Bugs, Slugs and Other Creepy Crawlies

Bees don’t bother me, spiders don’t scare me and I find worms to be wonderful.  I’m not a traditional girl, I’ll readily admit that.  Although, I will cop to a fear of snakes, I find the rest of the creepy, crawly world to be fascinating.  I absolutely loved entymology class at OSU!  The only time an insect has startled me was the time a 2 inch insect that looked like a cicada fell down my shirt.

I like to try the safest approach to an attack of plant-eaters as possible first.  Then, if that is not successful, I’ll up the ante, so to speak, until I finally get rid of the problem.  Chemicals are the last resort, although I will use them, if necessary.

Right now, I am battling slugs and snails.  This year, my hostas, daylilies and Coreopsis all managed to get big enough before the snails started to attack.  Therefore, they look pretty good.  The smaller stuff, however, is taking a beating.  There are any number of safe approaches to slug and snail control.  You can do the drowning in beer trick.  Make a hole in the top of a yogurt container.  Sink it in to ground level and fill with 2 inches of cheap beer.  The slugs and snails crawl in and drown.  I have not tried this method but it has a lot of adherents.  There is copper barrier tape, which I have tried.  It has an adhesive side that you apply to a surface.  Make sure the surface is dry or tack down the tape.  I have been told large slugs are able to make it over the tape.  Remember that slugs live in soil, so there may be some inside the copper perimeter.  Otherwise, it worked fairly well.  Diatomaceous earth creates a different kind of barrier that pierces the slugs body, causing them to dry out.  Again, I have not tried this product.  There is iron phosphate, in the form of Sluggo and Espoma slug control.  It works, to an extent, and is pet friendly.  I have had reports of dogs eating it.  One dog vomited but otherwise was not adversely affected.  (Unlike metaldehyde based slugs baits, which can cause quick death to dogs if ingested.)  I must have the snails from hell in my yard.  I blamed it on my neighbors to start.  However, my yard is the all you can eat buffet and there are some very hungry snails in my neighborhood.  I always begin with safe approaches, only to end up using Deadline when everything I plant has holes in the leaves.  My husband and I find it most effective to go snail hunting around 10 at night.  We find them and eradicate them with pruners.  I try not to think about this on a karmic scale.  I have not tried the board method of trapping slugs and snails.  Then you can drop them into soapy water.  Slice them or drown them, what a choice.

Aphids are already out on many plants.  A hard spray of water dislodges them and may keep them from causing problems to your plants.  You could also try spraying them with insecticidal soap or Captains Jack’s Deadbug Brew, containing spinosad.  These are both safe products with good results.  Lady bugs and praying mantis will eat aphids.  Releasing them into your garden will help cut down the insect population.

Soon, we will begin to see spittlebugs.  They are a green insect that surrounds itself with spittle (kind of like soapy bubbles).  Spittlebugs generally are not a problem for the plant.  They can be dislodged with a strong spray of water, or if you are not squeamish, may be squished by hand.

Potato bugs, milipedes, centipedes, and earwigs are creepy crawlies that are often accused but infrequently guilty.  They all tend to feed on decaying organic matter.  If their populations get large enough, they may cause damage to your plants.  Earwigs can feed on leaves, causing a lacy look to the foliage.  Whereas slugs will eat holes, often very large holes, earwigs eat everything but the vein. Slugs and snails don’t always leave slime trails.  If you’re not sure what is eating your plant, you can go out about 10 or so with a flashlight and see what is actually feeding on your plant.  Trust me, it is a very different world at night, and I think very fascinating.  If you’d rather cover all your bases, you can use Sluggo Plus or Espoma Slug and Bug Killer.  They both contain Iron phosphate and spinosad.  This covers the who range of plant eating, creepy crawlies.

Another pest to be on the look out for is the imported cabbage worm.  The adult is a small white moth with markings.  The stage that causes damage is the worm, which is green and feeds voraciously on broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower.  One way to prevent this is using Harvest Guard, or floating row cover, immediately after planting.  This keeps the adults from laying eggs on the plant.  If you didn’t do that and now need to get rid of the worms, you can use Bt, a bacteria that is specifically harmful to larvae in the moth/butterfly family.  The final remedy is to soak your broccoli and cauliflower in a saltwater solution prior to cooking.  This kills any  green worms lurking in the produce.  The year I forgot to do that was the last year I grew broccoli!  I never seem to get the Harvest Guard placed over my plants.  Finding green worms in my steamer made me a little queasy.  (Okay, so many I am a normal girl.)

Be aware of beneficial insects and try to minimize damage to them.  Honey and mason bees are very important to pollination.  Do not spray insecticides when bees are active.  Yellow jackets and wasps are a different group of insects, although they to have a job to do.  There are effective traps to lure them to their death.  Lady bugs larvae looks much different than the adult.  There are great photos on the internet.

Finally, be amazed, astounded and full of wonder at the incredible things God has made.  Insects, arachnids and mollusks are truly fascinating.  Until tonight, I didn’t know that some slugs are an earthworms most voraceous predator.  No wonder I have so many slugs–I have so many worms. Not to mention a jungle of vegetation.  Ponder the dragonfly in flight, follow a ladybugs movements, and maybe even consider a slug.  Don’t you ever  wonder what their purpose is?  They have one, I’m sure!

About Brenda Powell

I'm one of the owners of a family-owned retail nursery. I have a degree in horticulture from Oregon State University. I love to garden and read. My technically savvy but horticulturally challenged husband, Mitch, spends most of his time as slave labor in the garden. Thank goodness he adores me! My goal in this blog is to share my enjoyment of gardening, my love of nature, and my addiction to books. Did I mention I like to cook, too?
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