What’s Bugging Your Plants?

It’s that time of year when the pesky pests come out to munch on our favorite garden plants. The warmer the weather, the faster those tiny eggs hatch. Before we know it, an army of aphids (or other pests) have decided to call our plants “home”. There are some things to know when determining how to manage pests in the yard. First, you’ll need to identify what you have in order to choose the best course of action. Some pests can be managed with a strong spray of water from hose, others may require an insecticide. Most insecticides target select pests. If you don’t know what you have, clip a small section of plant that is affected and put it in a sealed, clear plastic bag. Take the sample to your local garden center or county extension office for identification.

The most common pests are aphids, spider mites, white fly, Japanese beetles, earwigs, scale, and slugs.  There are a plethora of other insects, like tomato horn worm, psyllids, flea beetles and geranium bud worm, too.  Many will be managed by Mother Nature’s predatory insects.   Others, however, may require a bit of direct attention.

Aphids are probably the most common garden pest.  They are usually green, but may be black or red, or even woolly.   Aphids are pretty easy to identify.  You’ll be able to see adults with their distinctive horn-like spikes over their back legs.

Green Aphids

Aphids are pretty easy to manage.  If it is a light infestation, like the one pictured above, a hard stream of water will knock them off, pretty easily.  Ladybugs love to munch on aphids.  Release them in the cool evening hours and they’ll be making mince meat out of those aphids in no time.  Your ladybugs will stay in the area as long as they have a food supply.  Once your aphids are under control, they are likely to move on to another food source.   They can also be controlled using Neem oil or pyrethrin sprays.   Both are safe and effective, natural products.  Avoid applying any chemicals on hot sunny days.  Apply them in the morning or evening, to avoid damage to foliage.

Ladybug (the good bugs) eating an aphid
Ladybug Larvae
Spider Mites in web

Spider Mites

These tiny little creatures usually go without notice until we see their telltale webs.  For the most part, they hand out on the back of leaves, sucking the life out of our plants.  They are a little smaller than a pin head, making them difficult to see with the naked eye.  If you hold a piece of paper under an infested leaf and tap the leaf, some will fall onto the paper, making them easier to see.  Spider mites aren’t fond of moisture.  Direct water spray from a hose nozzle will usually knock them off.  That said, they are persistent little buggers.  Spraying them with a pyrethrin spray, or Neem oil would be prudent.   As with any chemical that is not a systemic, you’ll want to spray ever 5-7 days for 2-3 weeks, in order to catch each life cycle.




The Scourge of the Landscape – Japanese Beetle

There are some insects no one ever wants to see in their yard. Japanese beetle is probably at the top of the list. Japanese Beetles devour established landscape plants in a day. There are few things more devastating to your landscape.

There is a way to protect your landscape for the next 10 years that is organic and easy to use. It’s called Milky Spore. It’s a spore that affects Japanese beetle grubs, and nothing else. You read that right…….nothing else. That means it can be used in the lawn, in the vegetable garden, and throughout your landscape. Just one teaspoon of powder, every 4 square feet apart is all it takes for 10 years of control.  

It is uncommon for us to suggest applying something before you’ve identified an insect problem, but this is one of those times. Applying Milky Spore is like giving your landscape a vaccine that will protect it from Japanese beetle damage for a decade to come.
Japanese beetle grubs can sometimes be spotted in the lawn, the fall before you might see the adults on your plants.

Fall and Winter Control of Pests and Disease in the Landscape

The fall and winter season provides an opportunity to control pests and disease in the garden. Fire Blight is a bacterial disease that affects certain species in the rose family, especially apples, crabapples and pears.  Applying Bonide Copper Fungicide while the trees are dormant is one method of control.  Copper sprays are toxic to many species of bacteria and should be applied prior to bud break while trees are still in dormancy because they may damage leaves and young fruit.fireblightf1 bonide-copper-fungicide
Control the overwintering stages of many insects on trees and shrubs with All Season’s Spray Oil. Be sure that the air temperature is above 35 degrees F and do not apply if plant tissues are wet or rain is likely. The oil will smother overwintering aphids, spider mites, eriophyde mites, scale and their eggs and larvae.

eriophyid_mites all-seasons
If you had problems with powdery mildew or other fungal leaf spotting on lilacs, aspen and maples, be sure to clean up any leaf debris and dispose of it. Clean up of affected leaves is one of the most effective controls of powdery mildew. It is best to avoid overhead watering of the affected plants during the growing season if possible.
Most pests and disease problems result from stress to plants. In Colorado our greatest stress factor for plants is drought. Remember to continue watering plants in your landscape through the winter when temperatures are above normal and precipitation is below normal. Water mid-day when temperatures are in the 40 to 50 degree F range. During prolonged dry periods, water at 3 to 4 week intervals.

