Alicia DeVore

Mosquitos can be the peskiest insect around. Right??? Who likes getting bit and having itchy welts? No one.

One summer I used a mosquito zapper to get the mosquitos from eating my family alive when we would go outside. Everyone raved about using a mosquito zapper. I thought it was brilliant.

But by the middle of summer, I would go outside expecting to hear bees and insects swarming the flowers on my cucumbers and squash and I would see nothing. The bees had dwindled to nothing, and my squash and cucumber plants had little production that summer.

I looked in the mosquito zapper and there were all of my beautiful pollinating bees, all dead. My heart broke. The zapper was not supposed to kill the good insects yet here I was with a beautiful veggie space and no pollinators which ultimately meant no veggies to eat.

As much as I hate bad insects, there is a place for everything, and we don’t want to get rid of the helpers and protectors in our gardens. We just want to stop the bad ones from taking over and hurting our garden. Here is a blog post about how insects and bugs can help or harm your vegetable garden and what to do about it.

What’s the Difference Between an Insect and a Bug?

First, let’s define what an insect is. Insects are a type of arthropod that have three body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen), six legs and usually wings. They are the most diverse group of animals on Earth, with over one million identified species.

Now, let’s talk about bugs. Bugs are a specific type of insect that have a different mouthpart structure than other insects. True bugs have a specialized mouthpart called a proboscis or rostrum, which they use to pierce and suck fluids from a plant or other insects.

So, all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. Isn’t that crazy?

Some insects are good until there are too many of them and they start to overpopulate an area of your garden for instance pill bugs and earwigs, which both are crucial for helping organic matter break down. But when there are too many of these insects, then they start eating everything, including young plants in a garden.

Keeping a balance of good and bad insects in your garden is crucial to a healthy growing environment. In the next section, we are going to work through different types of insects so that you know what to look for in your garden for success of balance.

red bug on leaf

Are Insects Necessary?

Insects are necessary for pollination, pest control, soil health and biodiversity. They play an important role in the ecosystem by contributing to a balanced and healthy environment to a plant.

Many crops rely on pollination by insects, while other insects such as ladybugs and lacewings provide natural pest control by eating harmful pests.

Additionally, insects such as earthworms contribute to health by breaking down organic matter, allowing for better water and nutrient flow.

Gardeners can support a healthy population of insects by avoiding chemical pesticides, planting a variety of flowers foliage and herbs, and practicing good management techniques.

grassphopper on a leaf

Classifications of Insects and Bugs

There are many different classifications of garden pests and insects, which are grouped based on their physical characteristics and behaviors.

Here are some common groups:

  • Beetles: characterized by their hardened front wings, which protect their delicate hind wings

  • Butterflies and moths: known for their colorful wings and ability to undergo metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult

  • Bees, wasps, and ants: social insects that live in colonies and play important roles in pollination and pest control.

It’s important to note that not all insects are harmful to a plant. Many insects, such as ladybugs and praying mantises, are actually beneficial because they prey on harmful pests.

butterfly on marigold

Benefits of good insects:

  • Pollination: Many insects, such as bees and butterflies, are important pollinators that help increase fruit and vegetable yields for a plant.

  • Pest control: Some insects, like ladybugs and lacewings, eat harmful pests such as aphids and mites, which can prevent damage to your plants.

  • Soil health: Earthworms and other soil-dwelling insects can help aerate and break down organic matter, improving soil health.

  • Biodiversity: Having a diverse range of insects in your space can help create a healthy ecosystem and support a variety of birds and other wildlife.

Drawbacks of harmful insects:

tomato horn worm on plants
  • Plant damage: Some insects, such as caterpillars and beetles, can eat and damage leaves, stems, and fruit, reducing yields for plant growth.

  • Disease transmission: Certain insects, like thrips and whiteflies, can transmit plant diseases from one plant to another.

  • Overpopulation: Insect populations can quickly get out of control, leading to infestations and severe damage to crops.

Common insects include:

ladybug on green stem
  • Bees: Important pollinators that help increase yields for a plant with fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries.

  • Ladybugs: Predatory insects that eat aphids, mites, and other harmful pests.

  • Caterpillars: Larvae of moths and butterflies that can eat and damage leaves and fruit.

  • Grasshoppers: Large insects that can eat plants and cause significant damage to crops.

  • Whiteflies: Small, flying insects that can cause leaf yellowing and transmit plant viruses especially on fruit trees.

Use Your Garden for Insects

aphids on a stem

When I see aphids on a plant, I don’t freak out and think that everything is going to be destroyed. Instead, I make sure that the plant is not covered with aphids. If it is, I use water to spray down the eggs and infestation. I also take off some of the leaves and throw away in the trash.

Then I leave the rest of the aphids so that my ladybugs and other amazing insects will have something to eat in my garden and stay around. If they don’t have anything to eat, those ladybugs will fly away to find food.

Why Knowing the Pests for each Season will Save your Garden

Protecting your vegetable crops and fruit trees from bad insects is an important part of maintaining healthy plants.

leaf getting eaten

How to Know When Things Are Not Good:

  1. Chewed or damaged leaves: If you notice irregular holes or chewed areas on your plant leaves, this may be a sign of insect pests such as caterpillars, beetles or grasshoppers.

