Starting a veggie patch is a venture that will just keep giving and giving to your family. Not only do you get to enjoy the nourishing produce you grow, you are also teaching fundamental skills to your children which will be with them for life.
You are in fact, creating childhood memories.
However, when growing plants and produce you will also need to learn about all the little bugs in your vegetable garden. In the veggie patch, we refer to them as pests because let’s face it, nobody wants to grow produce to feed the insects.
Garden pests come in all shapes and sizes, and feast on a wide selection of fruit & vegetable crops, plus they can also use their underground advantage and target the roots of a plant.
Not all insects are bad though, and it’s important to also be able to identify beneficial insects, and how you can attract them into your garden to help you defend your patch.
Identifying garden pests
Pests in our garden attack our plants in different ways. Some suck the fruit and discolour the produce, some deplete the moisture through the plant’s stems & leaves, causing stress and weakness, and some just blatantly eat the green foliage
straight in front of you, wiping out your crop in no time. Then there are the pests that live and work underground, affecting growth by sucking, eating or disrupting the roots of the plant.
As soon as a plant has weakened (under attack) it will show you that something is wrong. You might see holes in the green foliage, leaves falling off, or fruit discolouring or you may even see your plants become limp or lifeless in appearance. So the first step is to work out who is responsible and how you can best get rid of them.
Common pests in the veggie patch in Australia include aphids, ants, bronze orange bug, cabbage moth & butterfly (it’s the caterpillars that do the damage), citrus leaf miner, earwigs, fruit fly, grasshoppers, mealybugs, millipedes, nematodes, scale,
snails & slugs, slaters, stink bugs, thrips, and whiteflies.
These pests might be loitering in your garden, so it’s important for your own sanity to understand and identify your veggie patch pests as soon as you find them because they are not the best-mannered guests!
Aphids are small insects no longer than 4mm. They are sometimes referred to as ‘plant lice’, and have a round belly and come in lots of different colours. There are many different species of aphids, and they can be winged or wingless. Aphids attack many different veggies & fruit trees, as well as other plants. They target soft, new growth, but when they are in large numbers they go under leaves, on stems, and on the fruit. Aphids transmit virus diseases such as broad bean wilt and rapidly multiply in
the warm weather. They secrete this sticky honeydew as they suck the sap from the plant and this harbors a new issue which is a sooty mould. You might just come across ants at the same time as they are going after the honeydew. This can be a further issue because the ants often farm aphids and move them to a new plant, thus spreading the problem. Aphids can attack overnight as well!
Well, we all should know what ants are but it’s what they can do that causes the issue. You will know when you have an ant issue when you see mounds of dirt in the soil, lawns, and paths. Honeydew secretion left by the aphids will attract them. As
mentioned, ants can take aphids and move them to another plant, spreading your aphid problem. Technically ants won’t kill your plants, however, their underground tunnels can cause stress to the roots of a plant, and their burrowing can affect soil structure. Your plants will show signs of stress, and you may be stumped to know what it is, so check for activity in the area.
3. Bronze orange bug
They first appear as light green nymphs (youngsters), so it makes it a little tricky to find them. As this bug grows-up, their colour changes to the more familiar orange to bronze. When fully mature their colour progresses further to an orange-brown
or black colour. Measuring around 25mm long, this pest will land right when your new shoots emerge. Damaging citrus trees the Bronze Orange Bug is often called a stink bug because it squirts a sticky chemical, that will stain your skin and if they get you in the eye it will give you a stinging sensation. They head straight for the young shoots, and literally suck the life out of the
plant. The attack will render the shoots and leaves helpless and they will start to fall off, with the flowers dropping first.
4. Cabbage white butterfly & cabbage moth
Cabbage White Butterfly is white with distinct black spots on the wings and is around 40mm across. The Cabbage Moth is more greyish, small and around 10mm across. The Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillars are a green colour with a smooth
texture, while the caterpillars with the greeny-brown markings come from the Cabbage Moth. The butterflies and moths lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. When the eggs hatch they are very small caterpillars and it takes a few days before you
realise they are present. One day you might see small holes, a few days later the caterpillars have grown and are eating through your lush green produce rather fast, including cabbage, spinach, kale, Asian greens, broccoli & cauliflower leaves
to name a few.
