Jenschke: What’s eating my vegetable garden?

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Lonnie Jenschke

Pests grubbing on garden vegetables before they make it to the table might as well be a declaration of war against gardeners.

Joe Masabni, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist, Dallas, said the battle against insects and animals begins with preparation and identifying potential problems and is won by action.

Being proactive is better than being reactive, he said. Knowing what you’re up against, having a battle plan and the right weapons to fight back takes vigilant scouting and timely treatments that will kill or deter pest bugs and/or eggs and larvae.

Masabni said it’s important to treat plants to kill pest insects and curb infestations throughout the life of the plant. Whether you prefer organic or conventional pesticides is up to you, just use something. Insect pests can stunt plant growth and introduce diseases that can kill the plant or damage fruit.

How to get rid of bugs eating your garden

Insects are a big issue, Masabni said. It’s better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to bugs that infest and eat your plants and fruit or spread disease.

There are a wide range of insect pests that can negatively impact production or kill plants, he said. Stinkbugs, aphids, spider mites, fruit worms, corn ear worms, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles, tomato hornworms and squash bugs are common pests year after year.

Aphids suck on leaves and stems, while stinkbugs suck on fruit and stems, Masabni said. Grasshoppers will eat entire leaves, and corn earworms feast on fruit like tomatoes, peppers and ears of corn.

Some insects, such as the cucumber beetle, are more dangerous because the damage is seen a month after they visited the plant as a viral disease, he said.

Some common signs of pest problems include plants that are stunted or not growing properly, deformed or damaged leaves, yellowed or light in color, and wilted or droopy.

Small gardens can be protected by manually killing adult pests, larvae and eggs, but it takes close inspection of each plant on a regular basis.

Spray with fungicides and insecticides

If the war against pests and disease is lost this season, buy a quality backpack sprayer and at least three fungicides and three insecticides before you plant another seed or seedling.

Apply sprays to transplants upon planting or seedlings once they’ve emerged, Masabni said. Spray plants with the mix every seven to 14 days, depending on the weather.

Masabni uses organic fungicides and insecticides. Organic fungicides that have worked for him include Neem Oil, Actinovate or a Bordeaux mixture of copper, lime and water.

Spinosad, Bt or any horticultural oil as organic insecticides. Fungicides and insecticides can be mixed and applied at the same time, he said, but check labels.

Having and using a variety of fungicides and pesticides will decrease bugs’ ability to build up resistance to any one treatment, he said. So, switch up the fungicide/pesticide mix every third treatment.

Many pests hide and/or lay eggs on the underside of leaves, so it’s important to drench the plant, he said.

“You have to spray something if you want a crop,” he said. “During my research trials, I got 10% of the potential crop from plants that didn’t receive any spray treatments.”

Lonnie Jenschke is the Erath County Extension Agent for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Email him at