Leaf miner attack on tomato plant leaves
Leaf miner attack on tomato plant leaves

Just like there is a villain for every hero in a film, there are pests and insects for every juicy harvest, foliage, leafy plant and blossoming flower.

Gardeners classify these critters based on whether they cause massive destruction to crops or whether their existence somehow prevents plants from falling prey to even more destructive insects and pests. This classification helps gardeners make proper arrangements to get rid of most insects, and attract a few others, for the betterment of their gardening yields.

One may recall that a string of advertisements by pesticide companies used to regularly air on TV a few decades ago. These advertisements would implore landlords and farmers to protect their rabi and kharif crops from potential pest attacks and insect infestations by using insecticides, fungicides and pesticides.

While farmers and landlords are mostly equipped with the required arsenal to fend off any unwanted critters, it is a different story for home-gardeners, many of whom come to know of these attacks very late. We continue to receive and answer many queries regarding pest attacks and plant diseases. Here are a few of the very basic red flags to watch out for in the case of a potential pest or insect attack, or the emergence of a disease in your plants.

Protect your plants and garden from unwelcome insect infestations by looking out for these warning signs

Physical presence of insects

Although many pests are not visible to most new gardeners, there are a few that can be easily identified on leaves, under-leaves, stems, branches, fruits, within flowers and around the roots area. These include the likes of caterpillars, beetles, worms and bugs.

Two caterpillars eating away at lemon plant leaves | Photos by the writer
Two caterpillars eating away at lemon plant leaves | Photos by the writer

Spots and discolouration on leaves

Other than a lack of nutrients, one of the most common causes of localised discolouration on leaves is the presence of any plant disease or a pest attack. The reason behind this is that plant diseases interfere with the chlorophyll synthesis of the plant, thus resulting in the presence of these discoloured patches and spots on the leaves which are devoid of the natural green. Common pests like aphids, spider mites and thrips are the main culprits behind this discolouration.

Punched holes and eating patterns on leaves

Most insects like caterpillars feast on leaves. Home-gardeners trying to grow lemons usually have this complaint that a green-coloured caterpillar is chomping away at their leaves. These caterpillars are usually found near the leaves as well, blending in with their surroundings due to the similarities in colour. However, even if you do not see any caterpillars, the holes in your leaves can easily give away the culprit. The eating pattern around the half-eaten leaves and leaves being devoured from one side only are indicative of the presence of caterpillars. This is one of the most common signs of any insect infestation.

Stunted or abnormal plant growth patterns

Other than growing the plant in the wrong season or without a lack of required nutrients, the main reason for stunted growth is most likely an insect infestation. The main culprits in this case are usually whiteflies and mealy bugs. Just like in autumn, when plants divert their energy towards simply surviving by shedding off their leaves, similarly the energy required by plants for growing is diverted to fight and fend off these critters. This, in turn, hampers the growth of the plant.

Presence of honeydew

Honeydew is a clear, sticky substance that is left behind on leaves by insects like mealy bugs and whiteflies. Its presence on leaves is an indication that the insects just got done with their feasting. Sometimes ants tend to spread these insects all across the plant since ants feed on this secretion.

Insects and pests can either directly damage the plant by eating away leaves, fruits, buds and flowers, or they can cause a viral, bacterial or fungal disease. Many of the above-mentioned critters exist peacefully. It is highly recommended not to get rid of insects and bugs like honeybees, grasshoppers, earthworms, beetles and caterpillars — if they are not causing too much damage that is. This will ensure the sustained balance of the ecosystem.

However, if the caterpillars are actually turning your plant leaf-less, then it is better to remove them with the help of a twig. After doing this, the plants should be sprayed with an organic version of insecticide like neem oil. Try to spray it on the leaves and the under-leaves.

We will continue to discuss insects, pests, diseases and their remedies in detail in our upcoming articles. For now, home-gardeners growing fruits and vegetables at home should ensure that they never spray their plants with chemicals and should instead search for healthy organic alternatives. Chemical pesticides continue to cause ecological imbalances due to soil and water contamination, and may even hamper other life-forms, including insects, birds and fish.

Please send your queries and emails to doctree101@hotmail.com. The writer is a physician and a host for the YouTube channel ‘DocTree Gardening’ promoting organic kitchen gardening

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 22nd, 2023

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