Plant Problems: Pests in the Garden

Learn how to prevent a wide variety of plant diseases and other ailments with simple preparation and attention.

  • The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques
    "The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques" by the American Horticultural Society provides an in-depth look into gardening.  This book contains details on getting rid of bugs in the garden and preventing plant problems. 
    Cover Courtesy Mitchell Beazley
  • Example of carrot rust fly and larvae
    Example of carrot rust fly and carrot rust fly larve. This pest attacks carrots and, to a lesser extent, parsnip, celery, and parsley. The maggots, up to 1/2-in. long, leave brown tunnels in roots.
    Courtesy of Mitchell Beazley

  • The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques
  • Example of carrot rust fly and larvae

Plant problems can be prevented with appropriate preparation and attention. The American Horticultural Society’s New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques (Mitchell Beazley, 2009) gives a detailed look into planting from preparation to harvest. This discussion of garden pests is an excerpt from Chapter 4, “Growing Vegetables & Herbs: Common Problems.” 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques.

Common problems

It can seem at first that vegetables are vulnerable to a host of pests and diseases, and that growing them will be an unrelenting and unwinnable struggle. It is true that there are many creatures poised to enjoy your harvest before you do, and each year some plants will be lost or damaged by disease, but the problems are not really so great. With good cultivation techniques and some defensive measures, losses will be minimal. The key is to watch plants carefully, spot potential problems early, and act promptly, ideally before any damage is done. In the vegetable garden, as everywhere else, prevention is better than cure.


Some pests, such as slugs, will attack almost any plant in the garden and are familiar to every gardener; these are discussed in Chapter One. Other pests are specific to certain crops, or even a single crop.

Cucumber beetle

Adult beetles are about 1⁄4in. long with yellow wing covers, each with three black stripes or eleven black spots. The adults lay eggs in the soil and the slender, whitish larvae, with black or brown heads, burrow into the soil and feed on the roots of cucumber, squash, melon, and potato plants. The larvae pupate in the soil, the adults emerging in spring to lay their eggs. Predators such as praying mantis and ladybeetles are effective, as are some insecticides.

Squash bugs

Flat-backed, grayish or black bugs, 1⁄2–1in. long, suck sap from cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squashes. Their activities can be recognized by the plants being marked with brown or yellow dots; in the worst cases, plants become stunted, and the leaves turn black and die. The best protections are using floating row covers until flowering begins, good sanitation, and crop rotation.

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