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  • Writer's pictureJulia Watson

Bugs in the Garden

yellow chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemum 'Kokko No Waza' can sometimes get aphids, but they're easily controlled.

What should you do if you see a few bugs in your garden? Look closer of course! You need to find out if it’s a friend or foe. There are some insects that will damage your flowers and others that will help fight off the destructive bugs.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably interested in avoiding synthetic pesticides, so let’s start by saying that for the most part, undesirable bugs can be controlled with organic and homemade remedies, especially if you learn to encourage a balance of life among your plants. In this post I’ll talk about creatures that can harm your plants, but in my next post I’ll discuss “good bugs” that can help with control. Note that I’m saying “bugs” in the most generic sense, since I’m not an entomologist ( :

Here are the bad bugs that I see in my own garden, followed by advice on how to deal with them.

Ants Some gardeners consider ants as friends, but I find them hard to like. I’m sure it depends on the species, but the ones I have trouble with are small black ants that live in one small area of my garden and farm aphids on three of my roses (see below). I sometimes have to resort to Raid to keep down their numbers in early spring, then the rest of the year I ignore them. They’re never a problem in other parts of the garden, and a yearly dose of Raid doesn’t make them disappear, so that’s what I do. It’s my only sin against organic principles.

Aphids Katherine Grace Endicott put it best in her book, Northern California Gardening: “It’s best not to get too worked up over aphids.” I try to go by that advice. A spray with the hose will often take care of the problem. In one place, at one time of year, they seem to increase due to ants (see above) and then I have to control the ants, but otherwise water and/or a spray of diluted detergent will control them.

Carpenter bees These aren’t really a problem, but I’m listing them because they take bites out of leaves and occasionally flower petals. I ignore them and I advise you to do the same. They rarely do extensive damage and they mostly stay away from flowers.

Earwigs These can do a lot of damage to flowers, and they can hide in buds and foliage, so you have to be watchful. Use Sluggo Plus to control them – sprinkle it liberally among the leaves and at the base of the plant.

Slugs and snails Of course these aren’t insects or bugs or spiders but I’m throwing them in the list anyway because they’re a major pest in our garden. I use Sluggo everywhere in early spring or anytime I’m direct seeding or setting out small plants.

Thrip This is a bad one, because they damage the flowers and also because they’re so tiny that a beginning gardener might not recognize the problem. When you notice that your ivory roses have ugly brown edges, look closer and you’ll probably find thrip. Look for tiny brown things that look like this printed dash mark – until they move. You may need to spread open the flower to see them crawling around. They seem to prefer light colored blooms; in my garden they love the rose ‘Elina’ but leaves most of the others alone. I spray with neem oil and/or Safer organic detergent spray. I’ve never found any organic method that completely controls thrip, these only keep them at bay, so if you have suggestions please drop me a note in the Comments section.

Thrip damage - photo from Treolar Roses

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