Every vegetable gardener faces pest issues from time to time, and learning how to manage the little leaf-munching menaces without using synthetic chemical pesticides is an essential step in growing a healthy, productive garden. To help gardeners with this task, Let’s Go Farming School Gardening team have put together this easy-to-use guide to vegetable garden pests.
To make our guide to vegetable garden pests both user-friendly and straightforward, we’ve included essential details on some of the most common – and destructive – veggie garden pests and lots of info on how to protect your garden from the damage they cause.
Use the photos and descriptions to help you identify the culprit, then implement the useful prevention techniques. If these preventative tips don’t solve your problem, move on to employing the listed physical control methods. As a last resort, we’ve also included our favorite organic product controls for each garden pest. Apply them with caution and only after carefully reading the label. Use this guide to vegetable garden pests to grow a high-yielding, gorgeous, organic vegetable garden.
Cabbage worms (Artogeia rapae)
Imported cabbage worm caterpillars are very destructive pests of the vegetable garden.
Identification: Imported cabbage worm caterpillars are 1″ long and light green with a faint yellow stripe down the back. Adults are white to yellowish-white butterflies with up to four black spots on the wings.
Plants affected: All members of the cabbage family, including cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, radish, turnip, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts can fall victim to cabbage worms.
Description of damage: Cabbage worm caterpillars chew holes in leaves and flower clusters. They can cause complete defoliation if infestation is severe.
Preventative measures: Hang birdhouses in garden as birds enjoy eating cabbage worms.
Physical controls: Cover susceptible plants with floating row cover from the time of planting until harvest as host plants do not need to be pollinated to be productive. Hand-picking the caterpillars is also effective.
Carrot rust fly (Psila rosae)
Carrot rust fly maggots leave distinctive tunneling behind as they feed.
Identification: Adult carrot rust flies are very small, shiny black flies with an orange head and legs. The larvae are tiny, beige-colored maggots. Though this pest is not found in every guide to vegetable garden pests, it’s becoming more problematic for many gardeners and deserves to be featured.
Plants affected: Adult flies lay eggs near many vegetable crops, including carrots, celeriac, parsley, celery, parsnips, and others.
Description of damage: Carrot rust fly larvae feed on crop roots, leaving tunnels and scarring behind. As the season progresses, the damage grows more prominent. Roots riddled with tunnels and scars are the result.
Preventative measures: Adult carrot rust flies are poor fliers so rotate crops every season. Try to pick a site downwind from last year’s crop location. Also, wait to plant carrots until late May or early June as that’s off the mating cycle of this pest.
Physical controls: Keep carrots and other susceptible crops covered with floating row cover from the time of planting until harvesting day. Female flies find their host plants through smell, so interplanting carrots and other crops with onions, garlic, and chives may help limit carrot rust fly egg laying.
Organic product controls: Beneficial nematodes released into the soil near the carrot crop help control the larvae.
Whiteflies (Trialeurodes vaporariorum and others)
Identification: Whiteflies are tiny, white, moth-like flies. Infested plants are often coated in sticky honeydew, the excrement of the flies. Whiteflies are often present in large numbers on leaf undersides.
Plants affected: Common whitefly hosts in the vegetable garden include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, citrus, and others.
Description of damage: Both whitefly adults and nymphs suck plant juices, causing weak plants, yellow leaves, wilt, and in severe cases, leaf drop.
Preventative measures: Carefully inspect all new plants for whiteflies before purchasing from a nursery. This is a helpful idea for preventing all of the insects featured in this guide to vegetable garden pests.
Physical controls: Hang yellow sticky cards just above plant tops to capture the adult flies and prevent a new generation.
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