Growing a flower garden is hard work, but it’s ultimately paid off by the sight of beautiful and colorful flowers and the amazing floral scent in the morning breeze. So when you find the garden butchered by a swarm of pests eating holes in the flowers and almost killing the plants, it can be quite upsetting and somewhat infuriating. Yet, what can you do to prevent the pests from eating holes in your flowers and destroying your floral paradise?
Here are 10 steps on how to stop all pests from eating holes in flowers:
- Keep the flowers healthy.
- Set up physical barriers.
- Install insect traps.
- Spread diatomaceous earth.
- Add nematodes into the soil.
- Use aromatic herbs as repellents.
- Grow different flowers together.
- Attract beneficial predatory insects.
- Keep toads and frogs nearby.
- Keep the garden clean and free from weeds.
In this article, I’ve put together a deep dive into the various steps to prevent pests from pestering your flower garden. If you’ve discovered a few buggers nibbling away on your flowers, I’ve also shared some organic and inorganic pesticides you can use to kill or fend off the pests. Finally, to help you become a more informed gardener, I’ve shared a short list of common flower garden pests you should watch out for.
1. Keep the Flowers Healthy
The first thing you should prioritize when trying to prevent pests from feasting on your flower plants is keeping the plants healthy.
As crazy as it sounds, plants have a defense mechanism to ward off bugs and harmful insects.
However, if the flower lacks nourishment, the defense system won’t be as strong to fend off pests and protect itself.
This is why it’s crucial that you take care of your flowers, remembering to water them regularly and nourishing the soil with the necessary minerals and nutrients the specific flower needs.
Discoloration and a crispy texture are signs that the flower is unhealthy, and you need to take quick action to get it back in shape.
All in all, even though they’re flowers, they’re no damsels in distress, i.e., as long as you ensure they’re healthy.
2. Set Up Physical Barriers
Another effective way of protecting your flowers from pests is by setting up physical barriers and making the flowers inaccessible.
Although, what type of physical barriers you’ll need depends on what type of pests you have.
For instance, if small insects and caterpillars are harassing your flower garden, you can deter them by setting up plant covers.
In case you’re looking for a recommendation, I prefer the Valibe Blanket Plant Cover (available on Amazon). These are thin and lightweight pieces of fabric made using spinning polyester.
All you need to do is create a frame and stretch the plant cover over the frame such that the flowers are inside the configuration. Ensure you haven’t left gaps from where the critters can come in.
However, if larger pests like rabbits or deers are wreaking havoc, you can simply set up a wired fence around the garden to discourage these trespassers.
3. Install Insect Traps
Along with setting up physical barriers, you can also install insect traps to catch the stubborn and persistent critters that just won’t leave your flowers alone.
I prefer placing sticky paper near the flower’s stem and also across the branches to catch any bugs that try to come close.
The Gideal Dual-Sided Yellow Sticky Traps (available on Amazon) is a great option. They’re made using non-toxic, eco-friendly materials and perfect for catching whiteflies, aphids, fruit flies, etc.
Now besides the creepy crawlies, the icky slimies also present a huge problem for flower gardens, specifically snails and slugs. An effective way of trapping them is by using beer.
Simply pour some beer into a small container and place it on the garden soil. If snails or slugs fall into them, they can’t get out.
Other than this, you can also try crushing eggshells and spreading them near the roots of the flowers. These aren’t specifically insect traps but will help deter the slugs that don’t get caught inside our sophisticated beer contraption.
4. Spread Diatomaceous Earth
How can I leave out diatomaceous earth when discussing garden barriers and insect traps?
Diatomaceous earth is a completely organic insecticide made by crushing the ancient fossilized oceanic organisms known as diatoms. Chemically speaking, diatomaceous earth is silica and is usually found as a white or off-white colored powder.
You can create a boundary by spreading diatomaceous earth powder in a continuous line around your flower garden. Alternatively (or additionally), you can use it to circle around the more vulnerable flowers.
Doing so will keep out any and all soft-bodied pests. Diatomaceous earth can also kill smaller insects by damaging their exoskeleton till they die from dehydration.
Also, keep in mind that diatomaceous earth will wash away if it rains or when you water your flowers. As such, remember to spread it again after your routine watering or after a rainstorm.
You can usually buy diatomaceous earth from your local nursery. But if it isn’t available, you can order online. I personally use the Safer Brand Diatomaceous Earth (available on Amazon) as it’s budget-friendly and also OMRI listed.
