Gardens are a source of beauty, contentment, and joy for a lot of homeowners, but they also come with their fair share of nuisances. Garden pests are probably on the top of that list. Listed below are 5 garden pests commonly found in Florida, and how to deal with them.

Even the most well-kept gardens suffer from a bug infestation at one time or another.  The most effective way to keep your garden as pest-free as possible is to first learn how to identify some of the most commonly occurring garden pests. Inspect your garden regularly to detect a bug infestation in its early stages. 

  1. Aphids

Commonly found on both indoor as well as outdoor plants, these sap-sucking pests are typically feed in clusters on young plants. Approximately 4,000 species of aphids are found throughout the planet. They are fairly harmless in low to moderate numbers. Heavy infestations, however, can cause the plant to wilt and become yellow, experience a decline in growth rate, and the leaves will curl. A number of aphid species are responsible for transmitting plant diseases, especially viral agents which they pass from one plant to another during the feeding process.

Aphids are small in size, about 1/8 inch long. They are soft-bodied, pear-shaped insects that can be yellow, brown, green, red, or black in color, depending upon their type and food source. Typically, adult aphids are wingless creatures, however, some can grow wings, especially if their populations are large in number. They have a pair of whip-like antennae at the tip of the head. A pair of tubular structures, called cornicles, projecting backward out of their hind end. As aphids feed, they secrete a large amount of sticky fluid called honeydew. This sweet fluid drips onto the plants, which causes fungi. 

Control Measures

  • Prune off leaves or other parts of the plant that are heavily infested.
  • Use a strong stream of water to hose off the pests.
  • Commercially available beneficial pests, such as lacewing and ladybugs are natural predators for aphids that can effectively eliminate moderate aphid infestations. 
  • Use pure organic diatomaceous earth for long-lasting protection.  The best thing about it is that it contains zero toxic poisons.
  • Pesticides such as Safer® Soap, BotaniGard ES, Bon-Neem are highly effective against large aphid infestations. 
  • Horticultural oils are safe for application either early in the season or late in the fall to destroy the overwintering aphid eggs.
  • Avoid overwatering or over-fertilizing your plants. Aphids like feeding on plants which have high nitrogen levels and soft new growth. Try to use organic fertilizers which tend to release nutrients slowly in the soil.
  1. Cutworms

A number of species of cutworms are typically found in gardens across Florida. The cutworm larvae feed on stems of the plant above or below the ground, eventually causing them to break down. Cutworms target a wide variety of plants such as cabbage, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Although adult cutworms don’t harm plants per se, their larvae can cause significant damage.

Cutworm larvae are soft-bodied, stout, gray, or light brown colored caterpillars. They are 1-2 inches long and tend to curl up when resting or disturbed. They are nocturnal in nature and burrow deep into the soil during the daytime. Adults are dark brown, night-flying moths with a wingspan of about one and a half-inch and have stripes or ragged blotches on their wings. 

Cutworm larvae feed by clipping off seedling stems and young plants near or just below the surface of the soil. They can destroy an entire row of newly planted garden vegetables in a single night.

Preventive Measures:

  • Before you plant a new garden, thoroughly remove all the weeds and plant debris that will later serve as food and shelter for the developing larvae.
  • Turn the soil after fall clean up and then give natural predators such as birds a chance to pluck the exposed larvae and pupae from the soil.
  • Mow as closely as possible to the edge of your lawn in order to reduce the cutworm food and shelter near your plants.
  • A 3 ft or wider strip of bare soil between your lawn and garden plants will make it harder for the cutworm larvae to reach your plants. It also gives you a better chance to spot them.
  • Place collars made up of cardboard around the stems of your plant at planting time. Make sure that you work the collar into the soil at least a couple of inches deep.
  • Planting sunflowers along the edge of your lawn as they are a favorite target of cutworms, thus attracting all the larvae and giving you a chance to eliminate them.

Control Measures: 

  • The presence of a large number of birds feeding in your yard can be indicative of cutworms in your turf. You can handpick the larvae after dark. This can be even more productive following heavy rainfall or thorough watering.
  • The progress of worms can be slowed down. Since they don’t like residing in dry soil, water your plants in the morning and then cultivate your lawn’s walkways lightly to a depth of an inch or so. The cultivated soil dries rather quickly and traps all the moisture beneath it. Avoid using mulch as it provides shelter to the worms.
  • Releasing beneficial nematodes in moist, spring soil will specifically destroy and target cutworms that live underground. They are especially beneficial if you release them the season after cutworms have caused a nuisance.
  • At the first sign of larvae, release Trichogramma wasps every week for about three consecutive weeks so that they successfully infect the cutworm eggs.
  • Sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the base of your plants will act as a barrier. Made up of tiny fossils of aquatic organisms that look like broken glass under a compound microscope, diatomaceous earth kills the larvae by damaging its outer skin as it crawls over the fine powder. 
  • Scatter cornmeal mixed with molasses or bran on the surface of the soil to attract and then kill the cutworm larvae. 
  1. Spider Mites

Spider mites target both indoor and outdoor plants and can be particularly destructive in greenhouses. Mites live in colonies, mostly on the underside of leaves, and feed by piercing leaf tissue and sucking up the plant fluids. Feeding marks show up as light dots on the leaves. As feeding continues, the leaves turn yellow and may dry up and drop off. Spider mites thrive in hot, dry conditions, especially where their natural predators have already been killed through insecticide usage. 

They reproduce at a surprisingly high rate, and this is the reason why heavy infestations often build up even before the plants in your garden begin to show signs of damage. Larger populations are typically accompanied by fine web-like structures. They target a number of plant species such as strawberries, beans, tomatoes, melons, eggplant, trees, houseplants, and ornamental flowers.

Control Measures

  • Spider mites are known to rapidly develop resistance against various pesticides. For this reason, it is crucial to control these pests with efficient organic and natural methods.
  • Prune off the leaves or other parts of the plant that are heavily infested. 
  • Use a strong stream of water to hose off all the dust and pests.
  • Commercially available beneficial pests, such as lacewing and ladybugs are natural predators for aphids that can effectively eliminate moderate aphid infestations. 
  • A new, organic insecticide comprising of food-grade ingredients, acts rapidly and kills a large number of indoor gardening pests at the egg, larvae, and adult stage, without leaving a residue on the leaves which can impact the flavor of the crop.
  • Mix pure Neem oil with Coco-Wet (an organic wetting agent) and apply every 3-4 days to kill the larvae. Cover all the plant parts, including the undersides of leaves. Do not apply when the temperature is above 90˚F. If the infested plants are planted indoors, then wait for at least six hours before you turn the lights on.
  • If the population of spider pests is high, use a slightly toxic, short-lived natural pesticide to control the population.
  • Botanical insecticides or insecticidal soap can be used to spot treat plant parts that are heavily infested.
  • Horticultural oil should be applied to fruit trees early in the season or late in the fall to get rid of overwintering eggs.
  • A lack of moisture in the soil makes both garden plants and trees more vulnerable to mite infestations. Make sure that your plants are properly watered.
  • At the first sign of larvae, release Trichogramma wasps every week for about three consecutive weeks so that they successfully infect the spider mite eggs.
  1. Whitefly

Commonly found on indoor plants and greenhouses, the whitefly or Trialeurodes vaporariorum is a garden pest often found on the undersides of leaves and in thick crowds. The tomato plant is one of its favorite targets and it tends to feed on the sap of plants. If whitefly infested plants are disturbed, thick clouds of the winged adults are dispersed into the air. Both adults and nymphs damage the plants by sucking all the sap from the newly grown plant leaves, thus causing stunted plant growth, yellowing of the leaves, and overall reduced yield. Plants become weaker and weaker and more susceptible to viral diseases. Just like aphids, whiteflies also secrete honeydew, making leaves sticky and covering their surface with black sooty mold. They also serve as vectors for transmitting a number of disease-causing viruses.

In coastal states, whiteflies are found all year round in outdoor gardens. In northern areas, however, year-round infestations are only possible indoors. Whiteflies are known to infest more than 250 vegetable and ornamental plants. These include squash, citrus, poinsettia, potato, cucumber, grape, hibiscus, and tomato. 

Adults are approximately 1/16-inch-long and are moth-like insects with white, powdery wings and a pair of short antennae. They can be easily recognized and are often found near the top of the plant or at the end of the stems. At the nymph stage, whiteflies are wingless, flattened, oval-shaped, and scale-like in appearance. After the crawler stage, they tend to settle down and cling to the underside of leaves, where they begin feeding.

Control Measures

  • Sticky, yellow traps can prove to be helpful for suppressing and monitoring adult whitefly populations.
  • Use a strong stream of water to hose off all the dust and pests.
  • Commercially available beneficial pests, such as lacewing and ladybugs are natural predators for aphids that can effectively eliminate moderate aphid infestations. 
  • Botanical insecticides are fast-acting in nature; however, they should be used as a last resort. These pesticides are extracted from plants that have pesticidal properties and have fewer toxic side effects as compared to synthetic chemicals. These natural pesticides are environment friendly as they tend to easily degrade and do not accumulate in the soil. 
  • Made for use both indoors as well as outdoors, Bon-Neem is a blend of potassium soaps extracted from the Indian Neem tree seed and other natural sources. It is specially formulated as a ready-to-use spray that kills most of the insects and pests immediately on contact.
  • Botanical insecticides or insecticidal soap can be used to spot treat plant parts that are heavily infested.
  1. Wireworms 

Commonly found in home gardens across Florida, wireworms can grow up to one and a half-inch long. They are the larval stage of click beetles. Ranging from yellow to brown in color, their body is bullet-shaped and very tough.  These slender worms with shiny skin have three pairs of legs originating from behind their head. They are brownish-red or yellowish in color and feed underground, targeting the germinating seeds, bulbs, tubers, and roots. Infected plants wilt and die. In case of a heavy infestation, crops in the garden will appear to be thin and patchy. Reseeding will be necessary in most cases.

Control Measures

  • Cultivating the top 6- to 8-inches of the soil thoroughly tends to make conditions unfavorable for the egg-laying wireworm adult, exposing all stages of this pest to harsh environmental conditions and natural predators.
  • Birds feed on large amounts of larvae. You can encourage bird activity by hanging birdhouses and feeders near your property.
  • Crop rotation can prove to be of great benefit because it helps reduce the number of pest-related problems that lead to the use of chemical pesticides.
  • Soil drenches that contain botanical insecticides like pyrethrin are effective to some extent, however, they should only be used as a last resort.
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Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.

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