5. Citrus leaf miner
They are larvae left behind from a small silvery moth. The moth itself is very elusive, and not seen very often. You will know if the larvae are active though, as they leave squiggly tunnels all over the leaves as they mine their way through. Their goal is to lay eggs on the midrib of the foliage. If the infestation is big, then the plant will show its stress by the leaves curling and they can even become distorted. As the larvae mine tunnels, it can give the leaves a bumpy, uneven look. The citrus miner numbers will increase from early summer through to autumn. Any major attack is likely to happen during new growth in summer and slow down young trees. They love all citrus trees, especially limes, lemons, and oranges.
Their colour is a dark-reddish-brown and they have long pincers at the end of their body. Typically the earwig is a scavenger so you will be likely to find them under mulch and leaf litter during daylight hours and then they come out to feed at night time. Earwigs feed on aphids, armyworms and maggots, which is a good thing yeah? However, they also like to eat plants, and in your veggie patch they will go after lettuce, strawberries, and they love seedlings (especially beans & beets). They are active in rainy weather, and they will climb plants to keep dry. Leaves will appear jagged and full of holes, and this can happen overnight. They love going underneath things, so check under pots that may have been left & forgotten. Earwigs love moisture, so if you find earwigs in the centre of your plants, water at the bottom only, not from above.
7. Fruit fly
Smaller than a household fly with a brown body, the fruit fly emerges as the weather warms up. Fruit flies have 4 life stages, like most insects, and it’s through getting to understand these life stages, that you will have the best chance of managing this pest. Fruit flies lay their eggs under the skin of the fruit. You will not see this, as it’s inside the fruit, but around the puncture hole could be signs of bacteria and rot. The maggots will feed on the fruit and it will end up as a soft, mushy mess. Fruit flies like most kinds of summer fruits like peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears, and citrus. They also like some vegetables like tomatoes (a fruit), eggplants & capsicum.
Grasshoppers are classified as either long or shorthorn, which is a name given to their antennae length. The short-horned grasshoppers are plant eaters and eat during the night. The long-horned grasshoppers (usually called locusts) are active
during the daylight hours and feast on grasses, leaves and cereal crops. Not all grasshoppers are plant eaters, some are beneficial insects. Their eggs are mainly laid in the soil, although a few do lay their eggs on leaves. The grasshopper’s long spring legs and wings make it a very elusive pest to catch. However, leave them alone, and your lush green leaves will have big bite marks in them before you know it. They are mostly hidden during the day, but when they feast, they take everything, especially if you give them a few days of unnoticed eating!
A mealybug is a small insect, covered in a white coating, which resembles cotton. Some mealybugs have fine hair on their bodies. Its body is about 4-5mm in length. There are several different types including citrus & long-tailed mealybugs. Mealybugs feed by sucking on the moisture in the plant and they do this by attaching themselves to the new tender leaves. The leaves will wilt and turn yellow. Like aphids, they secrete a sticky substance called honeydew which attracts the ants. Ants will farm mealybugs like aphids, thus protecting them. The plant then becomes susceptible to sooty mould. The mealybug also releases toxic saliva that can seriously damage plants. They are known to attack a wide range of fruits and vegetables including peanut plants, cotton, mung-beans & sunflowers and you will find them on the underside of leaves or hidden on the stem, as they don’t like the light.
Millipedes are grey/black in colour with a long smooth segmented body. Each body part has 2 pairs of legs (centipedes have 1 pair). They live for about 2 years and are known to be a nuisance in the garden, outdoor areas and even inside houses. Millipedes are vegetarians, and they can destroy seedlings and crops. The rainy weather can stimulate activity in Autumn & Spring. When it’s really hot, they remain hidden underground. They forage at night time and can be found in leaf matter on the ground. When they are disturbed they emit a horrible smell and curl up in a tight spiral. Don’t step on them as they leave a stain on the ground.
