An invading army of crawling, munching pests can quickly destroy even the best garden. Many invading worms are actually the larval stage of various beetles, moths, gnats and other creatures out to eat as much as they can before it’s time to change into adults. While a variety of poisons will kill such pests, you can use other simple remedies that are safer for you, your family and your pets.
1. Hand Control
One of the safest and simplest methods of dealing with worms is to pick them off your plants by hand. This is particularly effective against large invaders such as the tomato hornworm and is something the whole family can do together. Take a bucket of soapy water and check your plants for the presence of hornworms, which can grow up to 3 inches long, or other crawling pests. Pick them off, drop them in the water and leave them there to drown. Discard the water with the dead worms in it at the end of your session.
2. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is made of the skeletons of millions of microscopic diatoms. Each one is covered with tiny sharp points that damage the outer covering of worms and other pests when they crawl across it. Sprinkle a fine layer around the base of delicate plants indoors or out. Wear a mask to prevent inhaling the dust, which can be irritating if it gets in your lungs. If it gets wet, it loses its effectiveness and must be reapplied. Use sparingly because it will kill beneficial insects as well as pests, but once applied it is safe around children and pets.
Floating row covers are nothing more than very lightweight fabric laid on top of plants that allows air, water and light to pass through while keeping moths and other pests away. This prevents them from laying eggs, which would later hatch into many different kinds of plant pests including cabbageworms and wireworms. For very delicate plants, use garden hoops with the fabric draped over them so that it doesn’t lay directly on your garden. Leave the fabric in place until it’s time for harvest.
If your plant leaves and stems are covered with small, whitish worms, they may be fungus gnat larvae. These pests prefer damp, slightly acidic soil, and can show up in your home, greenhouse or garden. They destroy the stems and leaves of plants, and provide an avenue for bacteria to infect and kill house and garden plants. Don’t water as often, and allow the top layer of soil to dry out to discourage fungus gnats from laying their eggs around your plants. A layer of coarse horticultural sand around each plant will also help to keep them away.
- National Gardening Association: Charlie's 10 Favorite Organic Pest Controls
- International Carnivorous Plant Society: Pests: Fungus Gnat Larvae
- University of Minnesota Extension: Caterpillar Pests of Cole Crops in Home Gardens
- Earth Easy: Natural Garden Pest Control
- Colorado State University Extension: Tomato Insect Pests
- PAN Germany: Diatomaceous Earth
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