How to protect your October harvest from pests

Pests can do a lot of damage if they’re given free rein over your garden. This is especially true in October, when the cooling temperatures leave some plants vulnerable, increase the appetites of some pests, and drive others to make winter homes in your garden. If you’re concerned about how your garden will survive through the fall, you aren’t alone. Don’t worry, though. We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about what pests are a threat during October, as well as how to spot them, prevent them from taking over, and get rid of pests once they’re there.

What pests are a problem in fall?

Depending on the climate where you live, you’re likely to have one of two problems with pests during October. If October where you live is still very warm, pests will still be actively eating your plants. This makes them easier to find, but results in more damage to your plants.

On the other hand, if October is fairly cool where you live, you’re more likely to see pests go into dormancy or hibernation for winter. This makes them much harder to find and destroy, but it also means you don’t need to worry about plant damage until spring. You’re likely to see the same pests no matter the climate, but your prevention and treatment options will be slightly different.

Slugs and snails are both common fall pests. They primarily target leaves and fruit, but they’ll eat just about anything. Two sure signs of slugs and snails are large holes in leaves and trails of slime. They both lay eggs on the undersides of low-lying leaves in the fall, which hatch a couple weeks afterwards. Young slugs and snails then wait out the winter beneath any foliage that remains in the garden.

Cucumber beetles, potato beetles, and cutworms all hibernate through winter under the soil in your garden. Cut worms are easy to differentiate. They look like small, gray-brown caterpillars, and are easily identified by the way they cut down plants by chewing through the stem.

Cucumber beetles and potato beetles can wreak havoc on a fall garden, since cucumbers, potatoes, and potato relatives like eggplants and tomatoes are all common fall garden plants. Both are fairly small, with yellow backs. Potato beetles are striped, while cucumber beetles can be striped or spotted. Cucumber beetles tend to be slightly longer than potato beetles.

Cutworm curled on ground by young plant

Keeping them out

Slugs and snails can be kept out in a couple different ways. Since they have soft bodies, things with rough, coarse textures can be used to keep them out. A barrier of undyed wool is most effective, but some gardeners find that leaf mulch, coffee grounds, and egg shells work too. Yes, salt will also work, but salt can harm plants, so it’s best to avoid that. Copper is another common barrier, as it reacts with slug and snail slime to give them a little jolt. The jolt is small enough that not all slugs and snails are deterred, but many are. Copper tape, wire, or mesh placed around vulnerable plants can help keep slugs at bay.

Barriers can help keep cucumber beetles, potato beetles, and cutworms out, too. Cutworms are also soft-bodied and likely to react to rough textures, but height is beneficial for all three. A small border, extending a few inches beneath and above the surface of the soil can help significantly.

A general preventative measure you can take is to encourage predators to visit your garden. For these pests in particular, you’ll have the best luck with birds. Setting up bird feeders, planting bird-friendly plants, providing a water source, and limiting noises from power tools or machinery helps birds feel welcome in your garden.

slug beer trap

Treatment options for established pests

Any of these pests can be gotten rid of through simply picking them up and removing them if you see one. However, this isn’t the most efficient way, especially with slugs, who eat primarily at night. You can catch slugs and snails by setting up a beer trap. They’re attracted to the yeast in beer, especially non-alcoholic beers. Fill a small dish or tin with beer and leave it out overnight, near where the slugs and snails have been doing most of their snacking. When they come to take a drink, some will fall in and be unable to get out. Set up multiple traps around your garden for the best results.

Pesticides won’t work on slugs and snails, since they aren’t bugs, but they will work on cucumber beetles, potato beetles, and cutworms. If pesticides aren’t your style, you can use capsaicin spray instead. This is a natural compound found in peppers, and most pests find it unpleasant to smell or taste. Once the weather cools and pests begin burrowing into the soil to sleep, turn over the top layer of soil. You only have to flip the first two inches. This leaves the sleeping pests exposed to the elements and to predators.

Now you’re prepared to protect your garden from all sorts of fiendish pests. The slugs, snails, cucumber beetles, potato beetles, and cutworms won’t know what hit them. Using these tips, your October harvest will be safe at last. Plus, you’ll have significantly fewer pests to deal with when spring arrives if you take care of them now.

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