22 Common Pests That Attack Vegetable Plants

It’s going to happen.

Some of your vegetable plants will get attacked by a pest during their growing stages.

That’s the cycle of life. And signs of a healthy vegetable garden.

I’ve listed 22 of the most common pests you’ll find attacking vegetables. You’ll also find links to posts that give more details about each pest, how to identify them, and what you can do to get rid of them.

Let’s take a look.

1. Aphids

Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that come in different colors. They reproduce quickly and can be found nesting under leaves. These pesky insects suck sap from leaves, causing stunted growth, wilting, and the growth of mold or fungus. They also attract ants with their sticky residue called honeydew.

To identify aphids on plants, look for tiny insects that can be green, white, yellow, orange, brown, or black. Check for honeydew residue on leaves, the presence of ants, and distorted or curled leaves.

To control aphid infestations, you can use insecticidal soap or neem oil, which suffocates and repels aphids. Another option is introducing natural predators like ladybugs or lacewings.

Preventing aphids involves monitoring plants daily, planting a diverse range of flowers and herbs to attract natural predators, and taking immediate action when aphids attack.

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2. Whiteflies

Whiteflies are small, winged insects that infest a wide range of plants and can cause significant damage if left untreated. These tiny pests measure about 1-2mm in length and have a powdery white appearance, hence their name.

Whiteflies suck sap from plant leaves, causing wilting and yellowing. If not controlled, infestations can lead to stunted growth and even plant death. They have a fast reproductive cycle, enabling their populations to proliferate and become severe. Whiteflies are also known for their ability to transmit plant viruses, posing a significant threat to agricultural crops.

Whiteflies are hard to identify because they fly around, but they have white wings that look powdery. Taking immediate action and using insecticidal soap or neem oil can effectively eliminate whiteflies.

Regularly monitoring plants and maintaining a healthy garden ecosystem can help prevent infestations.

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3. Mealybugs

Mealybugs are small, soft-bodied insects covered in a powdery, white wax. They have a rounded body shape with a segmented abdomen and short legs.

These pests infest plants and feed on their sap, causing damage to leaves and stems. Mealybugs also produce honeydew, a sticky substance that attracts ants and promotes the growth of sooty mold. You can identify mealybugs by looking for their white, waxy secretions on stems and leaves, which serve as a protective layer.

To get rid of mealybugs, you can use insecticidal soap or neem oil, which suffocates and disrupts the pests’ cell membranes or affects their feeding, growth, and reproduction. Another option is to introduce ladybugs or lacewings into your garden to control the infestation.

Regular monitoring and prompt action are crucial in preventing mealybugs from causing stunted growth and plant death.

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4. Caterpillars

Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths, belonging to the order Lepidoptera. These voracious feeders can cause significant damage to your vegetable garden, leading to defoliation and reduced crop yields.

Identifying caterpillars on plants is relatively easy, as they have a segmented body with three pairs of true legs and several pairs of prolegs. They can often camouflage with the foliage by blending in with green or brown color.

To control caterpillar infestation, you can use various methods. One option is to handpick them and drop them in soapy water. Another option is to use neem oil spray, which can be effective in repelling and killing caterpillars.

Sprinkling diatomaceous earth around your plants can also help deter caterpillars. Applying Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) toxin, a natural bacterium that targets caterpillars, can be an effective control method.

Implementing prevention strategies is crucial in protecting your plants from caterpillar damage. Using row covers can create a physical barrier that prevents caterpillars from reaching your plants.

Regular monitoring of your plants allows you to catch caterpillar infestations early on and take action. Good gardening practices, such as proper watering and fertilizing, can also help keep your plants healthy and more resistant to caterpillar damage.

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5. Slugs

Slugs, belonging to the class Gastropoda, are soft-bodied creatures with a slimy excretion. Measuring between one to two inches, they’ve a distinct body shape with a muscular foot, tentacles, and a slimy mantle.

These nocturnal pests feed on plant material, causing damage to leaves, stems, and fruits. They chew irregularly shaped holes in foliage, leaving behind slimy trails of excretion that can be unappealing.

To identify slugs on plants, look for slimy trails and chewed edges on leaves, especially during the night when they’re most active. To get rid of slugs, handpick them at night using a flashlight or headlamp and place them in a container of soapy water.

Insecticidal soap can be used to suffocate and disrupt the cell membranes of pests, or beneficial nematodes can be applied to kill them naturally. Setting up beer traps or boards can attract and capture slugs as well.

