Austin’s humid, subtropical climate makes it a paradise for gardeners. It also makes it a paradise for garden pests.
Anyone who has spent time in the capital city knows warm seasons bring all kinds of things that fly, crawl, creep, and lurk. The Austin area is home to hundreds of varieties of insects. Many are beneficial – and many are not.
Here’s a list of the worst garden pests in Austin – and how you can control them.
Ask Texas Agriculture Extension entomologist Wizzie Brown about the worst garden pests in the Austin area, and she’ll name aphids. This tiny insect (pictured above) reproduces faster than any other and can devastate garden plants by sucking out juices. They harm everything from flowers and fruits to green foliage and roots.
“They get on people’s plants and cause yellowing and curling. They create a fungus that blocks sunlight,” she said. Brown says the best way to spot aphids is to look for them on the underside of leaves and along the stems.
Some aphids produce a “honeydew” secretion. Ants often care for “herds” of aphids to get their honeydew. Fortunately for gardeners, nature helps keep the population in check. Aphids are prey for many other insects, including the delightful ladybug. They are also vulnerable to temperature extremes, strong winds, and heavy rain.
Brown says if eradicating them becomes necessary, you can find nonchemical treatments. “High-pressure water sprays, insecticidal soaps, and botanical pesticides work,” she said. “Target where they’re located on undersides of leaves or along stems.” These methods are also more eco-friendly.
White Grubs and Chinch Bugs
Both these pests can do severe damage to lawn turf.
This is the larval stage of what most Texans call the June bug, a squat brown beetle. The larva can live in the soil for three years, feeding on grass roots. Turf may become thin, turn yellow and eventually die. Another sign can be the appearance of lots of birds or the arrival of armadillos to feed on the insects.
With a severe infestation, you can lift up the turf easily and likely see the fat white grubs. Most lawns have a few grubs, but if you have a severe infestation, synthetic and non-chemical pesticides are your best bet. Brown also suggests buying nematodes, tiny worms that eat the grubs.
St. Augustine grass, a favorite of many Austinites, is also the favorite of the chinch bug, a tiny creature with a black body and white wings. They have slender “beaks” that feed on the grass and deposit toxic saliva.
Damage from chinch bugs can often be mistaken for disease or drought stress. They leave large brown patches surrounded by a yellow halo. These creatures thrive in thick thatch, so a good weapon against them is dethatching or using a mulching lawn mower. Both synthetic and botanical treatments will control the pests and nematodes are effective.
Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs and Leaf-Footed Bugs
Both these pests damage plants by sucking juices from them.
America has had stink bugs a long time, but one variety — the brown marmorated stink bug — is a recent immigrant from Asia that has spread to 44 states, including Texas.
It’s usually just over a half-inch long with a brown topside and creamy underside. The design on its back resembles a knight’s shield. As the name implies, the bugs emit a foul odor as a defense mechanism.
Stink bugs prefer to feed on leaves and fruits. They prefer warm weather, but they can survive winters and often try to avoid the cold by coming into your house.
You’ll find chemical and nonchemical sprays and powders to treat this pest. Products containing neem oil are effective.
These bugs can grow to an inch in length and have leaf-shaped adornments on their rear legs. Like stink bugs, they damage leaves and fruit. They spend winters tucked away in woodpiles, barns, and sheds.
Pesticides are generally ineffective against leaf-footed bugs, so you may have to resort to removing them by hand.
The dreaded fire ant can inflict damage on lawns and vegetable gardens, but their greatest danger is to humans and animals. Their stings are painful, and a swarm of them can be deadly, especially to people with allergies.
Brown recommends baiting programs. Place the baits around mounds or distributed in a broadcast spreader. “With baits, the ants carry the poison deep into the ground where it eventually kills the queens,” she said.
You can find fire ant bait at garden centers and hardware stores. Don’t expect instant results because it takes time for the poison to spread throughout the ant colony.
Brown says it’s important to be vigilant to keep pests from your lawn and garden. “Go into your yard, turn leaves over and catch problems before they get out of hand,” she says. “This is a routine that should be done early spring through late fall.”
She also preaches the importance of using native plants. “By choosing native adapted plants, your yard will be happier and healthier and more resistant to pest problems.”
A well mowed and cared for lawn also gives the pests fewer places to hide. Turn over woodpiles and clean dead plant debris to prevent pests from making themselves at home.