Before you treat your plants for insects, it's important to identify the problem before spraying or treating. If the insects are beneficial to your garden, you don't want to eliminate them. This segment also shows common places where insects may hide.

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Identify Insects Before Treating

Before you grab any insecticide or miticide or pesticide, it’s always important to make sure that you have an insect or mite pest problem. Because you don’t need to be spraying something when the insect is a beneficial such as green lacewings or ladybugs that are natural enemies, and you want them in your garden.

For insects and mites, it’s relatively easy compared to diseases because first of all, you can see the insects. For example, by seeing aphids on a plant, you know what the cause is. Or, you may see beetles feeding on your plant. You may also see symptoms. Chewing insects will remove plant parts. So, you may see something that is chewing on your plants. Aphids are called sucking insects. You’ll see the plants stunted and wilting. And a secondary sign is called honeydew. It’s a clear, sticky liquid that is exuded by aphids, whiteflies and mealy bugs during the feeding process.

Some of the most difficult insects to see are the wood boring insects because the larvae are inside the plants, trees and shrubs. Some mites are microscopic that you can’t see with the naked eye. So those are just two examples of insects that you won’t be able to see. You might see their damage, but you probably won’t likely see the actual organism causing the problem.

One thing you can do is to inspect your plant to look for the insects, or you can look for signs such as the honeydew, fecal deposits from caterpillars, and other indications that you can look at. Look for the actual organism, or the signs of the damage they cause. When looking at the damage, if it’s missing plant parts such as leaves, you’ll know it’s a chewing insect. If it’s stunted or wilted, it may be a sucking insect. For chewing insects, once the leaves have been eaten, you won’t get the tissue back. Once you see the damage, it may be too late to correct it.

You’ll then need to take some type of action, so that the other leaves and parts of the plant don’t start showing the same symptoms.

Some of the other hiding places are underneath the leaves where you can’t see them. Unopened flowers can have thrifts. You can’t see them until after the flowers are open, and then it’s too late to treat them. Those are other areas of a plant that insects can hide.

About once a week, you’ll need to go to your garden and look around and inspect susceptible plants that may get insects and mites and focus on those. Some preventative measures might be using row covers on vegetables. It keeps the cucumber beetles from coming in which can cause diseases and feed on plants. You can also use traps that are available to trap certain insects. These are examples of physical preventative measures.

It’s always important to determine if it’s a pest. If it’s a beneficial, you’ll have no problems with that plant. But, if you don’t know what it is take a sample to a garden center, nursery, or your extension agent at our county or regional office, a diagnostic clinic, or an extension entomologist for identification.

This feature story prepared with Raymond Cloyd, Kansas State University Research and Extension Professor of Entomology. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at

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