April 28, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Insect attacks diminish the pleasure of vegetable and flower gardening. However, following some simple practices can reduce these pest problems.

“Knowing what’s going on in your garden is the key to successful pest management,” said Ric Bessin, Extension entomologist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.  “Regularly inspect your garden to keep small pest problems from becoming larger ones.”

Bessin said monitoring a flower or vegetable garden for insect pests involves more than a casual walk through the area.

“Thoroughly check plants, because many common garden pests stay on the undersides of leaves. It’s a good idea to carefully inspect plants at least once a week for insect pests or signs of problems,” he explained.

Dry, black fecal pellets indicate the presence of tomato hornworms and some armyworms. Missing or damaged leaves are evidence of insects with chewing mouthparts including caterpillars, beetles or grasshoppers. Early spring hand removal is one way to eliminate insect pests when populations are small.  This practice often pays dividends by mid-summer.

“To protect eggplant, tomato and potato plants, simply knock sluggish Colorado potato beetles into a bucket of soapy water as they emerge from the winter,” Bessin said.  “Hand-remove Japanese beetles from small plants in mid-summer. Removing the first Japanese beetles to attack plants discourages others from visiting your garden.”

Sanitation is a very effective way to keep pests out of the flower or vegetable garden because many insects can find food and shelter in aging plants, weeds and vegetative residue, according to Bessin.

“Keep garden areas clean throughout the year, not just during the growing season,” he said.  “Compost vegetable garden residues or thoroughly work them into the soil immediately after the final harvest.  Do not wait until fall, because this gives pests time to continue to develop and cause problems.”

Removing crop residue this season can reduce pest and disease problems next year because insects can survive the winter insulated in leftover garden remains and weeds.  In addition, destroying cucumber and melon residues keeps cucumber beetles from storing disease organisms in their gut during the winter and starting disease cycles the following year.

Another simple way to reduce insect problems is to use barriers and devices to exclude insects in the home garden. Exclusion devices can include putting rings cut from empty plastic soda bottles into the ground around tender seedlings to reduce cutworm damage. Use row covers to protect cucumber, melon and squash seedlings from cucumber beetles feeding and disease transmission. Another practice is to use barriers of earth, wood ash, sawdust or copper strips around bedded plants to exclude slugs.

“When weather conditions permit, planting early might lessen potential insect problems in the garden,” Bessin said.  “Using early planting dates can reduce mid-summer insect problems, especially when those pests don’t spend the winter in Kentucky.”


Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 ext. 257
Source: rbessin@uky.edu Ric Bessin 859-257-7456