15 Garden Pests To Watch Out For This Season

If you have a garden, you will undoubtedly encounter some garden pests. Garden pests are those animals that dig, chew, bite, suck, eat, or otherwise disturb your plants. In this article, gardening enthusiast Liessa Bowen will introduce 15 common garden pests, how to identify them, and what can help prevent them.

common garden pests


You have worked hard to ensure your garden is in peak condition. You’ve selected your plants, started them from seed, purchased nursery-grown plants, worked the soil, and spent time weeding and watering. Everything looks great until common garden pests like aphids or Japanese beetles discover your hard work and try to claim it for themselves.

Garden pests come in all shapes and sizes. Some are large and obvious, and you will clearly see them, especially if you catch them eating your valuable fruits and veggies.

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There are many common pests that gardeners will likely contend with.

Other common garden pests can cause severe damage, yet you may never see them. And some pests may be present, but you may not notice them until they cause severe damage.

The key is to be proactive. Know the most common garden pests and what to look out for. Keep a close eye on your plants throughout the entire growing season. When you see a problem, don’t ignore it or hope it will go away on its own. Unless you have a lot of beneficial insects, pest management requires attentiveness. If you can identify the problem and act quickly, you will have a much greater chance of eradicating it.

Are you battling browsing herbivores, insects, caterpillars, or birds? Read on to learn more about 15 common garden pests you may encounter, what to look for, and how to deal with the problem.

Vine Borers

Close-up of Vine Borer larva in a plant stem. The Vine Borer larva, also known as the Squash Borer larva, is the destructive immature stage of the Vine Borer moth. The larva is large, has a soft cylindrical body with a smooth texture. It is creamy white in color. The larva has a distinct brownish head capsule that is slightly darker than its body.
Cucurbit fruits face persistent vine borer pests. Larvae burrow inside vines, causing unseen damage and plant demise.

You may be familiar with vine borers if you grow any type of cucurbit crop, including cucumbers, melons, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, and gourds. These nasty pests are persistent and very difficult to control.

There’s a good chance they can kill an entire plant, and you would never even see the pest responsible, but you will see their evidence. Vine borers are the larval form of a specialized moth. The larvae look like caterpillars or grubs. They burrow into the vines and fruits, devouring your garden plants from the inside.


Vine borers are a little tricky to identify because they live and feed inside the stem, but once you know the signs to look for, you can easily identify a vine borer infestation. The first sign of distress you may notice is that the leaves of your squash or cucumber vines are wilting. If you see wilting leaves, look closer to discover more vine borer signs. Prolonged vine border activity will ultimately kill the entire plant.

Inspect the stem of your plant and look for holes. The holes will be visible to the naked eye and can be a couple of millimeters across. If you look closely at the hole, it may simply look like a hole in the hollow center of the vine stem. Occasionally, however, you can see the caterpillar inside the hole, busily munching on the inner parts of the plant stem.

At the entrance to each hole, you may also see moist piles of mushy frass (insect excrement). As the vine borer caterpillar feeds, it excretes frass just outside its hole, giving you a fairly obvious external clue about what lurks inside. If you have multiple borers in a single vine, each borer will have its own personal hole, so each hole you see along the vine represents a hungry vine borer caterpillar.


  • Carefully slit the stem at the entry hole and remove the caterpillar with thin, pointed tweezers.
  • Inject Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) into infested plant stems at 1/2″ increments along the stem.
  • If your vines are growing along the ground, cover sections of the vine with a pile of soil to encourage rooting. If the lower vine sections die because of vine borers, you will have a rooted, healthy section to continue growing.
  • Use a floating row cover early in the season to prevent the flying adult moths from laying eggs on your vines. Remove the row covers when plants start flowering because they will need access to pollinators.


A close-up of a plant stem completely covered in a swarm of aphids. The stem and leaves of the plant are completely covered with fine white hairs. Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects. their bodies are tiny, oval, and green in color. They have a pair of long and thin antennae on their heads.
Tiny aphids are common pests for various plants that damage plants by sucking their juices.

