The Good, the Bad and the Buggy

By Beverly DeMers, Photo by Jacki Dougan

Eliminate pests the natural way: tried and true solutions

Whenever I use insecticidal soap, I keep in mind that it kills the good and the bad. As a vastly better solution, I find that it is best to differentiate by strategizing against the bad bugs while supporting the good. Even better, turn the good bugs loose on the bad, and the good often dominate.

Who really wants to kill a ladybug? Praying mantis are another bugeater that I find fascinating, and am glad to see it every year in my garden. Spiders, well, I’m not too fond of them, but we’ve somehow established a truce. They are good at pest control. Toads, frogs and lizards are also bug munchers. The key is to have a diverse population that naturally creates balance.

There are also product lines out there that are earth-friendly. I’m told by several expert gardening friends that one of the best sources for organic pest control is a company called Gardens Alive. I’m planning on checking out their products myself this fall when I redo my garden. My Amish friend, Mamie Beiler, uses their products exclusively. She started with a patch of clay and now has a lush, productive garden, the bonus being that it’s all organic.

The bottom line is there’s always a battle to be fought in the garden, and we need to choose wisely how we fight so we can truly have a good garden. With that said, let’s meet the enemies and get to know them well.


Holes in the middle of your hosta leaves? It’s probably slugs. These slimey critters like damp, cool places and generally do their munching at night. The most effective Earth friendly control method is to create a barrier. Copper emits a slight electrical charge disliked by slugs, but that can be expensive. Diatomaceous earth pierces slugs’ and snails’ bodies, but the easiest answer may lie in your home. Crushed seashells or eggshells make an effective barrier. Sprinkled around plants they do the same job as the diatomaceous earth, with the bonus of enriching the soil as they decompose. I have tried crushed eggshells myself and am happy to report my hosta leaves are slug-hole-free for the first time.


Next on the most wanted list is the Japanese beetle, first seen in the U.S. in 1916. They are voracious munchers, and seem especially fond of almost anything. I find the most effective control method is to pick them off and give them a swim in soapy water. Catching them early in the season really helps, before they have time to reproduce. An ally in the battle is the tachinid fly, whose larvae parasitizes and eventually kills the beetles. The beetle larvae live just below the soil line in lawns, feeding on grass roots. Milky Spore placed on the lawn in early spring as the grubs start moving to the surface also helps control the next generation. The much-touted beetle traps do nothing but draw beetles from miles around into your yard, so I don’t recommend them. The upside to all this is that the beetle’s lifespan is only 30-45 days, with peak population in July.


Aphids are the vampires of the bug world. There are thousands of different aphid species, and they all suck the sap of plants, favoring new growth and stems. Insecticidal soap is effective if applied every 10 days for a month. Natural predators are parasitic wasps, lacewings, and best of all, ladybugs. Those polka dotted gems eat about 50 aphids per day!


Two more sucking pests are the leafhopper and the whitefly. Leafhopper damage causes leaves to develop white or yellow stippling before falling off. Whiteflies leave a sticky residue, and cause leaves to yellow and drop. Once again, insecticidal soap applied every 10 days for a month will get rid of adults and offspring.


Harlequin bugs are rather pretty in a graphic design sort of way, but the damage they do is not. In the North adults emerge in Spring,as the temperatures warm. Where winters are mild they are active year round. For a small number remove by hand and give them the soapy bath treatment. Insecticidal soap is also effective.


Squash bugs are quite drab compared to harlequins, but they can quickly kill a plant. Their preferred victims are squash plants, pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon and raspberry plants. Rub off orange eggs clusters, found on leaf undersides, and destroy. To catch adults place boards around plants. They will hide under them during the day, making it convenient for you to squash the squash bug. Their natural predators are wolf spiders and tachinid flies.


As for the munchers, there are the Colorado potato beetle and the tomato hornworm. The beetle favors potato, pepper, tomato and eggplants. It appears in early Spring and reaches its peak in July. At first sighting, pick those varmints off and drop them in soapy water. Catching them early in the season will keep them from laying eggs. If there are too many, place a light colored sheet under the plant and gently tap so the beetles drop onto the cloth, then destroy. Egg masses are yellow-orange and found on leaf undersides; if found remove them and destroy also.

The tomato hornworm can be hand-picked (ok, I admit it, I use tongs!), and destroyed. Parasitic wasps are their natural enemy, laying eggs on the worm until it is covered in small white appendages. The larvae will eat it to death. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr…Nature is not kind at times.


Cut worms are the clearcutters of the garden, severing plants at the soil line. They takes a few bites and move on to the next plant. Collars around new plants are very effective at thwarting them. I make plastic ones, cut from soda bottles, and push them into the ground around plants. Inexpensive and durable.

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