Microscopic colourless worms which work underground so are hard to detect. They are also known as eelworms. Most nematodes are harmless, but the Root-Knot Nematode is a plant parasite. These pests burrow into the roots of the plant and take their water and nutrients, leaving them weak and prone to disease. You may be wondering why your plant is still struggling after it has been watered, and the problem could be at the roots. Dig it up and inspect the roots. The roots will appear to have a tumour like growths on them. They are a really big nuisance in a veggie patch and can wipe out a lot of produce in your garden like tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, chilli, cucumbers, pumpkin, passion fruit, pineapple, pawpaw, melon, strawberries, bananas, grapes & peaches.
Scale are similar to mealy bugs, but look a bit different in appearance. Scale are round, small, flat insects and can be soft or hard. They come in many different sizes & colour. Scale can be black, red, brown, white or pink. Scale attach to a branch and when scraped off you will find a goo underneath. The insect is wingless, and is one single shape, with no visible separate head or legs. Scale are sapsuckers. They cause leaves to discolour and turn yellow. The leaves will then drop and the stems, where the infestation is, can die. Scale secrete a honeydew sticky substance, the same as aphids & mealybugs, and can cause sooty mould, which is a fungus. The ants are also attracted to the honeydew from a scale.
13. Snails & slugs
Snails & slugs are related and have similar objectives in a garden. They hang out at night time and leave a slimy trail wherever they go. Both are very destructive and can wipe out seedlings overnight and only leave the stem. You will notice irregular holes in leaves and if they are having a party then it could be at the cost of your plant’s life. Both are not fussy eaters, they will eat anything digestible that’s in their path. They love moisture and shade, so when the wet weather sets in, watch out for their trails of slime. A slug will chew through leaves and leave a trail of mucus behind them. Slugs will head for your cabbage & strawberries first.
Black, oval-shaped, small, flat insects. They have 7 pairs of legs, and 2 pairs of antennae, with sensory organs, positioned at the end of their body. They come from the crustacean family and their bodies are in segments. Living on decaying vegetable matter, they are the most active at night time, and you will find them hanging out under pots and leaf matter during the day. They will damage seedlings overnight, chewing on the soft new leaves. Slaters are, however, beneficial to your garden at the same time, as they return nutrients to the soils. So you need to weigh up if they are doing more good than bad.
15. Stink bug
Very damaging and very common are the stink bugs. Most common types are either brown or green and have a shield type appearance, and boy do they live up to their name. They let off a pungent odour if handled. They target crops like tomatoes, or capsicums, peas or butter beans. They are very strong fliers and can smell an opportunity from long distances away. They
pierce the skin of the fruit and suck out the contents from the inside. You may notice your fruit & veggies not ripening as normal and blotches appearing in white or yellow shapes. They will also head for broccoli & cauliflower during the cooler months.
Thin, long insects with wings that are very tiny and hard to find. Most thrips, are around 1mm long, they can also camouflage into the environment because they can be white, brown, black or yellow. They can also crawl, jump, walk and you guessed it – fly! They live on plants and spread disease. They attack fruit & vegetables, as well as other plants. They lay their eggs inside
the plant tissue and they feed on the plant juices. You will be able to identify their presence by the browning of petals, curling leaves, new shoots deform and appear stunted and they leave a mottled silvery brown appearance to the leaves. They can leave black sooty spots on leaves from their droppings. They have been known to sting people and pets which can leave a rash. They love water as well!
Small, flying sap-sucking insects! Hanging out underneath leaves, they have their suitcases packed full of disease. They are tricky to control being a flying insect but they also have a short life cycle as well. Measuring only around 1.5m long, they are very small in size. Whiteflies are related to aphids and not actually flies. They have a white wax covering their body and lay eggs on the underside of leaves. Whiteflies will head for strawberries and veggies like cabbage & tomatoes. Tomato plants will weaken, leaves will yellow, shrivel and drop off, and this could be fatal. Feeding on the sap of the plant, they also secrete a honeydew substance which leads to the sooty mold, attracting ants once more. Transmitting viruses, they are likely to also be found in glasshouses or indoors.
Click here to learn all about 6 beneficial insects and how to attract them into your garden.
All references accessed during April 1st, 2017 – April 23rd, 2017: