Identifying good Vs. Bad Garden Bugs: A Practical Guide


With gardening involving soil, it’s only natural that there would be bugs, but not all bugs are made the same with some being better than others.

How do you identify the bad bugs? You can usually tell if a bug is good or bad for your plants if it is eating them. The most obvious culprits are caterpillars and other larvae that leave holes in leaves and the like. However, there are other pests that do less obvious damages like burrowing into the stems or roots. The best bugs are the ones that eat the bad bugs.

Not all bugs you find in your garden are bad and if you treat them all the same, you might even kill the good bugs that you definitely want to keep around.

Hot to Identify Garden Bugs

There are literally millions of species of insects in the world and of them, a vast majority that makes up about 97% won’t do harm to your plants. As a matter of fact, many of them are quite beneficial because they prey on the other 3% of critters that do pose a threat. With this being the case, you definitely don’t want to go around spraying left and right with abandon.

On that note, what exactly constitutes bad bugs? Just because they partake in the stuff that your plants are producing, does this automatically mean that they are harmful? The answer is no. Harmful bugs are those that do damage in some very clear ways such as:

·         Eating leaves

·         Eating branches

·         Eating fruits

·         Burrowing into stems

·         Burrowing into roots

·         Bringing infections and fungi

These are all the signs that you need to look out for in order to know that there are some bad bugs hanging around your garden and you need to take action. However, how exactly are you supposed to go about doing something like that? You can start by taking a look at the methods of the table below:

MethodsDetails
InvestigateConduct an investigation to see which insects can be found in your garden, particularly in plants where you are seeing some damages regardless of how minor
ObserveObserve the insects that you have managed to identify to see what they are doing and which of them is a likely culprit in the destruction of your garden
RecordRecord your observations and your findings, taking careful note about the kinds of damages that are being done and by which insect you suspect is doing the damage
DocumentCollect videos or photos of the insects that can be found in your garden, including their habitats and if possible, their routines
ResearchResearch the insects that you have found in your garden to see which of them is harmful and which is not, and only consult if you can’t comfortably do so
ConsultWhen in doubt, you might want to consult professionals in your local agricultural agency or even your local gardening store if they have specialists
PreparePrepare your garden for the eventual destruction of the harmful insects that need to be done by moving what can be moved, covering vulnerable sprouts, and so on
DestroyUse the necessary solutions to address the problem of the insects, which might include spraying them with insecticide, smoking them out, or more drastic measures like burning them out

So, there you have it, those are the things that you can do in order to find identify the gardens bugs that are harmful to your plants and those that are not. Granted, it would be a lot easier to just get a pesticide to get rid of the whole lot, but you would be doing more harm than good. The more numerous the beneficial bugs become, the healthier your garden becomes, but more on that later.

For now, we can look into the methods listed there to get a better idea of what exactly you will need to do in order to make the most of your time when trying to deal with annoying bugs.

Investigate – The first thing that you will need to do if you even suspect that there is a bug infestation ruining your beautiful flowers, bonsai, or whatever else is to conduct an investigation. This involves gathering all kinds of data on a preliminary basis where you basically look for such things as the number of bug species that you managed to identify.

You will also need to look for any signs of damages, both obvious and those that will need a closer look in order to identify. Examples of obvious damages include leaves that look like they were eaten. Less obvious damages are the rot that has begun to set in the roots or in the trunks. In the case of the latter, you will definitely need to do some digging, which you will need to do anyway.

Digging is pretty much one of the best ways in which you will be able to find the bugs that are responsible for wreaking havoc in your garden. Being able to find any potential rot in the plants is just a good bonus on your part.

Whatever the case may be, the goal here is to simply know what you are up against and to avoid jumping to the wrong conclusions that could end up harming your garden. You need to remember that the presence of bugs can be a good indication of how rich and vibrant your garden is and their absence can be the sign of the opposite.

You need just need to be able to tell them apart so that you can take the appropriate actions while making sure that you keep the harm to a minimum. That’s just what it means to be a good gardener.

Observe – Once you have conducted your preliminary investigation and tagged the different types of insects you have in your garden, it’s time to observe for at least a few days. The goal here is to figure out what they are doing, what their patterns are, and if they are actively doing something to harm your plants. Depending on what you are dealing with, this might not even be necessary.

There are certainly a lot of bugs that you may not know anything about, which will then make identifying them a little difficult. However, pretty much everyone can recognize a caterpillar when they see one and you already know what those things can do to your plants. They eat the leaves and the more of them there are, the more leaves they will consume.

If there are too many caterpillars, you end up with a plant that is unable to do photosynthesis, which ends up costing you in the nutrients department. Fewer nutrients mean slower growth, less healthy plants, and a horrible rate of fruit production if you have any of those. With this being the case, you can probably see why you might want to get rid of caterpillars.

