An image of a praying mantis on a leaf against a light green background.

Praying mantis are beneficial to the garden. As carnivores, they feed on grasshoppers, moths, beetles and flies. They may also consume other beneficial creatures.

Those vine-ripe tomatoes you’ve been nurturing since mid April are just as tempting to you as they are to insects. Your squash may have become a target for squash bores that can ruin a whole summer’s crop overnight. All of a sudden your beans have holes in the leaves and beans.

For many gardeners, the first reaction is to purchase one of the more well-known insecticides, such as Sevin, or anything you can find at the nearest box retailer that has insect spray on the label. If so, you’d be doing your vegetables a disservice.

You’d be wiping out the beneficial insects that pollinate and also feed on other insects. In fact, only about 5 percent of garden pests are harmful; the other 95 percent are beneficial.

The good guys: Beneficial insects to “court” because they feed on harmful insects include red wings with dark spotted wings; lacewings, small light green insects with translucent wings; praying mantis stick-like insects; and honeybees, hard-working pollinators.

Scout first

Georgia Garden Guru Walter Reeves has always said the best (insecticide/disease control) is a gardener’s shadow. He’s saying that the more you visit your garden, the better you’ll be able to manage pests and diseases before they get out of hand.

One of his most popular presentations to gardening groups was Reeves’ “How to Be Sherlock Holmes in Your Garden.” He covered tips for scouting insects, differentiating between beneficial and harmful insects, as well as recommendations (organically or otherwise) to control harmful insects without affecting beneficial ones.

Visit your garden at least once a day and set aside plenty of time to search for signs of insects. It’s easier to work backward, noting the type of damage, then matching it with the insect causing it.

What to look for:

  • Smooth rounded holes in the center of the leaves typically indicate slugs and snails
  • Leaf curl, wilting/yellowing leaves of stunted growth can most likely indicate aphids, as will ants on your plants
  • Seedlings laying on the ground because the stems have been cut through are cutworms, the larval stage of night-flying moths
  • Hornworms’ favorite plant is tomatoes, and its caterpillars leave black droppings, large holes and irregular definition; look on the underside of leaves to discover the large pale green larvae of the hawk or sphinx moth
  • Leaf miners’ larvae leave light-colored s-shaped marks on the surface of leaves where leaf miners larvae have “mined” the leaf surfaces; look on the undersides of the leaves for tiny eggs
  • Chewed leaves with irregular patterns between the veins is a sure sign of the unusual June/July infestation of Japanese beetles.

Organic or not?

The internet is an excellent way to find solutions to harmful pests in the garden. You can choose to go completely organic using remedies such as Neem oil for funguses and diseases; insecticidal soap; or diatomaceous earth are a few.

When you choose organic methods, you’re helping protect 95 percent of beneficial insects, plus reducing the negative impacts of synthetic pesticides on the environment.

If you choose to use a non-organic synthetic chemical pesticide, please fully read the labeling information to determine what types of insects it treats, what crops to safely use it on, how long you need to wait if used on a food crop and manufacturer’s cautions.

Always follow the label’s specific mixing information and application methods. When using a concentrate, mixing at a water-to-concentrate ratio that’s different – higher or lower – than the label’s recommendations is not better.

How to treat Japanese Beetles

You know the signs: what seems like hundreds of the iridescent black Japanese beetles defoliate everything in your garden in record time. They typically arrive in June and stay into July.

Despite a plethora online and advertising claims, there are few remedies.

Japanese beetle traps are not effective, unless you gift several to your neighbors. Designed to attract the beetles through pheromones, why would you lure something into your landscape that’s most likely already scoped it out?

Chemical treatments, such as Sevin dust are hit or miss and generally messy to apply

Physically remove the beetles by hand and drop them into a bucket filled with water and a bit of liquid dish detergent will drown them. Then throw them in the garbage.

Prevention: Japanese beetles are the adult stage of white grubs. Apply a grub control product using a fertilizer spreader in April when they are starting to emerge from the soil. Reapply in the late summer, early fall after they have laid their eggs in the soil.

Photo: courtesy Pixabay