A pesticide-free guide to dealing with pests.

When gardening, it’s easy to put all your attention on the composition and needs of your plants and to forget about the pests that lurk in the shadows. In the warmer seasons, various insects might find their way into your garden to feed and wreak havoc–whether they eat away at the leaves or bring disease to plants–so it’s important to know what to look for.

Here’s our handy guide to common garden pests, what they do and how you can get rid of them. Most of these pests can be eradicated by inviting in a natural predator; there are no pesticides in this guide, and taking these steps can lead to a better-balanced garden free of invasive species.

Ticks

Ticks can be dangerous for carrying Lyme disease, and passing it on to humans and pets alike. You should always check yourself for ticks when coming in from outdoors, and covering yourself wherever possible, but you can also discourage ticks from coming into your yard. If your home borders a wooded area, build a gravel barrier to keep tick-carrying mice from getting in.

Carpenter Bees

Bees are a boon to any garden, but carpenter bees can damage homes and decks, just like termites can. You don’t have to harm carpenter bees to keep them away, so you can feel guilt-free when purging them from the garden. 

Cover any exposed wood with low- or no-VOC paint or varnish. Carpenter bees won’t drill into wood that’s been treated this way. If any wood has already been damaged by the bees, replace it with painted or varnished wood.

Aphids

Aphid can spread viruses to plants in your garden. In addition to this, they can suck sap from plants that will attract ants. Aphids can be removed from plants by simply spraying water, knocking them right off. You can also invite ladybugs into the garden with cornflowers, as ladybugs love to eat aphids!

Caterpillars

Caterpillars are tricky; they’ll much away on your plants and leave holes all over your leaves. But you don’t want to hurt the many-legged critters, as they’ll transform into beautiful, helpful butterflies someday. So what to do? You can simply pluck them off plants and place them somewhere else to feed, and no harm will be done. If you don’t mind the circle of life, installing a bird bath in the yard will invite caterpillar predators to your garden

Earwigs

Like caterpillars, earwigs will leave holes on your plants from feeding on leaves. They’re quite easy to get rid of if you know where they’re feeding; if you have a plant or tree affected by earwigs, just lay cardboard under it and spray with water. This gives the earwigs–who love to burrow during the day–a nice home. Wait a day, then lift the board to expose the earwigs. You can stomp all over them to kill, or just dispose of the cardboard.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles will feed on fruit and the silk in corn. For a quick remedy, you can just pluck the beetles off of plants and trees. To eradicate them from the yard, spread nematodes over your lawns at the start of the spring.

Mealybugs

When mealybugs feed, they’ll leave secretions that can bring disease to plants and invite ants into the garden. Remember when we suggested enlisting ladybugs to combat aphids? You’ll want to do the same with mealybugs; plant some small-flower nectar plants to invite natural predators in the yard.

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