Take a walk around your yard and garden and you will quickly see that there are a lot of bugs and insects there; a lot of them! Some are beneficial and some can be real pests. A general bug killer will get rid of them all, but that is just ignorant and wrong. How good are you at telling them apart and what you can do to control the pesky ones? You know, the ones that can ruin your plants and make you want to quit gardening altogether!
Most of us know some of the good ones; bees, ladybugs and praying mantises for example, and some of the pests like aphids, squash bugs and flea beetles. But we may not recognize them in their immature stages when they can often be more voracious feeders. So… let’s take a look at some more insects in your yard and see how many you can recognize as either a “good bug” J or “bad bug” L
#1 This is the larva of ladybug and it actually eat more aphids than the adult. J
#2 This is an egg case of the praying mantis. The female creates a foamy mass full of eggs that dries and protects the eggs over winter. Just leave it alone.In the spring, the young emerge fully formed and begin eating aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes and caterpillars. J
#3 Pill bug. You might think these “roly-polys are harmless detritivores but they can take out a whole row of seedlings overnight! Use Sluggo Plus to keep them under control. L
#4 The spined soldier bug is a common stink bug and a great predator of the gypsy moth caterpillar, and the larval forms of the Colorado potato beetle and the Mexican bean beetle. The immature form looks somewhat like a ladybug. J
#5 The lacewing larva is the main predatory stage where they feed mainly on aphids. The adults are fragile looking, weak fliers and squash vine borergesubsist on nectar and pollen. J
#6 Leafhoppers are very tiny insects that can carry the curly top virus which will kill your tomato plants and can damage peppers, beans, potatoes, spinach, beets as well. There is no cure. Cover your plants with row cloth to prevent the leafhopper from infecting them. Remove the cover in July when the monsoons arrive. J
#7 Squash vine borer. If you see this brightly colored insect watch out! She’s about to lay eggs on the stem of your squash plant at ground level. The larvae will burrow into the stem and feed off the plant tissue causing the leaves to wilt. You might at first think that the plant needs watering, but take a closer look at the stem and you will see yellow-orange frass, or droppings around a hole. Once the larva has entered the stem, it’s very difficult to save the plant. Prevention is key. You can try covering the plants with row cover until the blossoms open. They overwinter in cocoons in the soil so don’t plant your squash in the same place as last year. Make sure you dispose of all squash vines at the end of the growing season. L
#8 Sphinx moth. Often called the ‘humming bird moth”, it appears in the garden in late afternoons and evening. Enjoy the adults but be on the lookout for their caterpillars, called tomato hornworm. The female moth will lay her eggs on plants in the nightshade family including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, pepper. The caterpillars grow quickly and can defoliate your tomato plants. Inspect your plants regularly and pick them off as you find them. L
#9 As their name suggests, ground beetles live in the ground and both they and their larvae are considered beneficial predators of soil invertebrates. There are over 2.000 species in North America. Just leave them alone. J
#10 Squash bugs are the bane of all gardeners. These bugs inject a toxin into the plant and suck the sap right out of it with their sharp, sucking mouth parts. This causes yellow spots that eventually turn brown. The leaves will wilt because the damage prevents the flow of nutrients to the leaves, and then they will dry up and turn black, crisp, and brittle. To control these you must be vigilant. Look for egg masses and scrape them off the undersides of the leaves or cut them out. Once they hatch you will have a difficult time finding them all. If you constantly have trouble with squash bugs, try growing squash varieties that are more resistant to them, such as butternut squash. Good luck! L
These are just some of the insects that you will come across as you spend time in your yard. Learning how to control the harmful ones without using pesticides will result in more beneficials and a healthier garden overall.
For more information about these and other beneficial garden insects check out this pocket guide to beneficial insects of New Mexico.