Aphids are the most common garden pests globally. These small insects can congregate in huge numbers and damage plants by sucking their juices. Adult aphids are tiny, less than ¼ inch long, but they will be quite obvious if you look closely.

They sometimes appear individually, but you will see them in great numbers more often. Their colors are highly variable, and these insects may appear green, yellow, brown, gray, white, or even pink. Aphids are extremely common and will attack many different varieties of plants, including fruits, vegetables, flowers, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and houseplants.


You may not notice the first few aphids, but the symptoms become much more obvious once you have a bunch. You may see the insects congregating on the leaf surface, undersides of the leaves, and on stems. As aphids feed, they secrete a sticky clear liquid called ‘honeydew,’ which may appear as wet or waxy-looking spots on the leaves of your plants.

As the adults and nymphs feed on the plants, sucking their juices, they cause the leaves to curl and turn yellow. Sometimes leaves appear stunted or deformed, and it’s important to note that this only affects the leaves on which the aphids are actively feeding, while unaffected leaves still appear normal and healthy.

Heavy and prolonged infestations will eventually harm the entire plant. The plant may wilt, and fruits and flowers can become stunted and deformed. The honeydew secretions can lead to fungal infections, where you’ll notice black or gray mold on the leaves and stems of your plants.


  • Ladybugs and other beneficial insects love to eat aphids. Attract beneficial insects to your garden by planting pollinator-friendly plants and avoiding pesticides.
  • Spray infected plants with a jet of water. This will dislodge and disturb feeding insects, making it harder for them to cause severe damage.
  • Spray concentrations of aphids with insecticidal soap or neem oil.


Close-up of a catbird on a branch of a fruit tree in the garden, against a blurred green background. The catbird is a medium-sized songbird with a distinctive appearance. She has dark gray plumage on her head, back, wings and tail. Its lower part is light gray, and on top they have a black cap. The bird has small dark eyes. Its beak is black and slightly curved.
Birds can be fascinating but may become pests in the garden.

Birds are ubiquitous and fascinating animals. Many people feed birds and want to attract them to their yards, offering bird seed, suet feeders, bird baths, and bird-friendly plants. Some birds, however, can become nuisance pests for the home gardener.

Catbirds eat blueberries, crows destroy crops, and woodpeckers drum on houses and create numerous holes in ornamental trees. You can decide to live with the birds and share your garden with them, or you can try to fight them. Acceptance may be easier.


Many birds are beneficial for the home landscape, and these birds are welcome visitors. But if you have some nuisance birds eating your favorite crops, you may want them gone.

  • Woodpeckers: Check for neat round holes drilled in trees as a clear sign of woodpecker damage. Woodpeckers also sometimes drill into fences and other wooden structures and drill on houses.
  • Ground-foragers: Some ground-foraging birds will dig up and eat freshly sown seeds.
  • Fruit-eaters: Frugivorous birds will eat berries and grapes and may also peck into other soft fruits like tomatoes.
  • Large birds: Larger birds, like crows, starlings, and blackbirds, will damage and eat crops such as corn and melons.


  • Use floating row covers to protect freshly seeded areas.
  • Try a critter cage over young or small plants.
  • Plant more than you need to share some with the resident wildlife.
  • Keep bird feeders away from your garden plants.
  • Try bird-scare tactics such as rubber snakes, reflective spinners, and fake owls.


Close-up of a tomato hornworm on the stem of a tomato plant, against a blurred green background. It has a strong cylindrical body, tapering towards both ends. The tomato hornworm has a green body with diagonal stripes of white or cream on the sides.
Many caterpillar varieties feed on plants, some beneficial for butterflies, while others are garden pests causing damage.

There are many thousands of varieties of caterpillars that feed on plants. In fact, they are among the most common garden pests that can be confused with beneficial insects.

Some more familiar caterpillars that gardeners may see include tomato hornworms, cutworms, tent caterpillars, cabbage worms, and swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths, and many have very specific host plants that they feed on exclusively.

You may want to attract some caterpillars by offering their favorite host plants, such as those that become beautiful butterflies. Other caterpillars are major garden pests and can cause extensive damage to some crops.


Caterpillars eat plant foliage, and they consume it very quickly. A single caterpillar can defoliate an entire small plant, leaving nothing but the stem. Check your plants regularly, and if you see leaf edges with large chewed holes, start looking for caterpillar culprits. If you don’t see the caterpillars, you may notice some of the frass (excrement) they leave behind as small greenish or brownish nuggets that may remain on the leaves.


Identify if the caterpillars are pests or if you want to encourage them. Most people consider tomato hornworms pests but are willing to share parsley leaves with swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

  • Hand-pick individual caterpillars. Tomato hornworms may look scary, but they are totally harmless to humans.
  • For brassica-eating caterpillars, spray infected plants with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). You can also use Bt spray on plants that flower, but avoid spraying it onto flowers to prevent even tiny risks to pollinators.
  • Cover susceptible young plants with floating row covers to prevent adults from laying eggs. Note that on flowering/fruiting plants, this may keep your pollinators out too!
  • Encourage beneficial insects.
  • Grow companion plants known to repel pests.

Cucumber Beetles

Close-up of a Cucumber beetle on a green elliptical leaf, against a blurred green background. It is a small insect with an elongated and slightly oval body. It has a yellow-green body with 6 black spots on each elytron. It has a distinct head with large eyes and long, segmented antennae.
These yellow and black beetles are major cucumber pests, feeding on all plant parts.

Cucumber beetles don’t eat just cucumber plants, although they are a major pest of cucumbers. These beetles feed on every part of the cucumber plant, including flowers, fruits, and leaves.

Adult beetles are approximately ⅓ inch long, yellowish green with black spots or stripes. The cucumber beetle larvae feed on plant roots, but it’s generally the adults that seem to cause the most damage to garden plants. 


You will see adult beetles on your plants if you have cucumber beetles. They are active during the day and freely feed on plant leaves. You may notice a few or many small holes chewed in the fruits and leaves. Cucumber beetles prefer cucumbers but will also feed on other melons and cucurbits. You may also see them on other plants, but their favorites are squashes and cucumbers.

Beetles can transmit bacterial wilt, causing the entire plant to wilt and die. If you notice your plants wilting and spot some cucumber beetles, the plants may already be infected by the bacteria. If the plant seems to be dying, it may be best to remove and dispose of the entire plant. To prevent the further spread of pests and infections, put it in the trash rather than your compost; bacteria can colonize your compost pile.


  • Use floating row covers to protect young plants.
  • Remove leafy debris where pests may overwinter.
  • Grow disease-resistant varieties of squash and melons.
  • Start cucumbers later to avoid early-season infestations.
  • If necessary, a spinosad spray (an organic pesticide made from two forms of soil bacteria) can be used to eliminate cucumber beetles.


A close-up of the muzzle of a deer eating pink flowers in a garden. The flowers are bell-shaped, closed. Deer are large mammals with a robust yet elegant body shape with slender legs and a long neck. The color of the deer's coat is reddish brown. It has large, triangular-shaped ears. The deer has large expressive black eyes located on the sides of the head.
White-tailed deer thrive near humans, herbivores feasting on various plants, reproducing rapidly without natural predators.

Deer are large mammals that are extremely well-adapted to living and thriving close to humans. Natural predators do not generally regulate deer populations, allowing them to multiply rapidly.

Deer are herbivores and enjoy feeding on flower buds, grasses, leaves, stems, and flowers from many plants.


Signs of deer will be partially eaten plants, or the entire plant may disappear. Along with missing plants, you will also notice deer hoof prints, particularly in soft soil, and large oval pellets of deer scat. You will also probably see the deer as they wander around your yard. If you know deer are around, and you see your plants are eaten from the top down, you can safely assume deer are causing this damage.


Install a fence at least 6 to 8 feet tall around your vegetable garden.

Try deer repellant sprays with a taste that deer don’t like. These will need to be reapplied after each rain.

Applications of predator urine at the boundaries of your garden may keep them at bay but will need to be reapplied regularly.

Do not offer special foods or salt licks to feed the deer; these only attract them to your yard.

Grow deer-resistant plants.

Flea Beetles

Close-up of a flea beetle on a green plant with large oval, elongated leaves with serrated edges and a rough texture. The flea beetle is a small, agile, and highly active insect. It is small, has a compact oval body of a shiny black color. It has a small, triangular-shaped head with bulging eyes and short antennae.
These pesky beetles are tiny dark insects that feed on various garden plants.

These pesky tiny insects are common garden pests for brassicas and cause big trouble for many garden plants. Flea beetles are very small, oval-bodied, and dark-colored. The adult beetles feed on plant foliage but leap away when disturbed.

Flea beetles particularly love arugula and eggplant leaves but will also devour many other garden plants, including tomatoes, potatoes, turnips, radishes, beets, beans, and members of the cabbage family.


If you have flea beetles, the first thing you are likely to notice is small shothole patterns in the leaves of your plants. Unlike caterpillars that usually eat from the outside edge, flea beetles create many tiny holes throughout the entire leaf, not just along the leaf margins. Certain plants, such as eggplant and turnips, may be almost completely defoliated by an infestation of these tiny beetles.

The beetles are small, but you can see them moving around on the leaves. When you disrupt them, they jump up like fleas. Light infestations may cause some small holes, but larger infestations can cause the loss of entire leaves.

Damaged leaves may develop larger dead patches that turn brown, or leaves may become stunted or deformed. Flea beetles can also transmit the bacteria that causes bacterial wilt, in which case the entire plant can become diseased and die.


  • Wait for seedlings to grow large before transplanting, giving them extra resistance against these pests.
  • Use row covers to protect young plants from pests, but uncover your crops when they start to flower because you will need to allow pollinators to visit.
  • Flea beetles are most active in early spring, so delay plantings of susceptible crops to avoid the worst season.
  • Selectively spray infected plants with insecticidal soaps.
  • Beneficial nematodes can be added to the soil to help control the tiny grublike larvae.

Japanese Beetles

Close-up of a Japanese beetle on a plant, against a blurred green background. It has a sturdy, oval-shaped body with a slightly rounded appearance. The upper side of its body is a metallic green that ranges from a bright iridescent green to a more golden or copper hue. The elytra have a series of distinct metallic and iridescent bronze or copper-brown markings along the edges. The head of the Japanese beetle is black, with a pair of large compound eyes in metallic green. It has two long, club-shaped antennae that extend from its head.
These shiny beetles infest plants, especially roses, grapevines, and fruit trees, causing evident damage.

Japanese beetles are common garden pests that infest many different plants but seem particularly fond of roses, grape vines, and certain trees, particularly fruit trees.

The adult beetles are around ½ inch long and metallic green and bronze. You can see them feeding singly or in large numbers on plant leaves. Japanese beetle grubs and small and white and live in the soil and feed on the roots of grasses and other tender plants.


Damage caused by Japanese beetles is obvious, as are the beetles themselves, so you should have no trouble confirming if these pests are in your garden. Adult Japanese beetles are not shy and wander freely during the daytime, so you will likely see them if they are around. They primarily walk on the plant’s surface but fly from plant to plant. When disturbed, they will either fly away or release and drop off.

Japanese beetles tend to congregate in groups. A group of feeding beetles can quickly cause damage to plant leaves. You will see their chewed holes throughout the leaf surface. Eventually, they will skeletonize the entire leaf, so all you have left is its remaining browned veins. When the beetles finish one leaf, they move on to the next. Japanese beetles rarely kill larger plants but can cause extensive damage.


