Help with pest identification
© Frances Michaels
It can be very frustrating to know that your plants are being eaten or damaged but not have any idea what
the problem is.
- First of all it helps if you can catch whatever it is 'in the act'. Look carefully at the plant,
including under the leaves and in the the mulch around the base of the plant. Keep in mind that some
insects move quickly to vacate the premises, after all, they don't want to end up as someone's dinner and
so are ready to take evasive action when the plant is disturbed. Some insects try very hard to camouflage
themselves as part of the plant, running your fingers lightly along the underside of a leaf may trigger
the culprit to reveal themselves. Try taking a good torch and checking the plants at night, move quietly
to reduce the chances of the 'midnight muncher' making off before you spot them.
- Once you have caught the possible culprit, accurate identification is important. We recommend the book
Garden Pests, Diseases and Good Bugs by Denis Crawford,
as there is an excellent colour photograph of each pest and disease. Another very useful book is Jackie
French's Natural Control of Garden Pests.
- Try to check whether there are any natural enemies present, feeding on the pest such as lizards, frogs
and birds. Learning to recognise the many 'good bugs' is useful and interesting and prevents you from
accidentally wiping them out.
- Then you need to decide what to do. When is a pest not a pest? Small numbers of pests can be useful in
attracting predators and keeping them in your garden, ready to respond to any sudden pest increase. If
ladybeetle larvae are present happily munching aphids, destroying the aphids will simply starve the
ladybeetles. So the next step is deciding what level of damage you can tolerate and if you are going to
control a pest. Our personal view is that if a pest is going to stop us harvesting a fruit or vegetable
then we will do something about it but a few chewed leaves are not a problem in a home garden.