5. Add Nematodes into the Soil
While diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of a prehistoric organism that helps with pest control, nematodes are living parasites that can fend off over 200 species of pests from your garden.
The nematodes live inside the soil and eat the larvae and eggs of other bugs and insects to survive. Thus, it can’t prevent pests from coming to your flower garden, but it can prevent a full-blown infestation by killing their eggs and preventing them from reproducing.
Take note, however, that there are different species of nematodes, and a single type won’t eliminate all your pest problems. You must first figure out which particular type of pest is causing issues in your flower garden and then get nematodes that can deal with that particular species.
You’ll generally find nematodes sold at your local nursery or gardening stores. They come in a sponge, which holds approximately 1 million nematode eggs. Mix the eggs with water and pour them into the soil. The eggs will then hatch inside the soil and get to work.
6. Use Aromatic Herbs As Repellents
If you want to take your organic pest control measures to the next level, you can try using herbal scents or herbal extracts in your flower garden. Aromatic herbs with a strong smell can repel common garden pests.
Stuff like mint, lavender, thyme, lemongrass, and fennel all let out a strong perfume that will deter most of your garden pests.
In fact, you can take this a step further and plant these herbs in your flower garden. This will provide a constant and steady stream of pest repellent aroma and keep the garden well protected.
7. Grow Different Flowers Together
Now, speaking of growing herbs alongside your flowers, you can also consider planting different flower varieties together using a practice known as intercropping.
You see, certain types of pests prefer only certain types of flowers. Therefore, if you only have a single type of flower in your garden, the whole area will get overthrown by pests that favor it.
However, populating your garden with a mix of flowers will create a diverse environment where a single pest will find it difficult to thrive. Furthermore, non-host plants/flowers can hinder pests’ ability to detect host plants, thereby keeping them away from your garden altogether.
8. Attract Beneficial Predatory Insects
Intercropping flowers and creating a diversified floral landscape has another benefit. It attracts helpful predatory insects to fight off and kill the harmful pests.
Predatory insects don’t eat or damage plants or flowers. They feast on other insects to survive. So if you create a welcoming environment for predatory insects in your garden, they’ll sweep in and automatically control your pest predicament.
Now, you don’t need to work very hard to attract beneficial insects to your garden. All they need to feed on are protein-rich insects (pests) and high-carbohydrate nectar –which they’ll get if you plant a variety of flowers in the garden.
Still, it’s important to remember that these beneficial insects don’t come in white-collar suits to let you know they’re the good guys. Be sure to take the time to educate yourself on which bugs are good for your flower garden, so you don’t accidentally get rid of them.
9. Keep Toads and Frogs Nearby
If you like the idea of introducing nature’s helpers to protect your flower garden but don’t want to deal with more bugs (which is perfectly understandable), I’d suggest calling a few amphibians to the party.
Toads and frogs are known to be one of the best pest control measures in gardens. They’ll make quick work of the various flower-eating bugs and insects you have in the area.
To attract and keep these amphibians near your floral garden, you need to provide them with a hospitable habitat.
Of course, all the bugs coming to the flowers give them an abundant food source. Now, all it needs is a place to stay. For this, you can create a toad house in your garden. This will also give you control over where the toad will stay.
Here’s an educational 4-minute YouTube video talking about how to create a toad house in your garden:
10. Keep the Garden Clean and Free From Weeds
Finally, to keep your garden free from pests and insects that eat flowers, you need to ensure the garden is clean, tidy, and free from weeds.
A dirty garden with a lot of weeds and dead shoots can attract different varieties of pests that’ll cause damage to your plants.
Set a routine to tend to your flower garden at least once a week.
If there’s weed development, pluck them out from the root so that it doesn’t regrow.
Also, use a powerful water hose to shoot water and clear out any dust, debris, as well as pests hanging on to the flowers, leaves, or stems.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to clear out the insect traps and clean the physical barriers, if any.
Pesticides To Stop an Ongoing Infestation
Till now, we talked about various ways to keep pests out of your flower garden and stop an infestation from occurring. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, bugs and insects manage to break into the garden and start a colony.
In situations like this, you need to take strong measures to stop the ongoing infestation before it gets out of control and leads to defoliation. As such, I do recommend the use of pesticides.