To prevent slugs on plants, use row covers on small plants like leafy greens, monitor plants daily for signs of slugs, and take the necessary action to get rid of them once detected.

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6. Snails

Snails are small mollusks with a shell and a soft body. They have an elongated foot for movement and two sets of tentacles for sensing. These pests feed on vegetables, fruits, and organic matter, causing significant damage to your plants.

Snails chew on leaves, stems, and fruits, leaving behind ragged edges and irregularly shaped holes. They are most active during wet weather and reproduce quickly, posing a persistent threat to plant health.

To identify snails on your plants, look for slime trails and irregular holes in leaves. Handpick snails at night using a flashlight and place them in soapy water to kill them.

You can also use insecticidal soap or beneficial nematodes to control snail populations. Setting up beer traps or using row covers can be effective in preventing snails from damaging your vegetable plants.

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7. Scales

Scales are small, sap-sucking insects that attach themselves to the stems, leaves, and fruits of plants. They appear as tiny bumps or scales and can range in color from brown to white.

Scales cause damage by sucking sap out of the leaves, stems, and fruits, resulting in yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and premature leaf drop. In severe cases, scales can weaken or even kill plants if left untreated.

To identify scales on plants, look for small bumps, discolored spots, or sticky residue on the plant’s surface. To get rid of scales, you can use insecticidal soap, neem oil, or diatomaceous earth.

Regularly monitoring plants and encouraging natural predators can help prevent scale infestations.

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8. Cutworms

Cutworms are nocturnal feeders that can cut down young plants at ground level, causing stunted growth and reduced yields.

To identify cutworms, look for chew marks on stems and leaves, as well as frass left behind. These caterpillars are usually dark and can be found on the plants.

To get rid of cutworms, handpick them at night and drop them in soapy water, or use insecticidal soap or neem oil to spray the plants and soil. Sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the soil creates a physical barrier that deters cutworms, and applying Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) can be toxic to them.

Prevent cutworms by cleaning up debris and weeds, rotating crops, using screens or row covers, and regularly monitoring the garden for signs of activity.

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9. Potato beetles

Colorado Potato Beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) are a common pest that can cause significant damage to potato crops. These beetles have bright yellow-orange bodies with black stripes on their wing covers and can quickly defoliate an entire potato plant if left unchecked.

They lay their eggs on the underside of potato leaves, and the larvae that hatch from these eggs also feed on the foliage, weakening the plant’s ability to produce potatoes.

To identify potato beetles, inspect the leaves for feeding damage or egg clusters. Hand-picking, planting resistant varieties, using natural predators, applying insecticidal soap, and using Neem oil are effective methods to get rid of potato beetles.

To prevent infestations, rotate crops, use row covers, remove weeds, and monitor frequently for signs of damage or egg clusters.

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10. Tomato hornworms

Keep an eye out for tomato hornworms, as they can wreak havoc on your vegetable plants by voraciously feeding on the leaves, fruits, and stems. These large green caterpillars, also known as Manduca quinquemaculata, can measure up to 4 inches and have a distinctive white horn on their tails and eight V-shaped stripes along their bodies.

The striped markings help them blend in with the foliage of the plants they feed upon. Tomato hornworm larvae feed voraciously, leaving behind large, ragged holes in their wake. This damage can weaken or even kill the plant, and they may also spread illnesses or diseases.

It’s important to regularly inspect your plants for signs of tomato hornworms and take steps to control their population, such as handpicking them off, releasing beneficial insects, or using organic pesticides like neem oil.

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11. Flea beetles

If you notice tiny holes in the leaves of your vegetable plants and see the plants being stunted or deformed, you may be dealing with flea beetles. These small, dark-colored insects measure between 1/16 and 1/8 inches long and exhibit a distinctive jumping behavior when disturbed.

While the adults feed on the leaves, stems, and fruits of vegetables like cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and beans, the larvae feed on plant roots below the soil.

This feeding can lead to stunted and deformed growth, eventually killing the plant. In large numbers, flea beetles have the potential to destroy entire vegetable crops. They can spread diseases as they move around.

Identifying flea beetles can be done by their small size, dark coloration, jumping behavior, and tiny holes in foliage. Clumps or patches of frass near damaged foliage and larvae in the soil are also signs of infestation.

To get rid of flea beetles, organic pesticides like neem oil and insecticidal soap can be used. Sprinkling diatomaceous earth around plants can also keep flea beetles away. Prevention methods include crop rotation, using floating row covers, encouraging natural predators, and planting trap crops.

