fall pest patrol: work now to foil deer, cabbage worms, viburnum beetle, squash bugs, voles

fall pest controlTHE MOST IMPORTANT SUBSET of the fall garden cleanup chores: pest control. Fortunately all our needed cutbacks and raking of leaves–those sanitation efforts we’re all heading out to do anyhow—help to reduce places for many garden pests to overwinter. But I go farther.  How I work now, in autumn, to prevent a buildup next year of troubles like viburnum leaf beetle, squash bugs and borers and cabbage worms, and minimize damage by deer, mice and voles among other unwelcome garden visitors. The routine is the same in every case. What it comes down to: eliminate habitat and hiding places, and eliminate some of the population. Pest by pest, some particulars:

cabbage worms

I HOSTED A cabbage-worm field day here this year, apparently, and squished eggs and larvae like mad. Now I’ll be certain to clean up any cruciferous plants extra-carefully, to reduce the chance of overwintering pupae, and am reading up on weeds in the cabbage family (wild mustards, for instance, and shepherd’s purse, among other) with a sterner eye to their removal, too.  Because kale and Brussels sprouts are so cold-hardy, and stand a long time into the winter garden for gradual harvesting (until Thanksgiving or longer), I have to be sure to pull the remains when they are done this year, even if it’s tempting to let some overwinter. The whole cabbage-worm story is here.

viburnum leaf beetle

SCOUTING FOR viburnum leaf beetle starts in late October here in Zone 5B, when leaves fall and their egg cases laid on this year’s viburnum growth are easier to see. Remove egg cases by pruning off affected wood, between now and April-ish, to reduce larvae and beetle issues in the coming year. The bump-like cases are usually on the underside of youngest twigs. I then also watch in May for larvae hatch (left) of any I missed, and rub the twigs then to squash the emerging pests.

I check every Viburnum, of which I have many species and varieties, but only a couple of cranberrybush types typically show any leaf damage, and now have egg cases. But why only those? Apparently there is natural resistance in many species, and you can get the list here if you wish to grow Viburnum but not ones that the beetle adores.

squash bugs and squash vine borers

THE KEY TO MANAGING squash bugs is to not let them build up—meaning vigilant egg removal in spring, and handpicking of adults, but also strict cleanup in the fall to reduce overwintering of unmated adults.  The same is true of squash vine borers, which overwinter as larvae or pupae. Debris from all squash relative plants should be removed (some people burn it if there was a bad infestation). Best would have been to remove it right at harvest time, not just cutting the fruits and leaving the vines until garden cleanup later.

Other hiding places such as rocks, boards and such must also be moved aside. A rough turning of the soil may dislodge some pests, exposing them to predation by birds or other animals. All of this must be followed by prompt attention in spring, when young plants are especially susceptible and insect populations are rising. Growing a resistant variety, such as ‘Butternut,’ is helpful, especially if you had a recent problem. The full squash-bug story, and a thorough pdf factsheet from the the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service provides more information on both of these pests of Cucurbits.


KEEPING DEER OUT, or choosing plants that are somewhat less palatable for the areas where you cannot bar them, was the topic of a recent podcast. I’m not a big believer in “deer-proof” or even “deer-resistant” plantings as enough of a defense; I believe instead in fences, and my full rundown on creative ways to fence (some of which are not so ugly) is in the article on just saying no to deer with fencing. In fall, before any snow flies, it’s critical to check the fenceline for any breaches (something I do regularly), and also for any overhanging limbs that might better be pruned now rather than risk having them fall in winter, damaging my deer barrier.

mice and voles

CLOSE-CUTTING THE entire lawn, with special care to clear weeds and turf around the trunks of woody plants, is just one step in this heroic battle against these small but voracious rodents.  Mice are also an important link in the Lyme Disease chain, so I have zero tolerance of them getting indoors. Installing hardware-cloth or plastic tree guards is another—and so is trapping, which I accelerate my efforts at starting in late August. I have some tricks—including an idea for a box built to enclose mousetraps that I borrowed from sustainable agriculture expert Eliot Coleman—all of that is covered in this article.

