Identifying Garden Pests

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated February 18, 2022)

Have you ever walked through your vegetable garden or flowerbed and wondered if the bug that's crawling up the stalk or munching on the leaves is harmful or friendly? Or what about those cute bunnies you see hopping through your garden? You consider them cute, until you realize that those destructive rabbits have eaten through your new lettuce bed. And the birds cheerfully chirping away in your hedge brighten your day until you realize that they have picked clean your cherry tree.

Garden pests come in many varieties, yet not all insects and animals are harmful for gardens. If you are a novice gardener, you need to learn to identify garden pests from helpful insects and ways to take action before they destroy your garden. Here are some common harmful insects found in gardens:

  • Caterpillars. This category includes the grasshopper, corn earworm, cabbageworm, and the ever-destructive tomato hornworm. Caterpillars feed voraciously on leaves and stalks, and they can literally level an entire garden in a few days. If you see evidence of leaves eaten away, then you may have caterpillars. They are easy to spot since most varieties are large.
  • Small insects. This category includes the spider mite, leafminer, thrip, aphid, and mealybug, and they feed by sucking at plant juices, rather than eating the foliage. In their wake, they often leave fungus that can rot away plants. They are difficult to spot, since they often feed on the underside of plant leaves, close to the stem and stalk.
  • Beetles. This category includes the Japanese beetle, Colorado potato beetle, sweet potato weevil, and corn rootworm, to name a few. These destructive pests not only eat away at plant foliage, they consume the roots of plants when they are still in the pupae stage. Beetles are one of the most destructive garden pests since their hard shell allows them to bore into plants.
  • Below ground pests. This category includes the earwig, cutworm, snails, slugs, and fire ants. Feeding primarily at night, these garden pests feed at the root system of a plant and where the plant meets the ground. These types of garden pests can destroy tomato, pepper, and bean plants by literally eating through the plant stalk just at ground level.
  • Animals. Small animals can certainly destroy a garden. This list includes mice, gophers, rabbits, moles, chipmunks, skunks, rats, opossums, and even cats and dogs.

If you need help identifying the insects and animals that frequent your garden, there are many online sites devoted to garden pests that contain pictures, detailed descriptions, and ways to combat or kill them. You may want to visit your local cooperative extension office or library for further research about how to identify garden pests. Another good source is your local nursery.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...


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