Vegetable Garden Pests

For clues on how to combat pests, take a closer look at your garden vegetables.

Garden pests, such as insects, mites, slugs and snails, can do tremendous damage to your vegetables, and there is nothing worse than losing your harvest to these hungry pests. Keep your garden lush and delicious by catching and controlling the problem early. Here's how.

When it comes to their favorite snacks, garden pests aren't stupid. They love soft, succulent plants and vegetables as much as you do.

To find the most effective course of action, it helps to know what's feeding in your garden. Many different garden pests can cause similar damage to your vegetable plants. Some pests are very selective of the plants they feed on, while others will feed on just about anything in your garden. Most garden bugs actively eat during the day, but there are a few, like cutworms, snails and slugs, that prefer to do their damage at night.

Damage Caused by Garden Pests

Sometimes you will see damage on your plants before you see what’s causing the problem. All of these can be signs of bugs feasting on your garden:

  • Skeletonized leaves
  • Holes and chewed edges
  • Deformed leaves
  • Wilting plants

Problem: Leaves of your potatoes and eggplants have been skeletonized (only the veins remain).

Likely suspects: Potato beetles

Problem: The leaves of your green beans or edamame have been skeletonized.

Likely suspects: Japanese beetles

Problem: Wilting plants

Likely suspects: Aphids, squash bugs, and whiteflies. This happens because these bugs suck out plant juices, causing leaves to become distorted or deformed, and plants to become yellow and wilted.

Problem: Chewed plant leaves

Likely suspects: Cabbage loopers, flea beetles, cucumber beetles, and tomato hornworms

Problem: Seedlings are severed at the ground.

Likely suspects: Cutworms, slugs, or snails

The Veggies They Prefer

Some garden pests such as aphids, flea beetles, and leaf miners can be found on a wide array of plants in your vegetable garden. However, there are other garden pests that prefer specific families of vegetables, but they will also occasionally feast on other plants in your garden.

Tomato Family

The potato beetle and tomato hornworm can be found feasting on members of the tomato family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.

Cabbage Family

Cabbage loopers prefer brassicas, better known as members of the cabbage family: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts. 

Cucumber Family

Several garden pests, including cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vine borers, can be found on plants in the cucumber family: cucumbers, melons, squashes, and pumpkins. 

How to Kill Garden Pests

There are multiple products labeled to kill pests in your vegetable garden. Always check the label before applying to find the insects controlled, the vegetables the product can be applied to, and how long you need to wait to harvest after application.

How to Prevent Future Damage

Encourage beneficial insects and spiders. Not all bugs are bad. Some insects and spiders help keep pest populations in check which helps you maintain a healthy balance in your garden. Spiders can eat unwanted garden insect pests, some insect eggs, and small caterpillars. Ladybugs prey on aphids, mites, whiteflies, some insect eggs, and small caterpillars. Ground beetles and praying mantises are also considered beneficial because they feed on other insects as well as other invertebrates. Parasitic wasps, on the other hand, will use tomato hornworms and other caterpillars as a place to lay their eggs and feed their young once the eggs hatch. To encourage beneficial insects to populate your garden, plant herbs that attract them. Ladybugs, for example, are attracted to dill. Caraway, fennel and spearmint draw in minute pirate bugs and damsel bugs which also feed on other insects.

Use physical barriers. A useful method for keeping garden pests off your vegetables is to put a barrier between the pest and your plants. Placing a copper ring around the base of plants will help deter slugs and snails. A floating row cover (lightweight fabric) either laid on the plants or held up by wire hoops can be used to keep insects like cabbage loopers, bean beetles, cucumber beetles, and squash vine borers off your plants. Just remember to remove the cover when your plants start to flower so they can be pollinated. (The cover can be placed back over the plants once pollination is done.) If your region is prone to Mormon crickets, it's worth building a barrier around your garden beds. Although they can't fly (Mormon crickets are actually short-winged katydids), you want it to be at least 18-24 inches high and with a slick surface to keep them from climbing it vertically.

Keep your plants healthy. When plants are happy and not stressed, they are able to tolerate garden pests better. Remember to water your plants regularly and fertilize them as needed.