Has something like this ever happened to you? It’s a lovely spring morning, dew on the grass, and wispy clouds scattering before the breeze. You step outside to breathe it all in, and just as you’re admiring the new little green buds on your strawberries, you see them. Bite marks on the leaves! (frightening minor chord!)
This is the time of year I’m so happy to be outside with my hands dirty. But it’s also the time of year my deep loathing for all things creepy-crawly takes on a life of its own. (Interestingly, it’s the only time of year I’m brave or deranged enough to kill insects with my bare hands—something that would make me curl up into a ball and cry during any other season.) Yes, I’m on a rampage. And I have a good reason to be.
Up in my little corner of the country, the garden pest du jour is this nasty piece of work: The western tent caterpillar.
The western tent caterpillar, or Malacosoma californicum, breeds in staggering numbers, can reduce a tree to bare branches, and will insult your mother while doing it. Okay, maybe not, but they’re certainly making life miserable for gardeners this year, as you can tell from this headline from a local publication: “Growers at war with intense caterpillar infestation.”
While I battle these loathsome larvae for territorial rights to my potato patch, other gardeners across the country are facing different foes. Aphids, slugs, locusts—they all go on our bad list when it comes time to try and coax tender little vegetables out of the ground. While your first impulse might be similar to mine—grab a garden hoe and show no mercy—as ever, our best weapon is good information.
If you’re not sure which garden pests to anticipate this season, check out this super useful chart of Worst Garden Pests by Region, from Mother Earth News. Alternately, if you’ve found a culprit, but can’t put a name to the face, both the National Gardening Association’s Pest Control Library and the University of California’s online pest management program have lists with mug shots to help identify common pests.
Fortunately, there are clear-headed people out there with your garden’s best interest in mind. For some great ideas on organic pest control (so, my garden hoe method doesn’t count as organic?) check out the very practical survey results in this article, “Organic Pest Control: What Works, What Doesn’t.” Also, go back to our insight article from earlier this year, “Why Won’t My Garden Grow? 5 Mistakes You May Be Making,” to see what other factors, besides multi-legged monsters, might be keeping your garden from being its best self.
I’m fairly serious about the garden hoe thing.
What are your (better) ideas for keeping the bugs at bay this growing season?
Photo Courtesy of Texas A&M University