  2. Discolored or wilted leaves: This could be a sign of insect or pest damage, especially if there are no obvious causes like over-watering or under-watering.

  3. Stunted growth or yellowing leaves: Again, if there are no obvious causes, yellowing leaves or stunted growth could be a sign of insect or pest damage.

  4. Visible pests: If you see visible insects’ flies on the leaves or stems of your plants, this is a clear sign that your growing space is being attacked by harmful pests that are sap sucking. Sometimes you will see black excrement that is left behind from these harmful insects.

  5. Presence of whiteflies or spider mites: These tiny insects can cause significant damage to plants, so it’s important to watch out for them.

It’s a good idea to regularly inspect your vegetable crops for signs of pest damage, as early detection can prevent further damage and make it easier to control the insect pests.

Additionally, it’s important to understand the common pests in your area and their life cycles, so you can identify and take preventative measures before they become a problem. The beginning of spring, I don’t have many insect issues because the life cycle of many insects begins as the temperature heats up for summer.

aphid eggs on the back side of a leaf

How to Manage your Growing Space:

  • Practice crop rotation: This can help prevent insect populations from building up in the same area year after year.

  • Use natural pest control methods: Using insecticidal soaps or neem oil can help control harmful pests while being safe for the environment and growing space.

  • Encourage beneficial insects: Planting flowers and herbs like marigolds and dill can attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which can help control harmful pests.

How to Get Rid of Bad Pests and Insects

If you do need to protect your growing space from harmful insects, like cucumber beetles, there are many natural methods available.

Some natural methods include handpicking and removing pests, adding beer or olive oil to small bowls in the garden to catch slugs and earwigs, using sticky traps, covering the stems of squash from squash bores, adding flowers, and introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs.

purple flowers with butterfly in garden

Here is a list of things I use in dealing with invasive insects and garden pests that are causing chaos:

  1. Companion planting: Planting certain herbs and flowers alongside your vegetables can help repel pests. For example, marigolds, basil, and garlic are known to deter aphids and other insects.

  2. Neem oil: Neem oil is a natural insecticide that can be applied to plants to repel a variety of pests. It works by disrupting insect feeding, larval stage, and reproduction.

  3. Diatomaceous earth: Diatomaceous earth is a natural powder made from fossilized algae. It can be sprinkled around the base of plants to prevent crawling insects like slugs and snails from reaching the plant.

  4. Insecticidal soap: Insecticidal soap is a natural pest control method that works by suffocating soft-bodied insects like aphids and spider mites.

  5. Homemade sprays: There are many homemade sprays that can be made using common household ingredients like vinegar, garlic, and hot peppers. These sprays can be used to repel insects or kill them on contact.

The most important thing in helping your veggies to grow is to take walks each week to see what is happening. If you notice leaves being chewed or stems being eaten than use some of the natural ways suggested to protect your tender plants.

My favorite time to see what is eating my garden is to wait til it gets dark and to take a flashlight outside to see firsthand what is hurting my plants. I can usually find the mystery insect and take measures to protect the garden.

Use this article to arm yourself with knowledge on how to take care of your garden. Your garden will flourish and grow with you standing guard of its growth. Be the protector of your space and then you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

ladybugs in background with how insects and bugs can help or harm your veggie garden


What beneficial insects are for Sale?

Many beneficial insects can be purchased online or from local garden centers.

  1. Ladybugs: These colorful insects are effective predators of many harmful pests, particularly aphids.

  2. Lacewings: Lacewings are another type of insect predator that can be used to control aphids, spider mites, and other pests. They can be purchased as eggs, larvae, or adults.

  3. Praying mantis: These insects are known for their distinctive appearance and are effective predators of a wide range of pests, including caterpillars, grasshoppers, and beetles. Praying mantis egg cases can be purchased and hatched in your garden.

  4. Nematodes: These microscopic roundworms are used to control soil-dwelling pests such as grubs, weevils, and fungus gnats. They can be purchased in a liquid form and applied to the soil.

  5. Bumblebees: Unlike honeybees, bumblebees are not commonly used for commercial pollination, but they are effective pollinators for many flowering plants. Bumblebee colonies can be purchased and installed in your growing area to improve pollination rates.

Before purchasing beneficial insects, it’s important to ensure that they are compatible with the plants in your garden and the local climate. It’s also important to follow the instructions carefully when introducing beneficial insects to your garden, as improper pesticide use can harm both the insects and your plants.

bee on top of a purple flower

Is there an app that I can use to identify insects in gardens?

Yes, there are several apps available that can help you with bugs in garden identify. Some popular ones include iNaturalist, Insect Identifier, and BugFinder or this website that reviews a few apps.

What are the most common beneficial insects in gardens?

The most common beneficial insects in your garden include bees, ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises, and hoverflies. Check out this blog post on what to do in June to help your garden grow.

What are the most dangerous pests and insects in my garden?

The most dangerous insects in your growing space depend on your specific location and the types of plants you are growing. Generally, some of the most common harmful garden pests and insects in gardens include aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, thrips, caterpillars, and beetles. The damage caused by these insects can ruin your garden.

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About the Author

Alicia has been teaching her whole life from elementary teacher to workshops for beginning gardeners.  Go HERE to read Alicia's story into gardening from plant killer to pro grower and garden coach.  If you want to send Alicia a quick message, then use her contact page HERE.

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