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There are millions of insects in Australia alone and while some can be beneficial for your garden, other are quite destructive. Fortunately, gardeners can keep away and manage these detrimental insects with simple, organic pest control solutions.
While there is no shortage of insects that are bad for your garden, we’ve used our experience in gardening to narrow them to 29 common garden pests and we’ve given brief tips on how to identify and get rid of them using non-toxic methods.
There are more than 4000 aphid species, and around 250 of them are considered as pests for crops. You can recognize these critters by their little, pear-shaped bodies with long antennae and a pair of abdominal tubes called cornicles. Depending on species, they vary in colour and may be white, green, yellow, brown, black, or even pink. Two widespread species in Australia are the cotton aphid and the cabbage aphid, and because of their wide distribution on the continent, they are also common garden pests.
Aphids feed on fruits, vegetables, ornamentals, and variety of other plants by sucking sap of phloem vessels.
To identify an aphid infestation:
Aphids are able to reproduce rapidly and can quickly become a serious problem for your garden. To get rid of these garden pests, we suggest the following eco-friendly solutions:
This beetle has been accidentally introduced in Australia from South Africa (as the name suggests). The African Black Beetle occurs mainly in Western Australia and the wetter coastal south-eastern regions up to South East Queensland. African black beetle larvae is creamy-white, except for their light brown head, and grow up to 25mm in length. Adults are brown to shiny black and about 12 to 14mm long.
Both adults and larvae are considered as pests that can affect the establishment of a wide variety of plants including ryegrass, maize, turf, grapevines, olives, ornamental plants, and vegetable crops, most preferred of which are potatoes. The African black beetle feeds on roots and underground stems of young plants causing the death of the plant. To identify whether your garden is attacked by these pests, look for:
Although, the African black beetle is difficult to control without chemicals, there are several non-toxic measures you can take to protect your garden plants:
The Australian plague locust is a major insect pests of crops and pastures throughout Australia. Active from spring to autumn, locusts may enter home gardens and can quickly build up to high numbers because of the concentration of irrigated plants and cause severe damage.
Adult Australian plague locust are grey to brown or occasionally green in colour, 25-44mm long, with black tipped rear wings and red shanks on the hind legs.
If you notice a swarm of locusts in your garden, you need to act immediately. Since locusts are certain species of short-horned grasshoppers, you can use same control strategies as for grasshoppers. You can also apply biological control agent derived from an Australian fungus called Metarhizium anisopliae that attacks locusts and grasshoppers.
Azalea lace bugs live and feed on the undersides of azalea and rhododendron leaves. They grow no more than 6mm long. Adults are cream-coloured with flattening lace-like forewings that extend beyond the body outline. In Australia, the azalea lace bug can be found throughout the eastern states and ACT.
This kind of lace bugs is known to be very aggressive. Just in a year, every azalea plant in your garden could be infested if proper measures are not taken. The azalea lace bugs use their piercing mouthparts to suck the sap from the leaves. If your azaleas are infested with lace bugs, you might notice:
A number of organic methods are available to deal with azalea lace bugs:
The bronze orange bug, also known as stink bug is considered a pest to all citrus trees. They suck the sap out from young shoots, fruits and flowers causing wilting and premature fruit drop. When dealing with these pests be extremely careful as they emit foul-smelling liquid that will burn skin and eyes on contact.
Active in the warmer months, bronze orange bugs are not difficult to be identified. They first appear in late winter as lime green nymphs no longer than 6mm. As they grow they change colour into orange to bronze, and eventually becoming brown to black and reaching 25mm when fully grown. Native to Australia, this pest can be found in Queensland and New South Wales in Eastern Australia.
The best time to control and manage bronze orange bugs is in the early spring while they are still nymphs. Here are some organic control methods to get rid of these stink bugs:
Make sure to wear gloves, protective glasses, long sleeves and a hat to protect your skin and eyes against the caustic liquid these bugs eject.
The caterpillars laid by the cabbage moth and the cabbage white butterfly are common pests in the veggie garden. Both the moth and the white butterfly lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. They prefer plants from the family Brassicaceae, such as broccoli, cabbage, chinese cabbage, watercress, mustard and brussel sprouts. Once hatched, the larvae start feeding on the leaves or fruits of their host plant.
Adult cabbage white butterflies are white with black spots on the wings with a wingspan of about 45mm, while the larvae is velvety green with faint yellow stripes and spots along the body. The cabbage moth is greyish and about 10mm long. Its caterpillars are green in colour. To identify the presence of these insect pests in your garden, look for:
There is a number of organic methods to control and get rid of these garden pests:
Christmas beetles are widely distributed throughout Australia. The larvae of the Christmas beetle live in the soil and feed on grass roots, while the adults are leaf-eating and attack most eucalypt species. Active between November and February, grown Christmas beetles can devastate newly established eucalypt plantations and isolated trees within a few days because of their swarming behaviour.
