One of the most common garden pests is the aphid. These tiny insects multiply rapidly and cause damage by sucking the sap from plant leaves, stems and buds. While aphids are typically green, they can also be shades of black, white, yellow or red. They are usually found in clusters on stems and the undersides of leaves and are evidenced by yellow or curled leaves. While feeding, aphids secrete a sticky substance called honeydew that accumulates on the plant's leaves. Ants feed on this honeydew, making their presence a hint that an aphid infestation is present before other signs appear. A sooty mold fungus can also develop on the honeydew, giving the leaves a black, dirty appearance.
Fortunately, aphids are relatively easy to control. Lady bugs, their natural enemy, can be purchased at home and garden centers then released in your garden for a truly natural method of pest control. On plants where aphid populations are localized to a few leaves or shoots, the affected areas can be pruned off and disposed of. Another easy way to eliminate aphids is by blasting them off with a strong spray of water, just be sure to only use this method on sturdy plants. Finally, if the aphid infestation is severe, they can be eliminated using an insecticidal soap, horticultural oil or insecticide.
Scale is a pest commonly found on branches that can weaken and damage the affected plant. There are two common types of scales, armored and soft. Armored scales are covered with hard shells made up of their shed skin, while soft scales lack shells and have soft bodies similar to aphids. Both can be controlled with insecticidal soap, horticultural oil or insecticide. Selective pruning to remove heavily infested branches can also prove to be helpful.
Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects with a white, cottony covering that can slow plant growth and cause leaf and fruit drop. Like aphids, they can be sprayed off the plant with a stream of water or wiped off with a cotton ball saturated in rubbing alcohol. Insecticidal soap, horticultural oil and insecticides are all effective against mealybugs in the event of a severe infestation.
Spider mites are nearly microscopic pests resembling tiny spiders that cause leaves to turn yellow and ultimately drop off the plant. While the results of minor infestations are mostly aesthetic, severe infestations can result in the death of the affected plant. Spider mites are very small and difficult to spot with the naked eye. However, the webs they leave behind on infested leaves and stems make them easy to identify in most cases. Spraying with a forceful blast of water is an effective way to control them, as well as insecticidal soap and horticultural oil. Insecticides containing imidacloprid are not effective against spider mites and will only worsen infestations by eliminating their natural predators.
Japanese beetles (shown in the picture at the top of this page) are one of the most common garden pests across the country. Their metallic, greenish shells are only about a half inch across, but they are capable of doing significant damage in a short period of time. The best time to control Japanese beetles is while they are in their larval stage as grubs in the lawn. This can be accomplished in spring and fall by treating the lawn with milky spore, beneficial nematodes or chemical controls. After the adult beetles have hatched and begun feeding on plants in the garden, hand picking them is the most effective way to control them.
Most gardeners likely have a love-hate relationship with caterpillars. Though they do grow up to be beautiful butterflies, they can cause a lot of destruction in the meantime, stripping a plant of its foliage in a matter of hours. The safest way to rid your garden of caterpillars is to hand pick them from plants. For a less hands-on method, spray your plants with horticultural oil or Bacillus thuringiensis, a natural bacteria that eliminates caterpillars without harming beneficial insects
Insecticidal soap, horticultural oil and insecticides can be purchased at nearly any garden center. You can also make your own insecticidal soap at home by mixing a tablespoon of mild dish soap in a gallon of water. Add a teaspoon each of cayenne pepper and garlic powder to the mixture to keep chewing insects at bay.
Just Say No To Slugs
In the past we've given you some pointers on how to naturally protect your garden from pests. One pest that deserves a little more attention—that is among the first to attack your garden—is the slug.
We found some nice ideas on wikiHow that are simple and effective ways to naturally protect your garden.
Use a fruit trap. Slugs are naturally attracted to fruits and the plants in your garden, so use that attraction to your advantage to trap them. Place a board out near where the slugs have been eating your plants, and put half of an orange or a few slices of cabbage (slug favorites) in the center. Leave the board out overnight, and in the morning the slugs should be covering the morsels of food you left on the board. Simply toss the slugs in the trash or kill them by another means and put the trap back in your garden. When disposing of slugs, be careful not to spread their eggs.
Try making a beer trap. Strange as it sounds, slugs are extremely attracted to beer, even the low-quality stuff. Dig a hole in the ground and place a large non-porous cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can't crawl back out when they're finished, and provide an "umbrella" cover to keep rain out. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out on the bird table for the birds to eat. Repeat this process until you've removed the majority of the slugs.