  • Hand-pick adult beetles and drop them into a bucket of soapy water. This is very effective for small infestations.
  • Spray adults with a hard stream of water to interrupt their feeding.
  • Avoid plants most susceptible to Japanese beetle infestations (such as roses, grapes, apples, cherries).
  • Select trees that are not favored by Japanese beetles (such as dogwood, maple, holly).
  • Use trap crops to attract large numbers of beetles, then spray or dispose of these plants.
  • Applying beneficial nematodes to the soil can help eliminate any grubs in the off-season.
  • Some people use milky spore powder, but it can take years to become established in the soil and prevent grubs from overwintering.


Close-up of a hibiscus bud covered with mealybugs in a sunny garden. Mealybugs are small, soft-bodied insects. They have an oval and elongated body shape, covered with a white, waxy, cottony coating. They are white. Mealybugs have a segmented body with a distinct head, thorax, and abdomen.
These bugs are small and infest indoor and outdoor plants in large numbers, feeding on stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits.

Mealybugs are common garden pests of both indoor and outdoor plants. These tiny, soft-bodied insects are less than ⅛ inch long but are fairly easy to see. Their bodies are grayish or white and may appear to be white and fluffy. They congregate in large numbers, primarily along plant stems, in stem joints, and on the undersides of leaves, but they also feed on flowers and fruits. These are a type of scale insect, a much wider category of pest insects, but are by far one of the most common pests in the home garden.


Mealybugs can be easily identified if you check your plants regularly. Look for small gray or white insects, sometimes individually but often congregated in patches. You will also see a clear, sticky fluid called ‘honeydew’ that they excrete as they feed. This will appear as wet or waxy spots on the leaves. Ants feed on the honeydew, so you will often see small ants crawling around on infected plants.

A heavily infested plant will show obvious signs of distress. You may first notice a yellowing of the leaves, followed by leaf drop. New leaves may also appear curled or deformed. As the infestation progresses, plants can eventually die, and mealybugs will easily spread from one plant to neighboring plants.


  • Before adding new plants to your collection, inspect them closely to be sure you aren’t introducing any new pests.
  • Encourage and support beneficial insects that feed on mealybugs.
  • For small infestations, remove insects by hand, using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
  • Spray jets of water on infected leaves to disturb feeding adults. This won’t kill them but can help keep their numbers manageable.
  • Neem oil can be used as a preventative on leaf surfaces. Only apply a light misting, and do not use neem or any other horticultural oil when the temperature is over 85 degrees on any full-sun plants.
  • Use insecticidal soap to target dense clusters of feeding mealybugs.


Close-up of a mole from above a hole in a sunny garden. The mole has a compact cylindrical body, covered with thick velvety gray-black fur. The eyes are small, hidden under the fur. The mole has a long nose. It has powerful spatulate front paws with long, sharp claws.
These underground mammals dig tunnels through soil, but their burrows can disturb plants, making them a garden nuisance.

Moles are small mammals that live underground, digging tunnels and burrows just below the soil surface. Unlike most common garden pests, moles do not eat your plants. Instead, they look for earthworms and other subterranean invertebrates, such as grubs.

Moles become a garden nuisance because they create extensive tunnels which are unsightly and can disturb the roots of some plants. Moles can also be seen as beneficial animals because they help aerate the soil, and they eat many insect pests while foraging for food.


The primary sign of moles you will notice is their long tunnels of disturbed earth. Yesterday, your lawn was smooth and flat, and today there is a network of tunnels pushing up the grass and soil. Those tunnels are likely the work of moles. Plants disturbed by the tunnels may dry out faster and become yellow and dry.