Identifying these scarabs is easy because of their shiny exoskeleton. The adult beetles are large, about 25-30mm long. Depending on the species, their colour vary from yellow-brown to red-brown. The damage they cause is visible as jagged, ripped leaves.
The control of this pest is difficult because of the quickness with which these beetles defoliate a tree and move on to the next. Monitor your trees carefully and take action before the damage becomes severe. You can try and knock them off the tree with a strong jet of water, collect them in plastic sheets and destroy them later as suggested here.
Keep in mind that by the time damage is noticeable it is usually too late to take effective action.
Citrus gall wasp is an Australian native garden pest which natural host is the Australian finger lime but all citrus varieties can be attacked. Most susceptible are lemons, grapefruits, oranges and rootstocks. The wasp lays its eggs into the stems of citrus trees. Once larvae hatch, they start feeding on the stem tissue, causing woody galls that can weaken trees, which may result in reduced yield, and in case of a heavy infestation, branch dieback.
Citrus gall wasp adults emerge around October. They are shiny black and about 3mm long. The life span of the adult wasps is about a week during which a female can lay up to 100 eggs. Eggs are usually laid under the bark of young spring shoots. When monitoring for citrus gall wasp infestation, search for the presence of galls on young, green twigs. The monitoring is best to be done between June and September when you can easily detect the galls.
Getting rid of citrus gall wasp can be difficult but damage can be minimized by:
Citrus leafminer is a small silvery-white moth with a wingspan of only 5mm. Its larvae are considered a serious pest on citrus trees of all kinds. After hatching, the leafminer larvae mine their way through the leaves leaving silvery trails and causing the leaves to twist and curl. Severe infestations can stunt young tree’s growth and reduce yield.
To control infestations on home garden trees, you can take the following action when the pest is first noticed:
You can reduce infestations by:
Codling moth is a major insect pest on pome fruits and can devastate the entire crop if not controlled. Damage is caused by the larvae which tunnel into the fruit core where they feed on the developing seeds for 3-5 weeks then burrow out leaving a brown rotting mess. Codling moth prefers apples, pears, quinces and crab apples.
The adult codling moth is about 1 cm long, grey-brown with several grey cross-lines on the forewings. The larva is white with a black head. The first generation of moths emerges in early spring about the time of bloom. Females lay their eggs on leaves usually near fruit. After the caterpillars’ hatch, they may feed on leaves for a while before burrowing into the fruit. When they leave the fruit, they form cocoons in a hidden place. This might be in a crevice, under loose bark, or in the ground. When the cocoons hatch, the cycle repeats. There is usually two to three generation per season in Australia.
To identify codling moth larvae infestation, look for:
Controlling the population of codling moth might be a difficult and slow process. Usually, you will need to combine several strategies to handle the problem with this pest. Some organic measures are:
Keep in mind that you may have little or no success controlling the codling moth in your garden if the neighbouring trees are infested.
Earwigs are omnivores and can feed on almost anything from organic matter, fruits, ornamental plants, vegetables, flowers, and seed to live and dead insects, including caterpillars and other earwigs. Most Australian native earwigs are not known to damage crops and some of them are considered beneficial as they attack a variety of garden pests. However, the European earwig can be a serious pest of broadacre crops when the population builds up. It attacks mainly canola, cereals, lupins and some legume crops, but it can also damage flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Correctly identifying earwig species is important because they each have different roles as pests or beneficial species. Adult European earwigs range from 12 to 24 mm in size. They have reddish-brown heads, and smooth, shiny brown bodies with yellowish legs, 'shoulders' and pincers (also called forceps). They are nocturnal and shelter in dark places during the day.
Earwigs can cause the following damage to your plants:
To control the earwigs in your garden:
Fruit flies are a significant threat to horticulture. These insect pests can infect a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and destroy them. In Australia, there are two fruit fly species that are of major concern to home gardeners and commercial fruit growers - Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni) and the Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata).
Female fruit flies lay their eggs beneath the skin of the fruit. The larvae referred to as maggots, start feeding on the fruit flesh as soon as they hatch causing the fruit to rot and drop. The grown maggots shelter in the soil, where they pupate. Depending on the species, fruit flies are most active from September through to May.
Look for the following signs in your garden to identify a possible fruit fly infestation:
To control fruit flies in your garden we suggest the following organic strategies:
In excessive numbers, grasshoppers can cause a huge damage to your garden. Both adult and nymphs feed on grasses and broadleaf plants.