Try coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are great to use in your garden, because they can increase the acidity of your soil (beneficial for plants who like soil with an acidic pH, like roses), and they keep slugs away. Create a barrier of thick coffee grounds around the edges of your garden; the rough granules will tear up any slugs who try to cross over it.
The coffee grounds might be less effective than the first two ideas, but we liked it because coffee is one of the items covered in our archive article (Protect and enhance your garden naturally). You might consider using it in conjunction with one of the other defenses to both protect your plants and enhance them.
While insects may be the first to come to mind when it comes to garden pests, other pests such as rodents, deer, rabbits and birds can be a major source of frustration for gardeners. Thankfully, there are a multitude of options that are safe, humane and effective for keeping hungry intruders out of the garden.
Other Pests
A variety of rodents such as mice, voles, chipmunks and squirrels are known for causing destruction in the garden. Though they do need to be reapplied regularly, scent repellents are an effective way to keep these furry pests away. Castor oil (liquid or granules), peppermint oil and predator urine repel rodents and can be purchased at many garden centers or online retailers. Fencing buried a few inches below the soil help to keep burrowing rodents away while hot sauce can be sprayed on plants to deter nibbling. If squirrels are stealing your fruits or vegetables before you can harvest them, try loosely wrapping the young fruits in small pieces of netting to protect them. When battling rodents in the garden, keep in mind that prevention is important. Keep the garden clear of any plant litter and mow the grass regularly to keep potential hiding places at a minimum.
Deer are a common nuisance with the ability to do a lot of damage in the garden in a short period of time. Not only do they eat plants, they also trample them as they walk through the garden looking for a tasty treat. With some effort, you can utilize several different methods for keeping them away from your prized plants.
Physical barriers like fences are effective for keeping deer out of the garden, but they must be tall because deer are excellent jumpers. Deer despise the smell of sulfur, making egg products and blood meal suitable repellents. A mixture of 20% eggs and 80% water can be sprayed around the garden monthly to create a sulfur odor to keep the deer at bay. Heavily scented bar soap and human hair can also be distributed throughout the garden as deer dislike the scent of both. If these DIY methods fail, however, commercial deer repellents can be purchased at most garden centers and sprayed around the garden.
Young, tender foliage is especially susceptible to damage by deer, so covering plants with chicken wire or plastic netting can prove helpful for protecting new transplants and seedlings. Planting deer resistant plants is another option for gardeners who have trouble with deer. Deer tend to avoid plants with textured, succulent or aromatic foliage and plants with very fragrant flowers. However, one must remember that "deer resistant" does not mean "deer proof". When other food sources are scarce, hungry deer have been known to eat plants they would normally avoid.
Rabbits may be cute and fuzzy, but they cause gardeners a lot of headache. Like deer, they can do substantial damage overnight. Hot pepper sprays for plants can deter nibbling, although rabbits will ignore the unpleasant flavor if other food sources are scarce. Rabbits can be repelled with blood meal, human hair and heavily scented bar soap placed throughout the garden. Commercially available deer or rabbit repellents also tend to be effective for keeping the furry intruders out of the garden. Flashing lights, aluminum pie pans and ultrasonic pest repellers will scare the pests away for a while, but tend to lose their effectiveness over time as the rabbits realize they do not pose an actual threat.
The best method for combating rabbits is to protect your garden with fencing. Small plants can be covered with chicken wire or netting, while larger areas can be surrounded by a fence. Fences intended for keeping rabbits out should be at least two feet high and buried a few inches under the soil to keep rabbits from jumping over or digging under the fence to dine on your precious plants.
Gardeners who grow fruits and berries are likely very familiar with the damage birds can do in the garden. While birds are welcome visitors in most parts of the garden due to their service of natural pest control, keeping them away from fruit bearing plants is crucial for a bountiful harvest. Commercial bird netting is available at most home and garden centers and is a great way to protect plants while fruit is developing. Owl decoys can also be effective in scaring birds away, though they are most helpful when moved regularly to keep the birds from realizing they're not a real threat. Another option for keeping birds away from fruit-laden trees is to suspend a few aluminum pie pans on yarn or fishing line on the tree's branches.
Keeping your garden pest free can take some hard work, but it is worth the effort! By following the steps outlined above, you can have a successful garden and an abundant harvest of fruits and vegetables.

Insects and Other Pests