5 Insect Pests in the Garden

Zinnia flower pests aphidsThe first step toward pest control in a container garden is learning how to identify the pests. By learning what the common garden pests are, what their damage to plants look like and how to manage them, you can protect your container plants from plagues of pests!


Here are five common garden pests and how to deal with them in your balcony container garden. Click on each insect for more information.

1. Aphids. Aphids are small bugs that blend in well with your plants. They’re usually green, but they can be any color. You will be able to spot these pests on new plant growth and by their movement. When you see them, spray them off with soapy water or cut off infected plant growth and throw them away. You may want to release beneficial predator insects to help control their numbers.

2. Ants. Ants can eat plant foliage, but they can also encourage aphid numbers. Ants actually "farm" aphids so that they can eat the sticky sap (called honeydew) that the aphids produce after eating your plants. You can spray them off with soapy water or attract them with ant traps.

3. Tomato hornworm caterpillars. Tomato hornworm caterpillars are fat caterpillars that will blend in with your tomato and potato plants. They hang upside-down on a plant stem and munch on leaves until they’re fatter than your fingers. Allow hornets to frequent your garden, as hornet young parasitize these destructive caterpillar pests. If you spot one, find someone who isn’t squeamish, pluck it off the stem and cut it in half. If you drop it on the floor and you have ants anywhere in your garden, they will find the body within minutes.

4. Cabbage looper caterpillars. Cabbage looper caterpillars are like tomato hornworm caterpillars in that they will cause severe damage to plants quickly. These attack lettucelike crops rather than tomato and potato plants. They are small and green and are hard to find. You will find them by following the plant leaf damage. Also cut these caterpillars in half.

5. Snails and slugs. Snails and slugs will eat plant leaves. Leave out beer traps to trap and kill them, or find them and step on them.

Not all insects are bad. Remember that butterflies, grass skippers and bees will pollinate your flowers and increase fruit production. Lady bugs and praying mantises are predators that will feed on pest insects. Before getting out the bug spray and trying to kill every insect in your container garden, consider letting natural methods for dealing with pests. Bug sprays can be harmful to you if you don’t use them correctly (like eat something that has been sprayed!) and they can likely harm other creatures that visit your balcony garden paradise. Hummingbirds, for example, are sensitive to pesticides when they drink nectar from flowers.

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