Gardening basics: How to protect your crops from pests and diseases
04/07/2022 / By Rose Lidell / Comments
Gardening basics: How to protect your crops from pests and diseases

Having a thriving home garden is key to your journey as a self-sufficient homesteader. But even plants need extra care since some pests and diseases can destroy all your hard work. (h/t to

Read on to learn about common garden pests and plant diseases and how to eliminate them. To keep your garden free of harmful chemicals, try to use organic methods.

Common garden pests

If your garden is frequented by large pests like birds or rabbits, protect your crops with sturdy fencing. To protect seedlings, use mulch to keep anything from getting to their stems and roots.


Aphids and mites

Green aphids will attack plants while they are young until they wilt. Aphids also spread viruses.

Meanwhile, mites feed on the leaves of the plant. To treat aphids and mites, dip plants in cold water to wash off the pests and kill them.


Armyworms will eat holes in leaves or eat the whole leaf of plants. The young larvae are green and brown and can grow from one to two inches in size.

To eliminate armyworms, remove them by hand or have a natural enemy that will get rid of them for you, like ladybugs or wasps.

You can attract ladybugs to your garden by growing these flowers and plants:

  • Calendula
  • Caraway
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Cosmos
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Marigold
  • Yarrow

You can prevent pests by always cleaning all of the debris in your garden at the end of a growing season. Alternatively, you can try an organic insecticide like neem oil.

To eliminate armyworms, till the soil at a depth of six to eight inches to kill off any dormant pests.

Carrot root fly

The female carrot root fly lays eggs in the soil and the eggs hatch into creamy-white legless worms that will eat the roots of the plant and stunt growth.

To get rid of carrot root flies, mix one part hydrogen peroxide with 10 parts water and spray plants twice a week.


Caterpillars will eat and damage plants, but it’s best not to kill them. Share some flowering plants with caterpillars if you want butterflies to help pollinate your garden.


Cutworms are green-brown caterpillars that live in the soil and feed on seedlings and young shoots under the soil.

Cutworms will often cut the stem in half. Since the cutworm is a non-crawling worm, you can protect your plants by building a barricade that it can’t get over, like a rolled-up newspaper.

Flea beetles

Flea beetles will feed on young plants. If left unchecked, flea beetles will eat the leaves of seedlings and stunt their growth.

Snails and slugs

Slugs and snails are small, soft-bodied pests that feed on crops in your garden. While snails have shells, slugs don’t.

To get rid of snails and slugs, sprinkle crushed or pulverized eggshells or diatomaceous earth around your plants. This will prevent snails and slugs from crawling over plants. You can also just pick them up and dispose of them.


Thrips are female insects that do not need a male to lay eggs. Nymphs are yellow and adult thrips become darker in color as an adult.

Thrips cut into the skin of the plant and suck the juices out. In time, your plants will become splotchy, pale and silvery before they die.

Tomato hornworm

The tomato hornworm is a green caterpillar with white and black marks over its body and a horn at its rear. Check your plants regularly because the pest is well-camouflaged among your plants. Hornworms can grow up to five inches long.

The hornworm prefers to feed on plants in the nightshade family like eggplants, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. If left unchecked, tomato hornworms can inflict a lot of damage in one night.

You might have hornworms in your garden if you see small, dark droppings around your plants.


Wireworms are the larvae of click beetles. They can grow up to one and a half inches long. Wireworms are yellow to dark brown with a segmented hard shell and three pairs of legs in the segment behind their head.

Wireworms will feed on most fruits and vegetables, but they prefer to eat underground roots, seeds, stems and tubers, which will eventually kill off your plants.

It can be difficult to get rid of wireworms because they’re underground feeders, but you can trap them with potatoes. To use potatoes as bait, spear sticks into the potato and bury it about three inches in the ground with a stick still poking through the soil.

Bury the traps about three to ten feet apart. The wireworms will eat the inside of the potato trap. After one week or so, dig up all your marked potato traps and discard them.

Do not compost the potato traps because this might result in a wireworm reinfestation.

Common plant diseases

Garden plants may suffer from bacterial, fungal or viral diseases.


Bacteria thrive in oxygen-depleted plant tissue. To prevent a bacterial outbreak in your garden, always leave enough space between your plants so your crops can “breathe.”

Alternatively, you can prevent a bacterial infestation by planting pathogen-free seeds and rotating your crops yearly.

Bacterial leaf spot

Bacterial leaf spot leaves small water-soaked spots between the leaf veins that turn dark brown to black. Overhead irrigation splashing your crops can cause bacterial leaf spot.

Bacterial soft rot

Bacterial soft rot is a disease that causes crop loss worldwide. It can affect any type of plant species and is usually identified by water-soaked spots that are soft, sunken in and brown.

Bacterial wilt

Bacterial wilt often starts in younger plants.

Signs may include wilting and withering plant leaves and stems. When cutting a stem, you may notice a dark green ooze and see some water streaks in your crops.

Basal rot

Basal rot is also called bulb rot. It can infect all flower and crop bulbs. Infected plants will have shoots that fail to emerge from the soil or are stunted in growth.

Plants with basal rot will turn yellow to red-purplish.

Botrytis blight

Botrytis light blight is a fungus also known as gray mold. Infected plants will turn yellow then brown until they wilt and die. Blight may spread in areas that are cool and moist.

To prevent blight, keep your garden and tools clean. Pick up and throw away infected debris that falls to the ground under your crops like buds, flowers, leaves, fruits and twigs. Prune off and destroy infected parts of the plant.

Always disinfect pruners with a ten percent solution of household bleach between cuts to avoid spreading blight. Destroy infected plant material by burning. Alternatively, you can bury the debris under at least a foot (31 cm) of soil if burning isn’t allowed.

Damping off

Damping off is caused by soft rotting seeds that don’t germinate or die off as they emerge through the soil. Plant seeds in well-drained soil and don’t overwater them to prevent seedling damping off.


A fungal infection is the most common garden disease. Treat an infection with an organic fungicide. A fungal infection can spread to your plants from spores in the soil.

White rot

White rot leaves tiny black dots on the leaves of plants. When you pull the plant, you will notice that there is white mold instead of roots. Note that white rot can live in the soil for up to 15 years.

If your plants are infected by a fungal disease, use an organic fungicide. Avoid cross-contamination by not heading to your new planting area after walking in the old area.

The best way to protect your garden plants from diseases is to use disease-free organic seeds. You can also rotate crops and plant your garden in soil with proper drainage.

Sources: 1 2

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