Identifying Common Plant Pests


Plant pests are the same as 'death and taxes', they will always be with us. I have never had much of a problem with plant diseases besides the occasional battle with powdery mildew and damping off but...plant pests, I always have to deal with (and I suspect it's the same for everyone else).

One common pest is algae. If your nutrient solution is exposed to sunlight you will get algae occasionally; one day you will check your system only to find that your nutrient solution has turned green, brown or black within a matter of hours. Here is more about algae and related to this nuisance is a section on cleaning your system.

One piece of good news is that hydroponics gardens will, in general, have less pests than the average dirt garden due to the lack of soil allowing easy access and homes for many bugs.

And the only quick and deadly remedy for plant pests is harsh chemical but many, including me, do not want toxic poisons in our hydroponic nutrient solution. True, some bugs can be knocked off the plant with a stream of water or even picked off by hand but the majority hang on with a vengence. There are now many options for dealing with pests from natural organic solutions, buying and hatching larvae of bugs that eat the pests to insecticidal soaps and, of course, harsh chemicals.

If harsh chemicals are not something you wish to use (like me) there are a whole variety of organic homemade repellants easily made at home from non-toxic ingredients.

When you get a pest infection the first means of defense is identifying what type of pest you have. Below is a table describing common pests and how to get rid of them:

PestDescription Treatment

aphid a plant pest

They are very small with light colored bodies. They leave a sticky residue on the leaves.Remove damaged leaves, wash plant leaves with warm water for a week then spray an insecticidal soap onto leaves.

caterpillar a plant pest

Most kinds of caterpillar are considered plant pests and will eat the leaves.Pick off by hand.

colorado potao bug a plant pest

Colorado Potato Beetle
Inch long striped beetles and their larvae will eat everything on a plant.Pick off by hand and optionally, spray with insecticide.

cockroach a plant pest

Small dark colored insects with beetlelike bodies.Pick off by hand if you can catch them. Remove any organic debris from the base of the plant. Set out roach traps.

cutworm a plant pest

Small worm type insects that curl up into a ring shape. They eat through plant roots and topple the plant.Not too common in hydroponics - if found, spray with insecticide.

earwig a plant pest

Small dark brown centipede-like insects with a pincer tail.Pick off by hand (they usually come out at night).

cornborer a plant pest

European Corn Borers
Small, 1 inch long caterpillars who bore into plant stems and eat them from the inside out.Spray with insecticide.

fungus gnat a plant pest

Fungus Gnats
The hatched offspring of tiny black flies. The maggot offspring attack plant roots.Discard any damaged plants, spray with insecticide. Not too common in a hydroponics garden.

cabbage worm a plant pest

Imported Cabbage Worms
Small velvety green caterpillars that eat plant leaves.Spray with insecticidal soap.

leafhopper a plant pest

Leaf Hoppers
Small, 1/8 inch long, wedge shaped insects that suck the sap through the plant leaves.Pick off by hand and apply insecticide if needed.

mealybug a plant pest

Small bugs create white, powdery masses on leaf stem joints.Scrape off and spray with insecticide.

mexican bean beetle a plant pest

Mexican Bean Beetles
Small, 1/2 inch beetles will eat roots and leaves leaving only the veins.Insecticidal soap.

root maggot a plant pest

Root Maggots
Fly larvae that hatch at the base of the plants and eat the roots.Not too common in hydroponics gardens. If found, spray with insecticide.

scale a plant pest

Tiny waxy growths on the underside of leaves and on stems.Scrape off and isolate plant, if possible. Wash leaves with warm soapy water and apply insecticide if needed.

spider mites a plant pest

Spider Mites
Red, yellow or green microscopic bugs forming cobwebs.Isolate plant if you can, wash leaves with warm, soapy water and spray with insecticide.

striped cucumber beetle a plant pest

Striped Cucumber Beetles
Small, very destructive, striped back beetles 1/4 inch long. As adults, these plant pests eat leaves and larvae eat rootsUse insecticidal soap.

tarnished plant bug a plant pest

Tarnished Plants Bugs
Small beetles about 1/4 inch long with tarnish-like markings on it's back. They inject plants with a substance that deforms leaf tips and stem joinings.Clean off all nearby organic debris and spray with insecticide.

thrips a plant pest

Very small and slender bugs leaving dark blobs on the leaves.Remove bugs by hand, wash leaves with water and spray insecticide.

whiteflies a plant pest

Tiny, white flying bugsVery resilent. Spray with insecticide or something stronger. Also spray all surrounding plants.

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