Colorado Potato Beetle 

Organic Pest Control Series: Common Garden Pests

One of the first questions new gardeners ask is, “How do I keep bugs out of my garden?” Well, you don’t. Insects have refined senses and many can fly long distances, so keeping insects out of a garden is not a realistic goal. Besides, you need them. A complicated food chain exists from the soil to the treetops, and insects are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. Some are bad guys that damage plants or spread disease, while many more are allies in pollination and overall pest control.

What you don’t need are scads of damaging insects and a short list of beneficials, which is what you may get if you use pesticides that kill a wide range of life forms. Instead, long-time organic gardeners report success achieving a healthy balance between harmful and helpful insects by growing an abundance of herbs and flowers in or near their vegetable gardens. Many more tips for attracting beneficial insects are given in the profiles of common beneficials.

Even in the healthiest gardens, a few pest insects can be expected to require intervention. Identifying pest insects may be easier than you think, because most insects are able to feed on a narrow range of crops. For example, cabbage worms feed only on cabbage-family crops, while squash bugs stick close to squash. Most of the worst vegetable garden pests feed upon only one plant family.

The 15 pests discussed below are common in a wide range of climates, so you should not be surprised to encounter them in your garden. After you identify them, look closely to see whether beneficials are at work. Proceed to handpick if the pest populations are increasing, or if you know they will from your own experience. Keep notes of when pests appear in your garden, and be ready to prevent problems in future seasons by using floating row covers or changing your planting dates. You will find many other techniques for managing insect pests in these pages, as well as links to appropriate organic pesticides accepted by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).

Check out the other sections of our our Organic Pest Control Series: Using Organic Pesticides and Beneficial Insects.