Grasshoppers are distinguished by strong chewing mouthparts, enlarged hind legs designed for jumping, and wings, which are missing in their immature stage – nymphs.
Controlling this garden pest is difficult because of its migratory nature. However, there are several organic approaches to control grasshoppers.
Hibiscus beetle is a pest of the hibiscus. It feeds on unopened and developing flower buds causing the damaged bud to drop from the plant prematurely. If you notice holes in the petals and prematurely fallen flowers it can be a sign of the beetle's presence.
The beetle is about 3mm long, oval in shape, and satin black in colour. It usually hides between the closed folds of the Hibiscus' petals, which makes its control very difficult. There are, however, a few strategies used by gardeners to reduce the beetle population.
Mealybugs are about 4mm long, soft-bodied and covered by white waxy coating insects of the Psuedococcidae family. They are a common garden pest that affects ornamental plants, citrus plants, ferns, orchids, greenhouse plants and trees. Mealybugs can usually be found in clusters underside of leaves and stem where they feed on plant juices. Feeding is accompanied by excreting of honeydew, which attracts ants and encourages sooty mould growth.
To spot mealybug infestation check under leaves and stem joints for fluffy white wax. When present in higher numbers, the symptoms of infestation are:
Here are a few methods to control and get rid of mealybugs:
Millipedes are herbivores, feeding on decaying leaf litter, rotting wood and animal matter. Although Australian native millipedes are considered beneficial animals because of their role in breaking down organic matter in the soil, the black Portuguese millipede, which is introduced species to Australia, may turn into a garden pest by destroying seedlings, fruit and vegetable crops when reaches high population level.
Portuguese millipede has a slate-grey to black smooth, cylindrical body with between 40 and 50 segments each of which with 2 pairs of legs. Adult millipedes are usually 20-45mm long. When disturbed, they curl up into a tight spiral and may release horrible smelling yellowish secretion.
Signs of millipede damage include the stripping of the outer layers of a young plant stem and irregular damage to leaves. There are some things you can try against millipedes:
Psyllids are small sap sucking insects up to 4 mm in size and resemble miniature cicadas. They attack various crops including potato, carrot, citrus, pear, apple, gum trees, wattles, lillipilly and tomato. Each psyllid species feeds on a specific group of plants. They do the damage by sucking plant juices and excrete honeydew on which sooty mould grows. Some psyllid bugs use the honeydew to build a protective covering called lerp.
Depending on the kind of psyllid the following symptoms may occur:
To get rid of psyllids, you can try the following organic methods:
Root-knot nematodes are microscopic plant-parasitic roundworms that exist in the soil. They infect plant roots which stunt the plant's growth resulting in decreased yield or death of the plant. These parasitic nematodes have a wide host range, including many important vegetable, fruit and ornamental crops and some weed species as well. Different root-knot nematode species can be found in all mainland states of Australia.
Plants affected by root-knot nematode wouldn't have any specific above-ground symptoms. The general symptoms are stunting, yellowing or wilting, and they can be caused by many other root pathogens. Therefore, root must be checked for evidence of root-knot damage. Presence of root swelling or galls on the roots is a typical sign of infection. These galls should not be confused with rhizobium nodules that form on the roots of legumes.
Some nematode controlling measures you can take are:
Scale insects are major pests on ornamental trees, orchards, indoor plants and even ferns. Some common species of scale insects in Australia are pink wax scale, black scale, soft brown scale and citrus red scale. They feed on the plant tissue by sucking the sap from leaves, stalks and stems, which can result in stunted plant growth, defoliation, and even death of the plant. Scales produce honeydew that encourages sooty mould growth.
There are two groups of scale insects - soft and armoured – and they range from 1 to 5 mm in size. Adult female scales do not move and stay permanently attached to the host plant. All scale species secrete a waxy coating for protection which makes it difficult to get rid of them. Scales are most susceptible to treatment during their juvenile stage when they are missing their protective coating.
Signs that may indicate an infestation of scale pests are:
Here are a handful of organic strategies to control scales in your home and garden:
Slaters (also known as pill bugs, woodlice and Role Poleys) are usually considered beneficial because they feed on decaying organic matter, and that way, help build soil. However, in high numbers, they can shift to crop seedlings, and thus, becoming a problem for gardeners.
Slaters can be found all over Australia. Although there are different species, they all have a similar appearance – armoured, flattened, segmented bodies, gray/brown in colour with 1 pair of legs per segment. Their size vary but generally is less than 20mm.
