beetles are another beneficial insect due to their natural control of aphids, which are found on our destructive pest list. They are often confused for your typical lady bugs (“lady beetles”).Their presence decreases the need for pesticide use in ornamental plant gardens, orchards, and agriculture. However, their introduction to new habitats has caused some overpopulation problems in parts of the United States. It is thought that natural checks and balances will eventually be reached in order to control their expanding population.
This midge feeds on the larvae of over 70 different species of aphid including those most destructive to ornamental, fruit, and vegetable plants. The aphid midge is commonly used as a biological control in Integrated Pest Management to manage large aphid populations.
This winged insect is what is called a “generalist predator” because they feed on a wide variety of insects including garden pests like caterpillars and aphids. Unlike some other beneficial species of insects, damsel bugs aren’t sold commercially but reducing the usage of pesticide can help bolster an existing population.
Spined Soldier Beetle
These beetles look very similar to stink bugs, which are featured on our pest list, but can be differentiated by the spines located on their backs. Spined soldier beetles, like other soldier beetles are natural predators of hairless caterpillars and the larvae of the types of beetles who typically feed on garden plants.
This invertebrate is familiar to all gardens where they are known as “nature’s plow.” Their interconnected tunnels and burrows help loosen the soil which allows for air and water to help roots expand and grow as needed. Not only do worms act as an accurate barometer for any physical or chemical changes in your soil, their diet of organic matter leads to castings that serve as an excellent source of fertilizer.
It's important to note here that some of the following insects can be beneficial (or at least only a nuisance) under the right circumstances, but under the wrong ones, they are bad news bears. Each one is detrimental in its own way and once you've identified which pest is wreaking havoc on your harvest, Keller can help treat in a way that minimizes risk to your garden.
While these true bugs are not typically considered agricultural pests, in large aggregations boxelder bugs can quickly become a nuisance. In late April, boxelders emerge from winter break and return to their host trees to lay eggs in crevices in the bark. When feeding on a plant or tree, they may damage the foliage of still developing leaves and hosts that are severely infested may have a yellow tinge.
These true bugs are in the same Order as boxelder bugs, but feed on fruit and vegetables rather than trees like boxelders. Stink bugs prefer to attack beans, tomatoes, pears, and stone fruit, but will feed on a garden indiscriminately. Their presence is often detected when their damage becomes visible – discoloration and dimpling on ripened fruit and vegetables.
Aphids are found across North America feeding on plants of all kinds. They attack ornamentals and flowers, fruit and vegetable plants, and a variety of trees. Individual species of these insects, also known as plant lice, are typically monophagus and specialize in one plant species, but several choose hosts indiscriminately. Aphids feed on the sap found in phloem tissue of plants which damages flowers, leaves, and buds and leaves destructive secretions on the plant.
Earwigs prefer soft fruit like raspberries, blackberries, and apricots rather than fruits like apples. Their damage can be identified by small holes that extend deep into the fruit. They may also feed on flowers like marigolds and dahlias, preventing proper pollination. Earwigs are nocturnal and can be seen in action with a flashlight in your garden at night.
Colonies of the mealybug appear as white, sticky cotton-like clusters on ornamentals, and fruit plants and trees. Large infestations restrict the growth and quality of the host plants, also causing fruit and leaves to drop prematurely. Mealybugs leave a waxy, sticky substance on their hosts, and this leads to the growth of a sooty mold on affected plants.
Sowbugs / Pillbugs
These pests aren’t actually insects; they’re soil-dwelling crustaceans closely related to crayfish. It is important to note that sowbugs and pillbugs feed primarily on decaying organic matter, which can help decompose plant material and improve the soil in a garden. However, these crustaceans also feed on new roots, seedlings, and any plant matter lying on or near the surface of the soil, causing unwanted damage.
Crickets are nocturnal so most of the effects of their activity in your yard or garden won’t be apparent until the next morning. Occasionally, these insects will migrate from dry, weedy areas to your garden and cause damage mostly to vegetable plants. Several rows of seedlings can be demolished in a matter of a few days, if the infestation is large enough.
Spittlebugs, named for the frothy, spit-like protective mass that covers feeding nymphs, can be found on any plant. Feeding by sucking out plant juices, infestations of spittlebugs can destroy plant tissue and restrict growth. They typically are not found on well-established woody plants and trees.
These insects tend to be found in gardens sporadically depending on the local population. They are general feeders that tend to eat indiscriminately, but they prefer young plants including lettuce, onions, beans, and carrots. Grasshoppers are capable of consuming entire plants when given enough time. If an infestation is numerous enough, periods of damage can last much longer than their usual period of activity, which is typically a few weeks in early summer.
Depending on the species, caterpillars will target a variety of food sources. They chew damaging holes in leaves and flowers, feed on buds, seedlings, and young shoots, capable of entirely consuming any of these. Other types of caterpillar burrow into plants and hide while feeding on fruits, nuts, and tubers – most of the damage going unnoticed until the plants are harvested. Tree-dwelling caterpillars are known to bore into the wood, creating holes, damaging and weakening branches and restricting sapling or new shoot growth.