What’s Bugging Your Garden?

Once the heat of summer comes along it seems every aphid, spider mite, and leaf miner and thrips pay a visit to my garden. In the case of most garden pests, high summer temperatures create the perfect environment for rapid reproduction. Learning to identify the what creatures are munching on the garden plants is the key to gaining control. Once identified, we can learn a little about their life cycle so we can choose the best method of control.

Many garden pests can be controlled with a garden hose and a strong spray nozzle. If we scout out the garden regularly, chances are we can find them before they become a serious infestation. Most pesticides (organic, natural, or otherwise) are effective on specific pests. There isn’t a single pesticide that is effective on every garden pest, which is all the more reason we really need to identify what’s chewing away on our plants in order to form a responsible plan of attack. After all, no one wants to spray anything willy-nilly through their garden. Not only would that be a waste of time, energy and money, it may also pose a risk to those beneficial insects we actually need in our gardens.

Thrips are super tiny insects that aren’t easily seen without magnifying lens. Most often we see Western Flower Thrips in the garden. They are slender, tan insects, about .2 mm long. They are so tiny, we usually see the damage to our plants long before we notice the insects. They are notoriously difficult to treat because they often feed on the tender tissue inside buds or the folds of immature foliage. They are sucking insects so they often leave buds and leaves deformed and scarred. Thrips are particularly attracted to blue flowers. Knowing this, I usually plant a few dark blue petunias and use them as sentinel plants. Once I start to see stippling on the flowers and areas that have clearly lost their color due to tissue damage, I can bet they have decided to make a home in my flowers. A strong spray of water can drown them. If they persist, try using an insecticidal soap, neem oil or pyrethrin spray.  Thrips are also known to spread tomato spotted wilt virus, spreading it from plant to plant as they feed.

Below you can see the damage and the thrips.

Western Flower Thrips


Thrips damage to flowers


Western Flower Thrips


Aphids are probably the most common and devastating garden pest.  They may be green, red or black.  They are plump, soft bodied, little insects and we can usually identify them by their cornicles (tubes that sort of look like horns protruding from their abdomen).  Aphids are also sap sucking insects that leave our plants with deformed, stunted buds, blooms and leaves, reducing productivity of vegetables.  Aphids are also capable of spreading many plant viruses.  They are, however, one of the easiest insects to control when they are found early.  Hosing off plants with a strong stream of water will go a long way toward eliminating aphids.  Neem oil and pyrethrins are very effective treatments, too.  Aphids can build up a tolerance to pesticides with each generation, so alternate whatever you use to insure the best results.

Aphids pictured below.



We often see spider mites after we’ve noticed their webs.  These teeny-tiny insects can make foliage appear gray-green and speckled.  We see the damage primarily on the back side of the leaves.  The top of the leaves may appear a bit discolored, faded and the speckling may be obvious.  They can be hosed off with a strong stream of water.  They may also be treated with insecticidal soap, neem oil, or pyrethroids.

Spider Mite on Croton leaf, pictured below.


Spider mite damage to Mandevilla pictured below.

Spider Mite Damage


It’s important to note that any chemical, organic or otherwise, should be used according to the directions on the label.  All chemicals are expected follow specific protocols established by the EPA.  In other words, the label is the law and there is no substitute for reading the fine print.  Don’t spray on a windy day when the chemical may drift onto other people, plants, wildlife, or toward beneficial insects.  Water the day before you spray and spray in the early morning or late evening hours.  This helps reduce the risk of damage to your plants from the spray.  Be sure to wear gloves and the appropriate protective gear when handling any chemical.