  • Grow castor beans around your garden area as a way to deter moles. There is some evidence that moles avoid areas where castor beans are growing.
  • Moles like burrowing in the dry earth. If you discover a fresh burrow, you can try flushing the mole out by running water into the burrow. If you can catch the mole, put it in a bucket and relocate it a few miles away if your region does not have laws preventing rehoming wildlife.
  • Consider raised bed gardening. If installed before filling a raised bed, some hardware cloth or a metal mole or gopher mesh will prevent moles from accessing your garden bed from below.
  • Bury fencing 2 feet below the soil’s surface around your entire garden. This is a lot of work but can effectively block moles from a specific area.
  • There are a variety of no-kill mole traps on the market which may be worth a try.


Close-up of a rabbit in the garden near growing beets and onions. The rabbit has a compact and strong body with a rounded shape. It is covered with soft brown fur. The rabbit has long ears that stand upright. The rabbit has large expressive eyes located on the sides of the head. The rabbit's tail is short and fluffy.
Bunnies are cute but destructive herbivores that eat almost anything in gardens.

Rabbits are cute, fluffy, and can be destructive but common home garden pests. Rabbits are voracious herbivores that will sample almost anything and completely devour their favorite plants.

These mammals are most active from dawn to dusk and are extremely common in urban areas, being a familiar sight in lawns, gardens, parks, brushy areas, and woodlands.


In many areas of the country, you will see rabbits in urban, suburban, and rural areas. You may also notice their small round droppings in your lawn and garden. If you see rabbits or signs of rabbits, you will know they are likely snacking on plants in and around your yard.

Rabbits eat the leaves of a great variety of plants. Sometimes they will take a small taste and then move on. Other times they will consume entire leaves and plants, often eating from the top down. They may chop down your tall-stalked flowers by biting through the stem or eat the tops of your young and low-growing bedding plants. Rabbit damage can be quite extensive.


  • Use wire critter cages to protect smaller plants.
  • Put a 2-foot tall wire fence around your garden to protect the plants within. Consider using a 3-foot wire fence and burying a foot of it to prevent the rabbits from digging under the fence to gain access.
  • Use tall raised beds to grow plants above the rabbit’s reach.
  • Discourage rabbits in your landscape by removing brush piles and unkempt weed patches.
  • Consider using predator urine to deter rabbits. This requires regular reapplication of the urine to be effective, but may not be a long-term solution.
  • Spray valuable plants with a rabbit deterrent, such as capsaicin, that has a taste rabbits don’t like.
  • Trapping isn’t particularly effective because, for every rabbit you remove, another one moves in to take its place.
  • Grow plants that rabbits don’t like to eat.

Slugs and Snails

Close-up of a Roman snail on a wooden surface in a garden, against a backdrop of green foliage. This large snail has a large globular shell with a conical spire. The shell is light brown with irregular dark brown stripes and spiral stripes. The body of the snail is yellowish-brown, soft and covered with slimy mucus.
These nocturnal mollusks are common garden visitors, feeding on plants and hiding in debris.

Slugs and snails are common and frequent pests to the home garden. You can find them hiding under logs, rocks, and piles of leafy debris. These land-dwelling mollusks live in and on the soil and are active primarily at night.

They feed on plant matter with their rasping mouthparts, creating holes in leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits. Slugs and snails are typically shades of brown and gray. A few large varieties of slugs can grow several inches long, but many are less than 1 or 2 inches in length.


If you check your garden after the sun goes down, you are likely to encounter slugs and snails. If you see these animals creeping along, they are likely heading to a meal on some plant matter nearby. Even if you don’t see the adults, you may notice their slime trails, a sign that slugs and snails are present.

Slugs and snails chew holes in soft plant parts, especially leaves and fruits. Occasionally they will even eat through a stem causing the entire leaf to fall off or dangle from a thread. Slugs will chew large and irregularly shaped holes in leaves, which looks different than damage from tiny chewing insects. Slugs particularly like hosta leaves and will chew numerous holes in these plants each night.


  • Hand-pick any slugs and snails you see feeding at night to keep the population low.
  • Use traps; collect and dispose of dead slugs promptly.
  • Use a copper strip barrier to deter slugs. Note that this is only effective on raised beds.
  • Use an organic slug or snail bait to create a ring around your garden. They will consume the bait and not your plants.

Squash Bugs

Close-up of a squash bug on bright green lobed leaves, in a garden. This insect is brown in color with various markings on the body. It has a thyroid ribcage with six legs and two antennae. The wings are located on the back and, when folded, have a triangular shape.
These large, brown insects feed on squash, cucumbers, and melons by sucking their juices.

Squash bugs are insects with broad, flattened bodies. Adult squash bugs are fairly large, reaching ½ to 1 inch long, and they are typically brownish in color.

They have wings and can fly, but you are more likely to see them walking around on your plants, or on nearby fences, cages, or poles.

Squash bugs feed primarily on cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and various types of squash. These insects have piercing mouth parts to suck the juices from healthy garden plants.


If you have squash bugs, you will probably see the insects themselves, as well as their eggs. They are not shy and you will see them feeding during the daytime. If you see large insects walking around on the leaves of your melons and squash, there’s an excellent chance they are squash bugs.

Check both the leaves’ tops and the leaves’ undersides for signs of squash bugs, including adults, smaller grayish juveniles, and clusters of small oval-shaped eggs attached to the leaf surface.

Leaves of infected plants will start to look weak and limp, then quickly turn yellow and brown, and then die. Smaller and younger plants are more susceptible to squash bug damage and can be killed quickly, whereas older plants may have a bit more resistance later in the season.


  • Hand-pick squash bugs and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.
  • Use a butter knife to scrape egg clusters off the plant and drop them into soapy water.
  • Apply a neem oil or horticultural oil to smother egg clusters so they cannot hatch and to deter feeding.
  • Remove leafy debris at the end of each growing season where pests might hide and overwinter.
  • Check your plants frequently and remove any insects or eggs you see.


Close-up of a squirrel on a fence, against a blurry background. The squirrel has a fluffy body with a fluffy tail, sharp claws and large black eyes. Her body is completely covered with fur including shades of brown, gray and white.
Squirrels are familiar climbers, who dig holes, eat fruits, and damage plants, becoming destructive garden pests.

Squirrels are everywhere. These familiar mammals climb trees, fences, cages, and herbaceous plants. They also dig numerous holes in lawns and gardens.

Squirrels eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and greenery and can be very destructive pests in the garden, damaging and uprooting plants, eating fruits, and even gnawing on wooden structures.


If you live in an area with squirrels, you have probably seen them running around, climbing trees, crossing streets, and digging holes in the ground. Squirrels dig, chew, and munch, and their signs are pretty obvious.

Squirrels love digging in soft, loose soil, so if you have planted seeds or seedlings only to come out later and see they are dug up, squirrels are a likely culprit. Squirrels also love eating fruits like strawberries, tomatoes, and apples.

They may carry off the entire fruits, eat large chunks and leave the rest on the ground, or eat chunks out of your fruits while they are still attached to the plant. Squirrels also chew on stems, branches, twigs, and tender leaves.


  • Protect smaller plants by covering them with a critter-proof cage.
  • Try spraying the squirrels’ favorite plants with capsaicin to repel them. Sprays will need to be reapplied after each rain.
  • Trapping is not effective with squirrels because another squirrel will immediately take the place of any that are removed.
  • Don’t attract squirrels to your yard by offering bird feeders or squirrel corn; you will only have more hungry squirrels looking for more food.
  • If you feed birds, place bird feeders away from your garden.
  • Pet dogs are a surprisingly good deterrent for squirrels and will patrol for you!

Spider Mites

Close-up of many spider mites on a thin web against a green leaf. Spider mites are tiny arachnids. They have eight legs and are red in color.
Tiny spider mites feed on plants by sucking juices.

Spider mites are very common but so small that they are difficult to see. They are not insects but are related to spiders. Spider mites have 8 legs, are only about 1/50 inch long, and can be multiple different colors depending on the species – black and yellow, pure red, or spotted, just to name a few.