Damage caused by slaters result in ring-barking of stems and young branches, as well as, uneven rasping-type damage similar to the damage caused by slugs and snails. To find them, check under rocks, pots, stubble residue, or scrape back the mulch. These are the usual places where slaters seek refuge during the day.
Even at high densities, it is not certain that slaters will attack your crops. Because of their beneficial role, it's best to manage them. Here is a few suggestion by Josh Byrne, author of The Green Gardener, how to do that:
All garden pest snails and slugs are introduced to Australia and can pose a huge threat to your garden plants. They damage seedlings, leaves, fruit, underground tubers and plant seeds which can result in major production losses. Probably the most common garden pests of these are the brown snail (Helix aspera) and the grey field slug (Deroceras reticulatum).
Snails thrive in a moist environment. They avoid the sun and seek cooler spots to wait for the night when they are most active. When the weather is dry or cold, they seal their shells and can remain dormant for several years.
Signs of possible infestation of snails and slugs are:
There are many different ways to control snails. Here are some environmentally sound methods:
There is a wide variety of spider mites, many of which feed on plants, and a few of those can be considered as major pests. One of the most well-known species is the red spider mite also known as twospotted spider mite. Mites reproduce rapidly in warm weather and can cause a severe damage in a short period of time.
Spider mites feed on the underside of leaves forming dense colonies. These pest use their mouthparts (a.k.a chelicerae) to penetrate the leaf and suck up the discharged sap. Many spider mite species spin webbing to protect themselves from predators while they feed and breed. Symptoms of mite infestation show up as:
Mites feed on many kinds of plants, including vegetables, fruit trees, vines and ornamental plants. Some organic solutions to control the mites in your garden include:
Thrips are small, slender insects (0.5mm – 15mm long) that range in colour from white to yellow to black. Although, there are more than 6000 known species of thrips, only a few are important pests of plants. Some common pest thrips in Australia are Plague thrips (Thrips imaginis), Tomato thrips (Frankliniella schultzei), and Western Flower Thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis).
Thrips are sap suckers and attack a large variety of plants. They cause significant damage to flowers, foliage, and fruit when feeding. Some species spread plant viruses, such as Tospoviruses. Symptoms of thrip infestation are:
Organic measures to prevent and control thrips:
Borers are actually the larval stage of different insects, such as beetles, weevils, moths, or sawfly, which lay their eggs in trees, usually trees that are under stress. Once hatched, the young larvae start eating the tree in or under the bark which interrupts the flow of sap and eventually kills the tree. Since borers are attracted to weak trees, by taking good care for your trees you should be able to keep the borers away from your garden.
Trees with frass or webbing around a hole in the trunk indicates borer presence. To identify what type of borer you are dealing with, look for:
Here are some no chemical ways to manage tree borers:
There are numerous species of weevils that are considered pests because of the damage they can cause to all grain and vegetable crops. They vary in colour and size but all adult weevils share one distinguishing feature – an extended snout or rostrum on the head. The weevil larvae are also easy to identify through their distinct brown heads and creamy-coloured, legless bodies.
Both adults and larvae cause damage. While larvae are found in soil where they feed on plant roots, mature weevils prefer the taste of the green plants' foliage. A weevil infestation is characterised by the following signs:
To control the number of weevils in your garden, you could try to:
White curl grubs are the larvae of different beetles including African black beetle, Christmas beetle, Scarab beetle and cockchafers. They feed on dead plant material and live plant roots and can cause severe damage to lawns, gardens and potted plants. They are most active during periods of dry weather, usually around Christmas in Australia.
White curl grubs have a creamy-white body with a brown coloured head and greyish tail end due to the ingested soil. They grow to around 40mm long and are often mistaken for “witchetty grubs”. When disturbed, these grubs curl up into a “C” shape which gave them their common name.
Symptoms that accompany an infestation of white curl grubs are:
Whiteflies are small, sap-sucking insects from the family Aleyrodidae and are relatives of aphids, mealybugs and leafhoppers. They resemble small moths with wings covered in a powdery white wax and are often found on the underside of leaves. Whiteflies can infest a wide range of plants and vegetable crops including melon, eggplant, bean, cabbage, tomato and broccoli.
There are several different species of whiteflies in Australia but the two most common pest species found in home gardens are the Silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) and the greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum).
Both the nymph and adult suck the plant juice causing stunting, silvering or yellowing of leaves, wilting, and yield reduction. Whiteflies produce a sticky, sugary substance called honeydew on which black sooty mould can develop. These pest insects tend to fly in clouds when the infested plant is disturbed, so you can easily spot their presence.
Getting rid of whiteflies might not be easy as they quickly develop insecticide resistance. Your best bet would be to tackle the problem as soon as you notice it. Here are some useful organic methods you can try: