12 Common Garden Pests in the United States and How to Control Them

Left: redbay trees affected by redbay ambrosia beetles. Photo: R. Scott Cameron, Advanced Forest Protection, Inc., Top right: winding gallery of an emerald ash borer. Photo: Eric R. Day, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bottom right: leaf-footed plant bug nymphs on a cardoon. Photo: David Dickerson via Wikimedia Commons

Most insects raise no concern when spotted in the garden. In fact, many are welcome guests that we invite with an array of plants they love to visit. But we gardeners know well that there are insects that can do some major damage to plants, some even on a massive scale. No matter where you garden, you’ll eventually have to deal with a garden pest or two (or twenty).

What is a garden pest?

Not all gardeners have the same list of garden pests. The distinction of “pest” depends on the gardener’s tolerance for damage. While some gardeners don’t mind some holey leaves, others cringe at the first signs of munching. Just be aware that holes can be caused from beneficial bugs snacking, which can actually be keeping more-damaging pests at bay.

The pests you encounter may also depend on where you garden and the types of plants you grow. Pests that attack a vegetable garden are much different from the pests that burrow into trees, just as a garden in Arizona will see very different pests from a garden in Massachusetts. Considering your location and the plant being affected can be a great first step in determining what pest is doing damage.

Methods of control

To make things more complicated, the methods for controlling pests are just as varied as the bugs themselves. Some pests can easily be pinched and picked off a plant, while others require removal of any parts of the plant that have been infested. Other times, the only successful method of control is prevention, and finding damage can mean it’s already too late to save the plant.

Pest identification

All of this is to say it’s extremely important to identify your pest before taking action. You don’t want to be quick to remove a beneficial bug, while you also don’t want to let a pest run wild when it should be nipped in the bud (no pun intended).

To help you identify and control some particularly bad pests, we asked our regional reporters to cover an insect that commonly causes damage in their area. These bugs ranged from beetles that attack trees from the inside out to worms that destroy your soil and mothlike insects that make a quick feast of your leafy green crops.

Learn more about these pests and how to control them below. And remember that insects are inevitable, so deal with them responsibly.


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