Early Season Garden Pests
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Insect pests aren't as plentiful during the early growing season as they are in midsummer, but that doesn't mean your garden crops are pest free. Slugs, cutworms, grubs, maggots and flea beetles are among the pests that can plague the early garden.
Slugs, those slimy, soft-bodied snails-without-shells, hide in cool, moist places during the day and come out on warm evenings to feed on plant leaves. Mulching around plants may increase slug problems by creating a handy hiding place. If you mulch and have a chronic slug problem it is recommended to mulch and water conservatively and place boards, cardboard or newspapers on the soil between the rows. The slugs will seek out these hiding places. During the day, lift the shelter materials and "harvest" slugs by scraping them into a container of soapy water. The old saucer of stale beer trick will also work, but board traps are easier.
Cutworms are plump, hairless caterpillars that emerge from the soil at night to feed on newly emerged seedlings and newly set transplants. Though they seem to have a special preference for pepper plants, they will attack most garden crops. They are called "cutworms" because they frequently snip plants off at or just below the soil surface.
An effective non-chemical control is cutworm collars, rings of light cardboard placed around small plants. The larger sized juice concentrate cans with the metal ends removed can be sliced crosswise to make two or three cutworm collars.
White grubs are plump, whitish and C-shaped beetle larvae. They attack plant roots, especially in areas recently converted to garden from lawn or fallow field. If tilling turns up large numbers of this pest, treating the soil with an insecticide or working it for a year before planting may be necessary to avoid extensive crop damage.
Cabbage-family crops, sweet corn and onions are all susceptible to damage by maggots. These are the larvae of several species of flies that lay their eggs on these crops. The larvae's feeding on the roots kills the plant or damages the roots so severely that plant growth is stunted. Cabbage maggots attack all the cole crops, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and radishes. Seed corn maggots attack the germinating seeds of sweet corn, cucumbers, melons and squash. Onion maggots feed on members of the onion family.
Flies are especially attracted to plants growing in soil with high quantities of manure and other organic matter.
Flea beetles are very small, usually black beetles that chew tiny round holes in the leaves of tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants and in new potato sprouts and snap bean, radish and turnip foliage. The larvae feed on plant roots. Feeding by large numbers of beetles gives leaves a shot-hole appearance and slows plant growth.
For more information on current Pests in the Garden, check out the Pest Update
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office