How to Rid Your Garden of 5 Common Summertime Pests

Banish these annoying creatures without using harsh pesticides.

Potato Beetle on a Plant
Photo: bruev / Getty Images

Watching your flower beds come to life and your fresh vegetables grow into maturity in summer is incredibly satisfying. Far less pleasant, however, is seeing the fruits of your labor ravaged by pests and critters that have made their way into your yard. Since gardens play an important role in your local ecosystem, using a commercial pesticide isn't the answer. In fact, Melissa Ozawa, former features and gardening editor at Martha Stewart, says that pesticides have been shown to negatively impact our health over time, and their use can affect other unintended targets (like birds and fauna that thrive among flowers and trees).

The most persistent bugs can eat their way through flowers and leaves in the early planting season, while others are known to target certain vegetables. "Usually, these pests start invading the garden right as summer starts," she says. But that doesn't mean your plants have to suffer all season long. "If you're aware of them before it has become a full-blown infestation, you can actually relocate [pests] without harming them or killing them," she says. "It's not a solution for everyone, but it works for me."

To help your garden thrive and minimize the invasion of pests, keep your soil healthy and fertilized by using organic products (or DIY solutions, like Martha's homemade fertilizer), Ozawa says. Rotating the crops you plant—making sure a certain vegetable or flower doesn't grow in the same spot twice—can also confuse pests and reduce the amount you attract each season. Read on for more of Ozawa's tips, including five common summer garden pests across the nation (regional pests may require further research), and how to keep them at bay.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are ruthless leaf-munchers and are especially drawn to roses, beans, and grapes. Ozawa says that they're plump enough, however, for "those who are not squeamish" to pluck them off your flowers. You'll want to place them in a bowl of water containing a small amount of dish soap, which prevents them from flying away and allows you to relocate them. If your infestation is widespread, place a drop cloth under the affected areas and gently shake them. The beetles will fall onto the fabric, so you can gather and dispose of the whole gang at once.

Tomato Hornworms

As the name suggests, this pest loves to burrow in tomato plants, as well as closely related peppers and eggplants. "They're an amazing-looking caterpillar, and can be as large as your big finger," Ozawa says. "They're fat and truly beautiful—but they're also devastating, and can actually take down your burgeoning tomato plant within 24 hours." Because of their size, she says you can safely pick them up while they're in caterpillar form; they may nest in your plants, as they eventually evolve into stunning sphinx moths, and you should resist the urge to disrupt their cocoons. If you find that you have a particularly serious infestation, Ozawa says that planting marigolds around your tomatoes can repel the insects, as these flowers exude a strong odor that will confuse the tomato hornworms' senses.

Cabbage White Butterflies

Formally known as the pierisrapae, these small white butterflies are often spotted laying their eggs on brassicas—cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, and kale. A single hatched caterpillar can wreak havoc on an entire young plant, eating their way through leaves and stems. Unfortunately, plucking these delicate specimens off the plant often means that they'll get squashed, so you'll need to act preemptively to make sure not to harm them. Ozawa says you can set up a mesh net overlay that can rest atop your garden beds and prevent butterflies from landing on these plants. Garden centers may also sell a form of a garden tent that you can use to protect your plants.

Potato Beetles

"I had these pests last year, and didn't know what to do about them at first," says Ozawa, who detests how these beetles can chew their way through an entire potato in less than a few hours. Similarly to the Japanese beetle, you may have success in picking the beetles off your crop if it's a moderately small infestation—be sure to place them in soapy water so they can't fly away. Otherwise, try digging a small trench lined with plastic into the site, as this can lure beetles into a trap that you can easily till every season. And make sure to move your potatoes to a new site if you find more than half of your crop is eaten before harvest.

Flea Beetle

The most ubiquitous pest of all, these beetles often impact all of the vegetables in your garden—they jump from seedling to seedling (literally!) and leave tiny holes in the plants they eat. When there's a large infestation, flea beetles can eat their way through an entire mature plant and all of the vegetables they bear, including beans, corn, eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and lettuce. Ozawa says this one is a particular nuisance since you can't pick it off. The best solution here is to invest in as many seedling row covers as you need, and then to apply organic pest repellent products on the crops that may be affected.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles