Best Practices for Battling Pests

Gardening can be a gratifying hobby, with rewards in the form of beautiful flowers, lush plants and delicious produce, but it can yield frustrations. For many gardeners, pests are at the top of that list. If you are looking for some ways to deal with insects who are eating plants in your garden, the Kemper Center for Home Gardening offers a few solutions for some of the most common pests.



Japanese Beetles are found in the soil where they feed on the tender roots of vegetables, lawn grasses, and other plants.

If your plants are being eaten by just a few adult beetles, you can try to shake them off your plants early in the morning, when they are sluggish. Put them in a container of soapy water. If necessary, try a safe pesticide, like pyrethrum or Neem, applied three to four days apart.

You can also plant crops that are favored by Japanese beetles, like white geraniums, evening primroses, and zinnias, to draw the adult insects away from your other plants. The beetles can be collected or killed on the so-called “trap crops.”



Bag worms, which make spindle-shaped cocoons on trees and shrubs, are particularly bad this year. The most economical way to control these pests is to handpick the bags and destroy them. Chemical controls aren’t particularly effective on mature bagworms, but you can get ahead of the problem by spraying in the spring as soon as eggs hatch.



Tent caterpillars feed on nearly all trees, except conifers. One method to get rid of these pests is to prune any branches that have active webs, which are always on branch ends. Pole pruners are helpful for this task.

If you need to turn to chemical control, use a microbial insecticide, like Dipel or Thuricide, when webs first appear.


Genista caterpillars, which can devastate plants like blue indigo, are also particularly bad this year. To remove the pests, try forceful water sprays or handpicking caterpillars and dropping them into soapy water. Like with tent caterpillars, chemical control with something like Dipel needs to be done early when caterpillars are small.



Lace bugs can cause white flecks on the upper leaves on azaleas. You can dislodge the bugs with forceful water sprays or try an insecticidal soaps. In the winter, promptly remove any leaves and twigs under plants to limit the chance of a re-infestation. If using insecticides, do so as soon as eggs hatch on leaves in early spring.


Leaf footed bugs (tomato pests) feed on fruits, fruiting vegetables, nuts, and ornamentals. To remove bugs, you can brush them off plants into soapy water or handpick and crush them. Wear gloves if you choose to handpick. Another option is a handheld vacuum, which is designed to reduce the bugs’ numbers.

Using row cover material to cover plants can also prevent leaf footed bugs from feeding on them. Try to eliminate weedy areas, where the bugs like to feed, from your yard. During winter, remove wood piles or other places where the bugs may build a home.
For more information about dealing with pests, you can visit the Kemper Center’s page on Common Garden Pests and Problems. You can also find seasonal gardening tips, a monthly calendar of gardening tasks, and other helpful advice, on the Kemper Center’s Gardening Help page.


Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

Leave a Reply