Monday, April 12, 2010

Common Spring Garden Soil Pests & Beneficials

Summary of post
I've been digging up lots of different insects, slugs and etc in my yard this spring and often wonder which ones are good and which are bad. Here are some common critters you might encounter in your garden dirt: earthworms and cicadas (beneficials), white grubs, cutworms and wireworms (pests).

I always feel bad when I scoop up a shovelful of dirt and discover that I've amputated or worse yet decapitated yet another of these beneficial creatures. (Though it can be difficult to tell the head or tail apart!) Some earthworm species can regenerated amputated body parts, i.e., the tail. But you're not going to get two worms if you cut one in half ;). Here's some interesting worm reading.

Depending on how you look at it, cicadas can be a pest or a beneficial. Pest because their feeding on plant roots might or might not hurt the plant. (Scientists are somewhat up in the air about this and more experiments are needed). Also, cicada mommies can get carried away when cutting slits in tree bark to lay eggs, and end up slicing the tree in two (just kidding...really!). Beneficial because cicadas feed other animals in your garden. By that I don't mean cicadas provide food to the birds and such, I mean that cicadas are the food. Deep fried cicadas are a real treat. "Flying Peanuts" I fondly call them. A golden crisp shell encloses a creamy nutty filling, perfect with your favorite dinner aperitif!

White Grubs (Scarab beetle larvae)

Those 1/2 inch long creamy white grubs are quite possibly Japanese beetle larvae (the immature form). Asiatic garden beetle grubs look similiar. These scarab beetles have a 'C' shaped form as larvae, and many of them are pests. Adult Japanese beetles really do a number on my grape vines every year (they also defoliate almost everything else it seems). The grubs, sight unseen underground, silently decimate precious veggie plant roots and turf grass roots. I crush these, or drop them in a cup of soapy water. One less Japanese beetle adult to deal with come July! Gardens Alive sells milky spore for natural control of these grubs.

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These are click beetle larvae and these pestiferous creatures will enjoy the juicy roots of your veggies if you let them. The ones I find I usually yellow, and all have a tough coat. The larval stage is 4 to 5 years, unless cut short by a gardener (that could be you!). The adults (elaterids) can 'click' and jump to escape predators. All except the supreme predator, yours truly, armed with a net :).


These 1" to 2" long caterpillars are plump and juicy looking and they have gotten that way from helping themselves to your veggie garden! Some cutworm species have sophisticated tastebuds and favor particular plants whereas less fussy cutworm species happily and indiscriminately gnaw on everything. They'll sneak up on your newly sprouted corn and sever the stem below ground level. If you dig up the soil next to your wilted, dying young corn stalk, you might find the culprit curled up nearby. Crushing each one, and feeling their fat squirmy bodies explode and spatter green juices everywhere... is a pretty good feeling sometimes!

Till next time!


P.S. Hey it would be great if you could click on any ad here and I'll get 1 to 2 cents per click from the advertisers. Thanks!

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