Bugs & Outdoor Plants


If you discover bugs on your outdoor plants, your first instinct might be to reach for the spray. After all, aren't most bugs trouble? Absolutely not. Learning about the insects in your yard will help you relax and benefit your plants at the same time.


A lot of people assume that if bugs show up on your outdoor plants trouble will follow. This isn't always the case. Homeowners should take the time to identify insects. This is most simply done with a digital camera. You can email insect photos to university extension agents, science teachers or even other gardeners. Garden centers can be a huge source of information for puzzled homeowners. Bring your insects in sealed containers for identification.They will likely use a combination of reference books and personal experience to inform you. If they can't identify an insect, they should be able to lead you in the right direction.


Once you know what bug(s) you have on your outdoor plants, take the time to learn about them. The first question should be, "What does it eat?" If it eats other bugs, ask "which ones?" This could benefit your garden and make more of those insects a welcome site. Some bugs, like caterpillars, eat plants. That's not enough information though. Find out which plants it eats and whether their foraging causes permanent damage. Often plants rebound vigorously after their leaves are eaten. It's no different than if you pruned them. A flush of growth often occurs.


Evaluation is the often-skipped step with regard to insects. People quickly designate bugs as either good or bad, but it isn't that simple. For example, growers of milkweed often encounter aphids. They suck juice from leaves. Inquire about aphids at a garden center and you will likely be given something to kill them. Blindly following the recommendation to kill them might be wrong for you, though. If you grow milkweed to attract monarch butterflies, you shouldn't spray pesticides on the leaves. You may kill the butterflies. They lay eggs on the plant, and the caterpillars hatch and eat the leaves. They will eat every leaf off the plant, making the aphids no concern. Most importantly, the leaves will grow back! Wasps are another example of when evaluation can help. They make people nervous because they might sting. Wasps, however, can be valuable allies to the vegetable gardener. They prey on caterpillars. If not disturbed, they will likely not sting, because they're not defending their nest. They also pollinate flowers. Of course, those with allergies to insect stings should avoid them, but it is a case by case decision about whether to kill them.

The Solution

Everyone has an opinion about what to do about bugs on your plants. The opinion that matters is yours. Once you are educated you are just as qualified to decide the fate of bugs in your yard as anyone else. If you make the decision to kill the insects, then you must education yourself on how to do it. Learn about eco-friendly products like horticultural oils, soaps and biological insecticides. Also find out about the benefits and drawbacks of chemicals. Your yard and your family are worth the effort.

Ask about Products

No matter how concerned people are about bugs, the environment or the plants in their yards, they often hire professionals to take care of things. As responsible homeowners and consumers, people should still ask questions. Often people have no idea what chemicals they are paying other people to spray around their property. They have no idea of the impacts or whether they are even necessary. Ask about brand names, but also learn the active ingredients that professionals are applying. Sometimes when you take the time to learn about chemicals you find that you can save money by taking care of bug issues yourself. You can choose to use the same chemical, or a different solution, and better monitor the results.

Keywords: bugs and plants, plants and chemicals, natural insecticides, beneficial insects