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The 5 worst UK garden pests - and how to tackle them

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Date: 03/07/2013

The most common pests in a British garden tend to vary from year to year, depending on the weather and other ecological conditions. However, there are a number of particularly persistent pests that gardeners have come to dread – here are 5 of the worst culprits, along with some simple tips to help you prevent damage to your lovingly-nurtured plants.

1. Slugs and Snails

These slimy gastropods like to eat a wide range of plants, and due to the unseasonable amount of rain the UK has seen in recent months 2013 has been a bumper year for snails and slugs.

How to tackle them:

  • Protect seedlings by growing them in pots on top of copper matting with copper tape around the rims for good measure.
  • Surround plants with slug pellets, salt or other moisture absorbent minerals.
  • Make a trap using a jam jar containing beer sunk into the soil – or leave half a fresh orange in the soil for an easy way to attract the slugs and later dispose of them.

2. Vine Weevil

This destructive pest tends to attack pot plants, though it also has a fondness for strawberries. The brown-headed grubs kill plants at the roots over winter, whilst the fully-fledged insects cause damage by munching irregular chunks from leaves.

How to tackle them:

  • Apply insect barrier glue to the base of plant pots to prevent weevils crawling in.
  • Buy some vine weevil killer from your local garden centre and apply to potting compost – this technique will kill the grubs for months, but can’t be used on open soil or edible plants.

3. Cushion Scale

This sedentary, sap-sucking insect is oval-shaped and brown and infests the undersides of evergreen leaves. These bugs lay masses of white eggs and excrete honeydew, which attracts sooty mould, darkening the foliage.

How to tackle them:

  • Patches of sooty mould can be wiped off with a damp cloth.
  • Insecticide sprays can be particularly effective during hatching season (June/July) and you can buy organic sprays that will be equally effective – though will need to be applied more often.

4. Viburnum Beetle

If you have a Viburnum plant in your garden, but the leaves are peppered with brown-edged holes, blame this troublesome pest. The yellow-and-black larvae of the Viburnum beetle (which hatch from April to June) do the real damage, but the greyish-brown adults also feed in late summer.

How to tackle them:

  • The key to success is to spray at the correct times, in line with the pest’s lifecycle: tackle the larvae in late spring (early May) and the adult hatchlings in late summer (early August).
  • You can also do away with the eggs by pruning infested leaves, though this may lead to accidental pruning of shoots.

5. Woolly Aphids

These dark brown sap-suckers like the woody stems of fruit trees and their white, fluffy secretions make infestations easy to spot. In spring you’ll find them near pruning cuts and as summer progresses, they infest new shoots. In mid-summer winged adults colonise new plants. These aphids are especially tricky to deal with, as their waxy, woolly coating protects them from pesticides.

How to tackle them:

  • Try to catch them early – you can scrub off a light infestation with a stiff brush and soapy water, which removes the waxy coating and leaves the bugs vulnerable to pesticide spray.