A Pocket Guide To Identify Pests On Vegetable Plants

It’s a repeating problem.

I see this question asked often on gardening forums.

Gardeners see some pest on their vegetable plants but struggle to know what it is.

And without knowing what the pest it, you cannot get rid of them.

That’s why I made this pocket guide which will help you find out exactly what is the pest attacking your vegetable plants.

This guide will help you move in the right direction to identifying and fixing the pest problem. It’s concise and simple to follow. So it won’t contain detailed instructions, but it will guide you to other resources that hold the answers.

I will update this page based on feedback from readers. So please feel free to contribute via email or Facebook. It’s highly appreciated!

1. Check for signs and symptoms of the pests

Pests on the vegetable plants will show signs and symptoms that help us identify it. For example, aphids infested my pepper plants last growing season.

The signs I found were lots of ants on the plant collecting sticky honeydew. One symptom was the leaves turning yellow as the aphids were sucking the sap from them.

Later, it was being attacked by mealybugs and the signs were white powdery stuff on the leaves and branches. I had to look closely to see mealybugs running around on the plant.

There can be tons of different pests attacking plants, but most often they are some common vegetable plant pests. I’ve created a list below that should help you recognize the pest based on their signs and symptoms.

PestSigns and SymptomsTreatment
AphidsCurling leaves, distorted growth, sticky residueSpray with insecticidal soap or neem oil
WhitefliesYellowing leaves, tiny white insects in clustersUse yellow sticky traps or apply insecticidal soap
CaterpillarsHoles in leaves, chewed foliageHandpick or use biological insecticides
Spider MitesYellow stippling on leaves, fine webbingSpray with water or miticidal soap
ThripsSilver speckling on leaves, distorted flowersApply insecticidal soap or neem oil
Flea BeetlesSmall holes in leaves, jumping insectsUse row covers or apply insecticidal dust
Squash BugsWilting leaves, brown spots, presence of bugsHandpick or apply insecticidal soap
Cucumber BeetlesBiting damage to leaves, feeding on flowersUse row covers or apply insecticides
SlugsIrregular holes in leaves, slime trailsHandpick or use slug baits
SnailsIrregular holes in leaves, slime trailsHandpick or use snail baits
LeafhoppersYellowing leaves, hop-like movementApply insecticidal soap or neem oil
Tomato FruitwormsHoles in fruit, frass (excrement) near damaged areasHandpick or use biological insecticides
Colorado Potato BeetlesStripped foliage, orange eggs on undersides of leavesHandpick adults and larvae or apply insecticides
Onion MaggotsWilting plants, maggots in bulbs or stemsApply insecticidal nematodes or remove infested plants
Scale InsectsSticky leaves, tiny immobile insects on stemsApply horticultural oil or insecticidal soap
MealybugsWhite, cottony masses on leaves and stemsApply insecticidal soap or neem oil
NematodesStunted growth, root galls, discolorationCrop rotation, solarization, or nematicides
Stink BugsPungent odor, sucking damage to fruits and seedsHandpick or use insecticides
Leaf MinersSerpentine tunnels on leaves, leaf discolorationRemove affected leaves or apply insecticides
Japanese BeetlesSkeletonized leaves, metallic green beetlesHandpick or use insecticides

2. Take a picture of the pest to share

Now you may have already identified the pest in the 1st step or not. Regardless, it’s good to take clear pictures and get opinions from other gardeners.

Sometimes we may think it’s a particular pest to find out later that we were mistaken and the problem still exists.. So it’s good to get help from other people who may already have faced the problem, know exactly what it is, and how to go about fixing it.

When taking pictures, capture different angles of the pest and its symptoms. This will help with identification and allow for a more accurate diagnosis. Taking multiple pictures will ensure that you have a backup in case one picture is blurry or unclear.

To make sure that your pictures are clear and bright, try taking pictures during the day when there is natural sunlight. This will allow for better lighting and make it easier to see the details of the pest and its symptoms. Avoid taking pictures during the night or in low light conditions, as this can cause blurry or grainy images that are difficult to interpret.

3. Use forums or apps to identify the pest

Now that you’ve taken clear pictures, it’s time to share this on gardening forums or use gardening apps. The gardening forums have other gardeners and experts who can help identify the pest and how to get rid of it. The gardening apps may either use image recognition or send the image to an expert to identify the pest.

You can use the free forums and apps to discover the problem, though you can pay for options if you really need them..

I like to post pictures on gardening forums because they contain people having a ton of experience with similar problems. So the guidance becomes quite good on identifying and fixing the pest problem.

When posting pictures on forums or using apps to identify pests, it’s important to provide as much information as possible. This can include the type of vegetable plant the pest is attacking, the location of the plant, and any other relevant details.

The more information you can provide, the easier it will be for others to help you identify the pest and come up with a plan of action to deal with it.

Gardening Forums

Gardening Apps

4. Make sure it’s not a beneficial insect

It’s important you identify the pest before you take some action such as spraying pesticide. This is because maybe the insect that you thought is a pest is actually beneficial to your vegetable plants.

It’s a fact that most insects that visit the garden are beneficial or neutral, which means they don’t harm the plants. So there’s a good chance you may not need to do anything, and it’s a false alarm.

Beneficial insects have a role to play in your garden as they feed on pests, pollinate flowers, and help with soil health. So I would want more of these in my garden and so should you.

You want insects like ladybugs and lacewings in your garden because they get rid of pests such as aphids, mites, and other soft-bodied insects.

Here’s a list of common beneficial insects that may visit your vegetable garden and get rid of pests.

LadybugsControl aphids, mealybugs, mites, and other soft-bodied insects
Green LacewingsPrey on aphids, thrips, whiteflies, and other small insect pests
Praying MantisFeed on a wide range of insects, including caterpillars, aphids, beetles, and grasshoppers
HoverfliesPollinate flowers and feed on aphids, thrips, and other small pests
Ground BeetlesPrey on slugs, snails, cutworms, and other ground-dwelling pests
Parasitic WaspsParasitize and control pests such as caterpillars, aphids, scales, and whiteflies
Tachinid FliesParasitize and control caterpillars, beetles, and other pests
Minute Pirate BugsFeed on aphids, thrips, mites, and small insect eggs
Braconid WaspsParasitize and control caterpillars, aphids, beetles, and other pests
Predatory NematodesControl soil-dwelling pests like grubs, cutworms, and root-feeding larvae
Trichogramma WaspsParasitize and control hornworm eggs, reducing their population and damage

5. Find information on how to get rid of the pest

Now that you identified exactly what kind of pest is attacking your vegetable plants, it’s time to get rid of them.

You can easily find solutions to get rid of the pest by searching online or asking for help from experts and gardening communities. Once you’ve identified the pest, it’s important to act quickly to prevent further damage to your vegetable plants.

Here is a list of gardening forums and websites that will help you find solutions.

I prefer to use organic methods to get rid of pests. This includes hand plucking, using natural predators such as ladybugs and lacewings. Or organic sprays made from ingredients such as neem oil, garlic, and hot pepper to repel pests.

If the infestation is severe, you may need to resort to chemical pesticides. However, it’s important to use these with caution and only as a last resort. Always read the labels carefully and follow the instructions to ensure that you’re using the product safely. It’s also important to avoid spraying pesticides on windy days or near water sources to prevent contamination.

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