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Garden pests are not the thing most gardeners relish talking about. But whether you’re container gardening or working in flower beds, for beautiful clay flower pots or blooming perennial flowers, herbs, and vegetables beds, knowing your stuff about pesky critters is essential.

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Your first (and best) line of defense is good plant culture. This means paying attention to these 4 essentials:

  • Proper soil for your flowers, herbs, or vegetables you’re growing. Why? Because planting in the wrong soil (such as peonies in cactus mix) won’t promote a healthy plant. And poor plant health means less defenses to ward off garden pests and diseases. Characteristics of the right planting soil include that it’s rich enough for the plant, but well-draining, and light enough for good root development.
  • Water properly. Too much leads to water-logged roots and fungal root inflections plus all sorts of other debilitating problems. If the soil is moist, don’t water (unless you have a plant, such as mint or hydrangea that relish evenly moist soil). And make sure your pots have drainage holes. If the water stands in the soil, even out of sight, this spells trouble.
  • Fertilize well through the whole growing season (don’t start strong and then quit!). And know your plants in terms of soil ph requirements. For example, azaleas or the herb chamomile loves an acid soil, while basil prefers a neutral ph, and oregano a slightly alkaline one. Know your plant and provide the soil additives they need to stay healthy.
  • Clean environment. Remove spent blooms, dead leaves, and other potentially decaying matter. Garden pests and diseases thrive in an unclean environment. Add good air circulation here, too. Don’t crowd the plants together or you’ll be removing a lot more than spent blooms. In short, strong plants, like strong bodies of any sort, are better equipped to stay healthy.

But as we know, stuff happens.

We’ll deal with seven of the most common garden pests below, both in terms of how to spot the problem and what to do about it.

But before we get to the pests, one word about beneficial insects-yes, there are some! Lacewings, lady bugs, and praying mantis are three of the best.

They love to eat the destructive insects that harm your garden. And, you can find reputable suppliers online.

Ok, on to our subject: Garden Pests.

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The Pesky Little Critters

The Problem: These are pretty common, but very hard to see. 3 millimeters and green, they love the undersides of leaves where they suck until the leaf becomes rolled and sticky.
The Solution: You can spray the plant leaves to knock off the offenders and use a spray of water and soap (best to use insecticidal soap from the nursery). Repeat every few days until they’re gone.

Spider Mites
The Problem: Too little to see with the human eye, these guys also hang out on the underside of leaves. You’ll know they’re there if your leaves turn yellow and wither. At the worst, there’s a white web on the leaves.
The Solution: Rinse the leaves as with aphids and spray. You can also move the plants to a cool spot as you do this. Spider mites like it hot.

The Problem: Little white flies. Usually a whole lot of them, and they fly up disgustingly when you touch a leaf (they like the underside) or water. The leaves wither.
The Solution: Use an insecticidal soap on them, and they’ll bite the dust pretty quickly.

The Problem: 3 millimeter yellow-brown nasties that hold onto the stems and leaves. They leave behind little white fluffs and the leaves get sticky.
The Solution: You can squish the bugs between your fingers if you’re not like me and have a bug phobia. Otherwise, clean off the critters with a hose or hard spray with insecticidal soap and treat with horticultural oil you can buy online or at the nursery.

The Bigger Critters

The Problem: You’ll see hanging larvae and caterpillars-not too hard to spot. The thing about these garden pests is you need to decide if the harm is less than the pleasure of the butterfly that might come out. Sometimes letting them hang around, literally, can bring quite a lot of pleasure.
The Solution: Just pick off and discard. Enough said.

Japanese Beetles
The Problem: Big beetles with a shiny brown carapace and black head that reduce ornamental leaves to skeletons.
The Solution: Pick off and discard. You can drop them in a soapy solution if you get no pleasure from the squish option.

Snails and Slugs
The Problem: Little slow-moving, shelled creatures that love, love, love hostas.
The Solution: I’ve heard of lots of solutions, none of which have worked very well for me-these include setting out jar tops filled with beer (Really). Putting sticky boards at the base of plants-you have to get rid of them in the morning. Pick them up and dispose of them. In a manner of your choosing.