However, those are just the start. What about when you encounter millipedes and centipedes? You might think that they are both the same and would want to get rid of both, but this is simply not the case. By observing exactly what they do in your garden, you will quickly see which one of them is the more dangerous sort.

Record – While you are observing the bugs that are in your garden and their activities, you might want to record your findings. You can’t just rely on your memory for such things because your mind is incredibly unreliable when it comes to gathering data. You need to either write down what you have managed to observe or to use your phone since it likely contains a recording app.

This is actually very important when you are doing gardening simply because you will need to keep tabs on your plants anyway. As such, while you are taking notes on what has been going on with the insects that you are suspecting are doing damage to your plants, you might also want to spend some time observing your plants.

You can take a look at their rate of growth if they are too thin, too wilted, too weak in color, or whatever else. Those will aid you in investigating the bugs that are currently running rampant all over your garden, as well, since you can now base your findings on some actual data. If there is something going on under the surface, you might find some clues on the plants’ conditions.

In any case, you can also make use of the records that you have gathered for when you are doing your own research since you will now have something to refer to. Even after that, you can just give your records to specialists in case you need a second opinion.

Document – Just as important as keeping records is documenting the bugs that you are observing. You will want to take a picture with a high level of definition so that the markings and unique features are easy to see. You might also want to avoid using any filters since this could distort the colors of the bugs, which is actually quite important.

Do try to take the photos where there is good lighting since taking the picture in the dark will pretty much make it useless. You will also want to vary your shots of the phots to include both close and wide shots. You will want to take a photo of the bugs in motion and while they are still. This means that if you want the best results, having an excellent DSLR camera would be advised.

It’s not just the bugs that you will want to take photos of, either, since you will also want to focus on the damage they have done and their nest if you can find it. This will give you even more information to work with as you try to get rid of them.

Apart from photos, you might also want to throw in a video or two of the bugs just in case they are too fast for your camera to follow. You can still make use of the data after that.

Research – Once you have recorded your observations, gathered plenty of data, and then take as many documentations as you could want, it is now time to do some research. Now, it is worth pointing out here that you don’t actually have to do this on your own. There is simply too much about insects and nature that the internet can’t really explain due to a lack of information.

In many cases, scientists who specialize in observing animals and insects base their findings on experience and personal observation. Not all of that is going to be uploaded to the web. However, if the bug is common enough, you might just make do with what you find on the internet.

You can focus on details about their characteristic features, their identifiable markings, and the like. Inevitably, however, you might have to rely on the expertise of actual professionals before you go any further. This goes doubly true for when you need to make use of insecticides in a public space.

Consult – While the internet is a wonderful place where pretty much the vast majority of human knowledge is stored, it is not perfect. There is still a ton of information that cannot be found on the web and if you just put in the right search terms, you will see that there are so many topics that are not discussed.

Even if you believe that details about a particular topic should already exist, this is not always the case. This is where experts can come in quite handy. Simply put, you can approach scientists and professionals who deal with pests for the right information on how you can deal with garden insects. Before that, though, you can confirm your findings with your observation and documentation.

This is actually where your photos will come in handy. By simply handing it to the entomology expert, you can quickly get the answers that you might be looking for as to what kind of bugs you are dealing with. From there, you can ask how you can get rid of them if that is your goal while making sure that the bugs you want to keep will not be harmed.

Prepare – With all of the information at your disposal, you are now ready to start with the extermination, if it that is what is necessary. There are also times when you just need to repel the bugs and get them away from the places where you have plants, which can be the better option. After all, it would be such a waste to kill caterpillars if you don’t actually need to do it.

Whatever the case may be, you will need to do some preparations and part of it is about knowing which methods work for which bugs. Remember that what may kill some of the more invasive species can also hurt the ones you want sticking around to help you out. You don’t want those specific bugs to die, which is why you need to be extra careful.

Among the preparations you might even need to do is get the insects that you want to preserve and place them in containers. You might need to cover some plants, move some pots, and dig up the soil. Depending on the case, you might even have to pull out some of your plants from the roots and that can take a lot of time and effort.

Destroy – Finally, it’s time to enact whatever plans you have thought of to get rid of all of the bugs that have gathered in your garden. It is worth pointing out that there are times when the changing of the seasons is the reason why there is a large infestation in your area. As such, choosing the route of destroying the bugs is not your only option.

You can also decide to just wait for the bugs to go away if this is the issue since time will inevitably impact just how much these bugs can trouble you. The caterpillars will turn into whatever next version of metamorphosis they take and the invasive species of insects bothering might just die out when it gets cold enough.

Of course, this would entail sacrificing the garden that you have worked so hard to cultivate, so it can be a difficult choice if you are the type of person to care about all life. Then again, if you are more concerned about your flowers more than anything, you can feel free to go nuts with the bug spray. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.

Good Bugs Vs. Bad Bugs

With all of this talk about extermination and such, you might now be thinking how some bugs can be beneficial and how some are just downright destructive. What exactly is the difference between them? Before getting to the polar opposites, though, we can talk about bugs that don’t really do anything either way.

These are bugs that are more interested in making their homes in the ground. They burrow underground, partake in rotting things, or live in areas with puddles. You don’t have to worry too much about these bugs since they won’t really change anything whether they are in your garden or not. As such, you won’t have to be concerned when blasting them with bug spray.

Moving on to the beneficial bugs, these are the insects that do multiple things for your garden, but we will only focus on the three main benefits. One is how they eat the harmful bugs that are infesting your garden. This is great because such bugs basically act as population control so that the undesirable insects don’t become too numerous.

The second benefit has to do with fungi and the like since there some bugs that feed on those. Now, there aren’t not a lot of them and you will often have to go to areas with more extreme climates to come across such insects. However, they are great because they can prevent the onset of diseases that can infect your plants.

Finally, we have the matter of the beneficial bugs being a good source of nourishment for your garden. Whether it is through their soil, their decomposing bodies, or the thriving ecosystem of microorganisms that their presence alone encourages, you have definitely hit the jackpot with these bugs. So, if you find them in your garden, you may count your lucky stars.

As for harmful bugs, the damage they can do can come in a few ways. One is the direct impact they can have by eating the leaves, burrowing into the plant itself, either through the body or the roots, or bringing diseases with them. The other is how they can stop the propagation of plants by trapping and eating such beneficial insects as butterflies and bees.

Now, the first part is easy enough to contend with since you only really need to kill them and be done with it. You just need to make sure that the methods you choose won’t harm the more beneficial bugs, as well. The second issue, however, is more complicated since those bugs can also target the more harmful ones.

At the end of the day, you just need to figure out which is which so that you can make a decision as to which you will be supporting. You won’t have to do much in order for the job done here. You just need to decide if the benefits outweigh the cost of getting rid of those kinds of bugs and it often really comes down to how much work it will take to deal with them.

What Are the Best Garden Bugs?

There are actually a ton of bugs that will only help your garden flourish, but if we are talking about the ones that will actually be of use to you, we can narrow the list down quite a bit. Just to make this simple, let’s focus on the top 5, which would be the following:

·         Fungus gnat predator

·         Green lacewing

·         Ladybug/beetle

·         Moth egg parasite

·         Pirate bug

Those are the best bugs you could hope for because they pretty much cover the whole spectrum of issues that could impact your garden. They target harmful insects by eating them or laying eggs in them, which can be quite the issue. The fungus gnat predator, in particular, is quite useful for dealing with fungi that can harm your plants.

What’s more, after they are done taking out the bugs you want to get rid of, their waste and the microorganisms that they bring will basically allow the soil to thrive. What more could you really ask for from these bugs, which are already acting as natural defense barriers against the undesirable insects? It just works in your favor to make sure that they stick around.

Related Questions

Are Millipedes Bad for Your Garden?

Depending on the circumstances, millipedes can either be a friend or a foe where growing plants is concerned. If you are growing a garden where you are basically the one controlling the rate of growth for plants, having them around is fine. However, they can damage sprouting seedlings.

What is the Best Natural Pesticide?

There are actually a ton of natural and organic options when talking about pesticides, from plants that you can add to your garden like neem leaf to sprays that you can make at home. You can use the simple solution of salt spray, which is exactly what it sounds. There are also onion and garlic sprays.

How to Get Rid of Bad Bugs

We already talked about how you might want to talk to some experts as to what you can do in order to get rid of bad garden bugs. However, if you are still looking for some good ideas on the matter, there are a few general things you can do. First among them is using pesticides, which should not be done without due consideration.

As already mentioned, you also need to think about the bugs that you don’t want to harm. From there, we have the matter of washing leaves of bugs like aphids and then plucking away the parts that are already infested. There are also times when you have to attach strings or accessories to plants to protect against caterpillar or cutworms.

In some cases, you can get the job done by just using a spray made of soapy water or dissolved salt or the water from boiled onions and garlic. The effectiveness of those solutions will vary wildly, but you should get a pretty decent effect on most bugs.

How to Fix Bug Damage?

Now that we covered the matter of getting rid of bad bugs, we can talk about how you might be able to salvage your garden if there is already an infestation. The answer would depend on the level of damage already done.

If there are still left intact and the damage to the body and roots are not too bad, you can probably just double down on your efforts to care for them and they will recover. However, if the roots have begun to rot or the leaves have all been eaten, you might have no choice but to replace the lot.

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