They feed on hundreds of species of garden plants, including vegetables, fruits, flowers, trees, and shrubs. Spider mites are most abundant and active during hot, dry weather, feeding on plant leaves by sucking the juices with their piercing mouthparts.


You may already have thousands of mites when you notice the spider mite infestation on your plant. The first visible sign of spider mites is usually a discoloration of the leaves. A typical healthy green leaf will take on a yellowish, mottled appearance as the mites suck out the juices. The yellowing may be patchy or throughout the entire leaf.

As the damage grows and spreads, you may see leaves curling around the edges, and young leaves will emerge deformed and crumpled. You may also see damage to flowers and stems.

Vast numbers of spider mites create a network of thin threads that you can see on the leaf surface, along the stems, or particularly at the joints between leaves and stems. You can also see the mites in the webbing and along the surfaces and undersides of infected leaves. Severely infected plants will eventually die.


  • Check plants regularly for pests and take action quickly to prevent worsening. Gently shaking foliage with symptoms of spider mites over a white piece of paper can dislodge some onto the paper, helping you identify that they are there.
  • Spider mites target weakened and stressed plants, so keep your plants healthy by watering them regularly, mulching around them, and choosing the best plants for your site.
  • Spray infested plants with a jet of water to dislodge mites and disrupt their feeding cycle.
  • Encourage natural mite predators and beneficial insects by planting various pollinator-friendly plants and avoiding generalized pesticide applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some general tips to help keep my plants pest-free?

  • Keep your plants healthy by pulling weeds, offering enough water, and giving them plenty of space.
  • Don’t compost insect-infested materials to keep pests from spreading.
  • Remove leafy debris each fall so pests can’t overwinter in your garden.
  • Check your plants frequently for any signs of pests and diseases.
  • Treat pests and diseases promptly.
  • Rotate crops each year.
  • Grow companion plants that are reputed to repel or deter pests.

How can I attract beneficial insects to my garden?

Although there may seem to be a disproportionate number of bugs trying to destroy your crops, not all insects are harmful. In fact, the majority of insects that visit your garden are not pest species. Many insects are welcome in the garden because they prey upon nuisance pests or they are pollinators. Ladybugs, praying mantids, lacewings, parasitic wasps, butterflies, bees, and spiders are all beneficial. These creatures help with pollination, and many feed primarily on insect pests. Ways to attract beneficial insects include:

  • Don’t use chemical pesticides unless absolutely necessary.
  • Grow pollinator-friendly plants from diverse families.
  • Grow a variety of different plants, including trees and shrubs.

Can’t I just spray my plants with pesticides?

Most insects that you will see using your garden are not pests. One danger of spraying your plants with pesticides is that many pesticides will kill all insects, not just the ones you want to target!

Organic pesticides are generally faster to break down so have a limited efficacy, but also can be indiscriminate. For instance, Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) is great against caterpillars — but it kills all caterpillars, whether or not they are Monarch butterfly caterpillars or tomato hornworms. Limiting their use to only when they’re necessary is ideal, and avoid plants you intentionally are growing for pollinators.

When you absolutely need to reach for a pesticide, spray in the evenings when pollinators are not active. Organic options are often harmless to pollinators once they’ve dried on the plant, but this is not universally true. Target only the pest-infested plants rather than spraying everything, and if possible, avoid spraying actively-blooming flowers on the plant. This will best focus on the pests you’re trying to eliminate. Use chemical pesticides as a last resort, and only sparingly; these are more potent and can cause residual damage to your beneficial pest populations.

Final Thoughts

Many common garden pests are around, but don’t let that deter you from gardening. Many of these pests cause only minor damage, especially if you can catch them early and act quickly to prevent further infestation.

Being proactive and maintaining optimum plant health is one of the best ways to help prevent pest outbreaks from starting. You won’t be able to stop all garden pests. Still, you can minimize damage and try to accept that you are sharing your garden with the local wildlife, so maybe try planting more than you need, grow resistant varieties of plants, and try growing companion plants reputed to repel pests.