Managing home vegetable garden pests


It is a good time to think about pest control for your home vegetable garden.

You can control pest problems, and perhaps prevent future difficulties, in your garden by doing some advance planning and following a few simple Integrated Pest Management practices. IPM promotes minimal pesticide use and emphasizes the use of all available pest control methods including cultural, mechanical and biological practices to prevent pest problems.

Examples of the IPM approach include using plants with natural disease tolerance or resistance, using mulch to control weeds or row covers to prevent insect damage and using naturally occurring organisms such as lady beetles or praying mantises.

Sanitation is another good IPM practice. Keep your garden well-groomed during active growth. Once you spot diseased plant material, remove it immediately to keep diseases from spreading. Also, promptly remove vegetable plants when they cease to be productive. Although you should clear out unproductive vegetable plants from the garden area, you can add this plant material to a compost pile.

Before you buy seeds, plants or fertilizer, start your garden off right by doing a soil test to determine if soil fertility and acidity/alkalinity will meet plants’ nutrient requirements. Your Martin County Extension staff can tell you more about the process, if you’ve never done it before.

Soil test results will let you know how much fertilizer your plants need to have adequate nutrients, while preventing excessive use that contributes to groundwater, stream and lake pollution. Plants that are stressed or weak from insufficient nutrients or a pH that’s too low or too high are more susceptible to disease and can’t readily tolerate insect damage. To give your plants a healthy start, soil test and apply the fertilizer and other amendments according to the recommendations.

Do you plant your garden crops in the same spot year after year? If so, think about rotating things this year. Crop rotation can help prevent insect and disease build-ups. For example, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and peppers are subject to the same insect and disease problems. So, you shouldn’t plant these crops in the same location more than every three consecutive years. After three years, switch to a different crop like beans or corn. If you have limited garden space, plant some vegetable plants in containers such as large pots or half whisky barrels as a form of crop rotation.

To help you remember, you can make a diagram of your garden each year to avoid planting the same, or closely related crops, too frequently in the same spot.

Whether you are planting corn or tomatoes, check to see that the variety you are planting has some disease resistance or tolerance. For example, select tomato varieties labeled “VFN,” as they’re resistant to Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium and root-knot nematodes. Whereas, a tomato variety leveled “V” is only resistant to Verticillium Wilt.

Don’t buy the cheapest transplants. When it comes to transplants, the best buys are the healthy ones. A healthy transplant was seeded at the right time, grown at the proper temperature and received adequate light and moisture. It will have a compact growth structure with very small distances between leaves. The leaves will be dark green, large and upright with no tendency to droop. Stems will be pencil thick and rigid.

Avoid transplants that are beginning to produce flowers or fruit. It might seem that buying a plant with blooms or fruit will give you a head start in the garden. However, plants trying to produce fruit or flowers are slow to develop the good root systems needed to support later fruit production. Never buy plants that have insects present or are showing disease symptoms.

Plan on using mulch to prevent weeds that will decrease your garden’s production by competing with the vegetable plants for water, nutrients and sunlight. In addition, some weeds harbor diseases and insects that attack vegetable plants. Mulch also helps conserve soil moisture.

Several types of commercial mulch are available, or you can use newspapers for the mulch. Start with five to eight layers, adding more layers as the newspapers decompose to prevent weed growth throughout the growing season. Most newspapers use soy-ink, but you still need avoid using the glossy inserts. If you have other gardening questions contact the Martin County  Cooperative Extension Service. 

For more in-depth information, request our publication, “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky” (ID-128). It is available from your local Extension Service office, or from the UK Web site at

Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.