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12. Squash bugs

These small, brownish-gray pests measure about 1/2 inch long and have six legs and a hard shell-like covering.

While they’re most commonly found on squash or pumpkin plants, they can also infest other vegetables such as cucumbers, melons, and zucchini. Squash bugs lay their eggs in clusters on the underside of leaves near stem joints.

They feed on the leaves by piercing them with sharp mouthparts and sucking out sap, which can lead to yellowing or wilting of the leaves. Squash bugs can transmit plant diseases, causing further damage and crop loss. Nymphs become larger and more numerous as they feed, causing extensive damage.

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13. Thrips

Thrips are tiny insects, measuring only 1/20 inch, with slender bodies and long wings. They commonly infest flower petals, leaves, and stems of plants and vegetables.

Thrips feed by inserting their mouthparts into the plant’s surface tissue, sucking out the sap and causing discolored patches on leaves and flowers. They can also create a stippling effect on foliage and a silvery sheen on the upper leaf surface. In addition to damaging the plants, thrips can spread viruses and other plant diseases.

To identify thrips, look for signs of damage and use a magnifying glass to inspect for tiny insects on the surface tissues. Control methods include using insecticidal soap or neem oil, removing heavily infested leaves or stems, spraying water to dislodge thrips, and using diatomaceous earth.

To prevent thrips, keep your garden clean, use row covers, plant resistant varieties, introduce beneficial predators, and prune heavily infested branches.

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14. Spider mites

These eight-legged arachnids, measuring about 1/50 of an inch, feed on plant sap and can spin fine webs on leaves.

Spider mites reproduce rapidly and spread easily, making them difficult to control. Their feeding habits lead to yellowing and wilting of leaves, while their webs can block sunlight, hindering photosynthesis. In severe infestations, spider mites can completely defoliate a plant, leaving it vulnerable to other pests and diseases.

Identifying spider mites can be challenging, but we can recognize their presence by the webbing they leave behind, which may appear as a silvery sheen or tiny white specks.

To get rid of spider mites, consider introducing predatory mites or insects, spraying affected plants with a strong jet of water, or using organic control methods such as neem oil and insecticidal soap.

Taking preventive measures, such as monitoring for signs of infestation and introducing beneficial insects, can help in controlling spider mites.

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15. Japanese beetles

These small, metallic green-colored insects with copper-colored wings are most active during the summer months. They feed on leaves, leaving behind skeletonized foliage and large areas of damage. The larvae, or grubs, feed on the roots of grasses and other vegetation, damaging lawns and fields.

Japanese beetles also consume flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Besides causing physical damage, they transmit several diseases that can weaken and kill plants.

To get rid of Japanese beetles, you can handpick them off plants and drop them into a bucket of soapy water, use organic insecticides like Neem oil or insecticidal soap, or sprinkle diatomaceous earth around plants.

Prevention methods include planting resistant varieties of vegetables, using floating row covers, removing weeds or debris around the garden, placing traps to capture adult beetles, and applying beneficial nematodes or milky spore bacteria to kill grubs before they become adults.

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16. Leafhoppers

Leafhoppers are small, winged insects with a distinctive flattened shape. They feed on the leaves of plants by piercing them and sucking out sap, which results in spots or discoloration. This sap-sucking behavior can cause leaves to become spotted and misshapen, ultimately reducing the quality of your produce.

In severe cases, leafhoppers can defoliate plants completely. They can spread plant viruses, causing further damage and reducing crop yield.

To get rid of leafhoppers, you can prune away heavily infested leaves, use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil spray, apply neem oil to disrupt their hormones, or use diatomaceous earth to cut through their outer shell.

Preventing leafhoppers involves keeping your garden cleared of weeds and debris, installing row covers, encouraging beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, removing plant debris at the end of the season, and rotating crops to disrupt the leafhopper life cycle.

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17. Cabbage worms

Cabbage worms are small green caterpillars with yellow stripes down their backs. They’ve black heads and can grow up to an inch.

These pests feed on the leaves of cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and related plants. The larvae skeletonize leaves as they eat, causing significant damage to crops if not controlled.

Young larvae consume tender leaves, leaving small, irregularly shaped holes and tattered pieces of leaves. As they mature, they feed on larger areas of foliage, resulting in more prominent skeletonized sections of leaves.

Severe infestations can lead to complete defoliation, weakening the plant and making it vulnerable to other pests or diseases. Large numbers of cabbage worms can reduce plant yield and make them unappealing for harvest.

