It's simply a fact of life that there are pests of all shapes and sizes looking for a good meal from your newly planted squash plants or the young hostas that have just come up in the spring. However, with preventative practices and an integrated pest control system, gardeners can avoid much of the damage caused by tiny aphids, slimy mollusks and furry deer.
These tiny green insects live and feed in colonies and stunt a plant's growth or destroy blooms and buds altogether. According to the "Sunset Western Garden Book," you may first spot light yellow spots on the leaves of plants, curling or puckered leaves or an ashy, black layer on leaves. Luckily, you can keep aphid damage under control by removing aphids by hand or with a hose when you see a cluster on the stems or leaves of a plant. The Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) recommends preventative practices as well, such as using slow-release fertilizer on plants to slow the rate at which aphids reproduce, pruning in the mid-growing season to keep aphids from attacking new spring growth or introducing natural predators such as ladybugs or praying mantis to the garden. Insecticides are also an option.
Slugs and Snails
These mollusks are not insects, but that distinction doesn't stop them from eating tender new leaves and shoots right down to the ground. Signs of snail and slug damage include holes in leaves or stems of plants and a shiny trail of slime. Watch for small gelatinous masses in early spring, which are where the creatures lay their eggs. Manual control methods include hand picking at dusk or dawn--perhaps with a pair of garden shears in hand--or using traps baited with beer and emptied twice a week. Barriers, made from gritty material like diatomaceous earth, nut hulls or strips of copper, will also work, according to the MBG. As a last resort, chemical pesticides kill both slugs and snails, but they do need to be reapplied after a heavy rainfall or watering.
While the general public may not think of larger animals like deer as pests, many gardeners certainly do based on the extent of damage they cause in the garden. Fences are the only fool-proof method to eliminate damage completely, with most gardeners choosing instead to use plants that are more or less deer-resistant. A list of such plants recommended by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension includes plants with thorny, prickly or hairy leaves or stems, strongly scented or pungent plants and most types of grasses. The Extension also advises gardeners to plant less resistant plants nearer to the house, where deer are less likely to linger. Like other pests, deer prefer tender young shoots of plants as they come up in the spring, so that is a time to be especially vigilant about applying a spray that will deter deer.