What Pest Is Snacking On Your Plants?

  • Written by: Killingsworth Environmental
  • September 18, 2018
 

Pests are a headache to any landscaper or gardener. After putting a lot of hard work into your lawn or garden, the last thing you want to find is holes bitten out of your plants leaves, stems, fruits, or veggies by an unwanted guest!  

We want to help you fight these pesky snackers. The first step? Identification.

Characteristics of the most common (and most hungry) lawn and garden pests

Aphids

Aphids are small insects that feed on ornamental plants, such as crape myrtles, milkweed, perennials or herbs. There are many species of aphids, making it hard to generalize their appearance, but they are typically black, brown, yellow, red, gray or green in color, and have long, fragile legs and antennae. Aphids may have wings but they might also be wingless.

Aphids feed on plant phloem by sucking out the plant’s sap. This can cause distortion in the tip of the plant leaves. Some aphid species excrete a sticky liquid called honeydew, coating the plant and making it appear sticky or glazed. This coating attracts other pests like ants, flies, and wasps. (yes, more pests!)

There are several pest control methods you can use to get rid of aphids. Because aphids are typically found in groups, you can remove the infested stem from the plant and the rest of the plant should be unaffected. Or try dislodging the aphid colony with a stream of water. As a last resort, your aphid infestation might require the use of chemicals. Look for insecticides made for aphid management.

Bagworms

Bagworms are a type of caterpillar that most commonly feed on conifer plants, such as cypresses, cedars, junipers, and pines. These small pests can be identified by the cone-shaped bag they spin on their host plant. The adult males are small, brown hairy moths. The adult females are wingless, legless, and grub-looking creatures. Female bagworms lay hundreds of eggs in the fall that eventually hatch in the spring.

Bagworms feed on the leaves or needles of their hosts and can cause severe defoliation. Most host plants don’t recover from heavy foliage removal, eventually dying as a result of the bagworms.

You may attempt to eliminate a bagworm problem by removing the infested branches of their host, or by handpicking the bags off of the host. You may also choose to apply an insecticide which kills the pest when ingested. Be wary of contact insecticides, as bagworms are protected by their waterproof bags.

Hornworm

There are two species of hornworm caterpillars: tobacco hornworms and tomato hornworms.

The species are similar in appearance, both green with spots on their abdomens. So how can you distinguish between the two? The tobacco hornworm has 7 diagonal stripes on each of its sides and a red horn. While the tomato hornworm as 8 chevrons on each side and a bluish black horn.

Hornworms feed on a variety of plant species, most commonly, tobacco and tomato plants. Hornworms can quickly destroy their host plants simply by munching on the plant’s leaves. A moderately sized population of hornworms can destroy an entire crop if left unmanaged.

Hornworms should be removed from a plant as soon as they are identified. Regularly check your plants for caterpillars and pick them off one by one if you find any. Like other pest problems, insecticides might also be used to control hornworm infestations.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are about half an inch long with dark heads and metallic green and brown wing covers. These beetles feed on the leaves, flowers, and fruit of about 300 different plant types. A few of their favorites include roses, crape myrtles, crab apples, and elms. Japanese beetle larvae feed on the plant’s roots.

The damage caused by Japanese Beetles is called ‘skeletonization’. This occurs as the beetle feeds on the upper leaf surface, eating the leaf tissue between the veins. Japanese beetles are unlikely to harm the health of the plant they feed on, they will only affect the look of the plant.

Control Japanese beetles by replacing the plants they’re feeding on with plants they won’t eat, such as magnolias or dogwoods. You can also try physically shaking the plant to dislodge the beetles. The beetles might be caught with commercial bag-type Japanese beetle traps. The caught beetles must be emptied from the traps every couple of days to keep them from rotting and releasing ammonia which repels other Japanese beetles from the trap. Insecticides are an option as well.

Lace Bugs

There are more than 30 species of lace bugs in the Carolinas. The most familiar are the azalea, hawthorn, rhododendron and sycamore species. Most lace bugs are small and dark in color.

Each species will typically only feed on its preferred host plant. The bugs insert their mouthparts into leaves and suck out the plant’s chlorophyll and nutrients. This causes a spotted appearance in the upper part of the leaf. The bugs excrete on the leaves of their host, leaving spots resembling dark varnish on the leaves’ undersides. Infested leaves turn gray or yellow and may fall from the plant.

To prevent a lace bug infestation, grow lace bug-resistant plants or grow plants that promote natural enemies of the bug. Insecticides may also be applied to the undersides of your plants’ leaves.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails are easily identifiable–slugs by their long slimy bodies, and snails by their equally slimy bodies hidden under a round shell. A majority of slugs and snails lay their eggs in the fall, so after hatching, maturing and overwintering, they’ll be ready to begin feeding in early spring. If you suspect you might have slugs or snails, look for a trail of slime on the ground and around your plants.

Slugs and snails can consume several times their own body weight, feeding on the leaves of mature plants, fruits, and vegetables–with the potential to eat entire seedlings.

Slugs and snails can be difficult to get rid of because they hide in dark, damp areas that make them hard to spot. An easy way to bait these pests out of hiding is to sprinkle iron phosphate around to attract them for capture or fill a pan up with beer to attract and drown them. Pesticides might also be used to eliminate slugs and snails.

Whatever pest may be plaguing your yard, Killingsworth has your back. You can rely on us to eradicate and alleviate any pest concerns you may have to ensure your lawn and/or garden is pest-free. Get in touch with us today to discuss pest control treatment.

To further identify what type of pest problem you have in or outside and around your home, download your free copy of our Pest Encyclopedia which details characteristics of many common house and outdoor pests.

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