A note on a larger mammal, the rabbit (who I am reminded is a lagomorph, not a rodent): They’ll browse woody plants in winter, too, and relentlessly. As with deer, I think they are best controlled by fencing, using 48-inch-high mesh no larger than an inch diameter, burying it about a foot with the rest above ground, supported with stakes or posts.

An aside on moles (who are not rodents but insectivores): They can be frustrating with all their tunneling, yes, but they aerate the soil and eat grubs, so I generally celebrate their activity (well, after cursing every now and again when they uproot some lovely thing in the process of hunting food). I have long believed that reducing grubs (such as those of Japanese beetle) In the turf and beds would reduce their food source and therefore discourage the moles, but various experts including Purdue say this is not true, because earthworms are their primary food.

Are there pests you’re working to get ahead of for 2013 now, in the fall of 2012?

October 27, 2012


  1. Nora says

    Thanks for all the tips. One more from a friend who professionally bands migrating birds. She recommends holding off on clearing leaf litter and “stuff” in the garden beds til migration is well and truly over. Apparently this is a prime area for birds like wood thrushes to rummage for food on the road south. So we hold off til that long Thanksgiving weekend, when we give thanks for a lovely year of the garden! Battening down our hatches here in NJ where the weather is bad, bad, bad! (But I get to stay home and read gardening stuff! WooHoo)

  2. Carole Clarin says

    As the wind whistles outside, blowing yet more leaves around, it’s a good time to do some indoor clean-up that has been neglected due to all the outside work. Maybe if the power holds I’ll make some more soup and applesauce!

  3. Miriam says

    Weathering the storm in NYC and it’s really not too bad here. Thinking about my gardens in the Berks and feeling better about not having cleaned up my garden yet thanks to one of your responders.
    Stay safe!

  4. Bob says

    Lily beetles. Growing many more lilies in the new garden than previously, and it was a banner year! Following your advice and monitoring the foliage daily really reduced the damage drastically. I quickly lost any sqeamishness about squishing the beetles when I remembered how disgusting the larvae are. Love the foliage this time of year as it colors in the fall, but I’ll be sure to clean up meticulously when they’re ready to go!

  5. says

    What can you tell us aout gophers, Margaret? I don’t kill animals so I would like any advice other than that.

    From your book, I know hoe you feel about storms, so I hope you are ok.

  6. Lorie says

    Am sending buckets of prayers your way re Sandy. We went through one of those a few years back; no power for 2 weeks; hundred year old trees down on roofs; Halloween cancelled (which was the least of anyone’s troubles)…you just feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. But there is. Take care.

  7. Mary Jane says

    Any ideas on getting rid of slugs in the fall? What’s their life cycle?
    I’m still finding them under outdoor pots and saucers, and just around. I searched and purged all summer. For baseball fans, I feel like I’m Detroit and they’re San Francisco!

    Hope everyone made it through Sandy; gardens help restore us.

  8. says

    Thank you so much for that research, Margaret. You don’t have Gophers!? Lucky you! I have found some interesting no kill solutions. One is Gopher Baskets and I have dug up the whole garden and replanted in the baskets. They
    protect the plant root ball, and I have so many that tunnel digging is now quite a chore down there (but they still manage). I also flood the tunnels when I can find openings, and they run out the other exits. Today a first – I actually saw the little bugger run out and I chased him out of the garden with the hose! Used cat litter clumps make nice door stops too. I am in Santa Fe and we don’t have fleas, snails, slugs, or mosquitoes, but lots of gophers!

  9. Lynda says

    Anything further you can suggest for the fall to rid the lillies of the little red beetle and larve after a difficult summer of trying to remove them .
    In addition, any thoughts on my other favorite flower delphiniums who get this black pasty stuff on the flower bud and leaf. I removed some older infected ones but saw some sign of recurrence on my newer ones.

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