Garden Friend or Foe? How to Identify

Jul 14, 2012

The familiar sound of cicadas and crickets and frequent grasshopper, roach and beetle sightings are back in Northeast Texas.

“That’s the sound of summer,” says Dr. Carlos Bográn, associate professor and extension entomologist with Texas A&M University, referring to buzzing or clicking noise of a cicada.

And while a majority of these bugs, insects and arthropods can be a nuisance for some people, to the home gardener, most are considered valuable.

“Things that are very beneficial that come to mind are the lady beetles that feed on garden pests, the lacewings that also feed on garden and landscape-plant pests. And then you have all the other things like spiders that are very beneficial in a garden or landscape,” Bográn said.

Where it may be tricky is how to identify which are harmful to your plants and which are serving a good purpose.

Dr. Bográn says by observing your garden, you can monitor whether the insect is actually feeding on the plant or just sitting there. If an insect is found to be eating or sucking on a plant, that could spell trouble. But the act of foraging by a type of insect or bug may prove beneficial for your garden, as that could help rid it of pests.

But what if you can’t catch the subject in the act? There are signs and symptoms that pests leave behind after they’ve fed.

“For example, holes on the foliage are a pretty convincing sign that something has chewed on it… On the other hand if you don’t see holes on the foliage and you see dead spots or other types of debris left by sucking insects, then you can exclude the chewing insects and focus on those that caused that particular damage. And that’s a good place to start.”

Then there comes the question of the right methods by which to remove the pests while keeping yourself and the rest of your garden safe.

According to Dr. Bográn, there are several safe products out there, but sometimes the issue can be solved through manual control, such as clipping certain portions of your garden. He also says things like an upcoming rain can eliminate the problem without using pesticides or other methods.

Above, hear Dr. Bográn’s comments from The Lead for Friday, July 13.