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18. Weevils

These small, dark-colored beetles, measuring up to 1/3 inch long, belong to the family Curculionidae and have a long snout for feeding.

Weevils feed on the leaves and stems of plants, leaving behind small holes. However, the real damage occurs when the larvae burrow into the stems or roots of plants, weakening them. This can lead to reduced photosynthesis rate, stunted growth, and increased susceptibility to diseases.

Weevils can also spread viruses and diseases to plants through feeding, making them even more susceptible to other pests and diseases.

To identify weevils, look for tiny holes in leaves, observe beetles crawling around plants, or notice larvae attached to stems or roots.

To control weevils, physically remove them, use insecticidal soaps or organic pesticides, apply nematodes to the soil, and attract beneficial insects.

To prevent weevils, rotate crops, minimize weeds and debris, use row covers, and remove infected plants promptly.

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19. Sawflies

If you encounter sawflies in your garden, be aware that they can cause significant damage to your vegetable plants. Sawflies belong to the suborder Symphyta and have elongated bodies with two pairs of wings and long antennae.

They go through four stages of development: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The larvae commonly consume leaf edges and chew the leaf blade down to the midrib, while slug sawflies engage in windowpane feeding, chewing leaf tissue on one surface between the veins. Initially, the damaged leaves appear whitish, but they turn brown.

Sawfly larvae can cause significant damage to plants, making them a common pest for gardeners and farmers. It’s important to identify sawflies on plants by their saw-like ovipositor and to take measures to get rid of them, such as handpicking the larvae, using organic insecticides, or applying barriers like diatomaceous earth.

Prevention methods include using row covers, pruning affected plants, planting trap crops, introducing natural predators, and monitoring with yellow sticky traps.

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20. Loopers

Loopers are small, green caterpillars that move in a looping motion. We can identify them by their caterpillar shape and looping movement, as well as the three pairs of legs near their head. Loopers consume the leaves and stems of vegetable plants, particularly young and tender leaves, which can cause wilting or yellowing foliage.

In extreme cases, loopers can strip a plant bare of its leaves and even eat through stalks and fruit bodies. Their feeding habits also increase the risk of disease transmission among plants.

Signs of looper infestation include leaf damage, such as holes or windows in the foliage, as well as dark excrement trails known as frass. To get rid of loopers, hand-picking them off plants and disposing of them away from the garden is effective.

You can eliminate loopers by directly spraying insecticidal soap or applying diatomaceous earth on plants. Biological controls like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or spinosad are also effective in killing loopers.

Preventing loopers on plants involves removing infested plants immediately, using row covers, attracting natural predators, and avoiding synthetic fertilizers or insecticides that can harm natural predators and attract loopers.

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21. Leaf miners

Leaf miners are small larvae that consume plant leaves and tunnel through them, leaving behind winding patterned trails. These trails eventually turn brown and can be seen from the top of the leaf.

The larvae feed on the leaf tissue, causing harm and discoloration. This damage weakens the plant, stunts its growth, and can cause weakened yields.

Besides the physical damage, some varieties of leaf miners also transmit viruses or fungi that further harm vegetable plants.

To control leaf miners, handpick and crush any larvae found in the leaves, prune and remove affected leaves, and apply beneficial nematodes that feed on leaf miner larvae.

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22. Nematodes

Nematodes are microscopic, thread-like worms that can cause significant damage to your plants. They feed on the roots, stem, and leaves, leading to stunted growth, wilting, and discoloration of the foliage.

Their rapid reproduction can quickly escalate a small infestation into an unmanageable problem if left untreated.

Nematodes cause weak or stunted roots, resulting in poor nutrient and water absorption, which leads to wilting and yellowing leaves. Severe root damage can even lead to the death of your plants. Some nematodes can also transmit viruses from one plant to another, further damaging their health.

Look for signs of damage such as wilting or discolored foliage, stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and small galls or swellings on the roots. To confirm nematode infestation, send a sample to a laboratory for testing.

Control methods include introducing predatory nematodes or fungi, using chemical treatments as a last resort, solarization, and neem oil application. Preventive measures include crop rotation, choosing resistant varieties, maintaining healthy soil, avoiding overwatering, and promoting a healthy soil ecosystem.

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In conclusion, understanding and identifying the 22 most common pests that attack vegetable plants is crucial in protecting your precious garden from devastation.

By arming yourself with the knowledge of their biology, behavior, and telltale signs, you can effectively control and prevent infestations.

Remember to check out our individual posts dedicated to each pest for more in-depth information and targeted solutions.