That said, you don’t need to use the harsh commercially available off-shelf pesticides, which have a reputation of doing more harm than good. Instead, I’ve shared a few homemade organic pesticide solutions that you can quickly whip up and start applying to your flower garden.
Following that, I’ve also shared a few store-bought options, ensuring they’re not too harsh and won’t harm the garden or the beneficial insects dwelling in it.
Homemade Pesticide Solutions
Here are five homemade pesticide solutions you can use to kill pests in your flower garden:
- Garlic, water, and dish soap mixture
- Epsom salt and water mixture
- Oil and soap mixture
- Citrus spray
- Hot chili pepper powder
Let’s quickly go over how to prepare these concoctions and how to apply them.
Garlic, Water, and Dish Soap Mixture
Here’s how to prepare this mixture:
- Take 5-6 garlic bulbs.
- Peel and crush them inside a small bowl.
- Add 16 oz (~500 ml) of water and pour into the bowl.
- Mix the garlic and water and let it sit overnight.
- Add a few drops of dish soap.
- Use a strainer to filter the garlic out of the mixture and pour it into a bottle.
You can now spray this solution on your flowers’ leaves and stems to fend off various pests. For the best results, spray the solution at least twice a week.
Epsom Salt and Water Mixture
To prepare this mixture:
- Mix 1 cup (240 ml) of Epsom salt with 5 gallons (~3.7 L) of water.
- Wait for the mixture to dissolve.
- Store it inside a bottle.
You now have an Epsom salt and water mixture for controlling garden pests.
The solution is most effective at countering beetles, slugs, and other soft-bodied insects.
Just spray the solution near the base of the affected flower plant, and that should deter the pests from coming close. For best results, use the spray weekly.
Although, you don’t even need to go through this much trouble, as sprinkling some Epsom salt directly on the soil surrounding the affected plant should also work just as efficiently.
Oil and Soap Mixture
Oil and soap mixture is one of the simplest insecticides in terms of preparation.
All you have to do is:
- Mix 1 portion of oil (preferably vegetable oil) with 1/4 portion of liquid soap.
That’s it –it’s ready to use!
If desired, you can apply the mixture directly on the insects. Alternatively, you can dilute the mixture with water, fill it up inside a spray bottle, and spray it on the pests.
Either way, ensure you completely coat the insects with the mixture. The soapy, oily concoction will make it difficult for the pests to move or breathe and eventually smother them to death. This method is particularly effective at dealing with soft-bodied insects, including aphids, mites, caterpillars, and the like.
Another super effective and completely organic insecticide is a concentrated citrus solution.
To prepare, follow these steps:
- Completely grate the peel of 1 fresh lemon and collect it in a container.
- Bring 1 pint (~500ml) of water to a boil. Once boiling, shut off the heat source, then pour the grated peel into the pot.
- Let the mixture rest overnight.
- Use a cheesecloth to strain the mixture into a container.
You can now pour the mixture into a spray bottle and directly apply it on the insects.
The concoction is particularly very effective against soft-bodied pests, but you need to spray it directly on their bodies.
Hot Chili Pepper Powder
One last organic pest deterrent you can prepare at home is hot chili pepper powder. Its strong smell effectively clears out whiteflies and ants in your garden, even if you have a heavy infestation underway.
Preparing hot chili pepper powder is also very easy:
- Dry a handful of hot chili peppers under the sun.
- Use a mixer grinder to turn the dried peppers into fine red dust. (Be extra careful not to get the powder into your eyes!)
- Store it away inside a container.
You can sprinkle the powder around the bases of the affected flower plants or directly on a visible pest colony to see its effect.
The main problem in doing this is that the powder can get easily washed away when you water the flowers or get blown away by a strong gust of wind. As such, you can mix the powder with little amounts of vegetable oil to make it more sticky.
Store-Bought Pesticide Solutions
Here are three store-bought solutions that are safe to use as pesticides in your flower garden:
- Rubbing alcohol
- Bacillus thuringiensis (BT)
- Insecticidal soap
Let’s review how to use these options to control a pest infestation.
Rubbing alcohol isn’t generally marketed as a pesticide, but it’s incredibly effective at controlling soft-bodied insects like aphids, thrips, slugs, etc.
When the alcohol comes in contact with the insect’s body, it can destroy the bug’s outer layer and dry it out, killing it quickly and efficiently.
Unfortunately, rubbing alcohol can also damage plant tissues.
For this reason, you must take a targeted approach when applying rubbing alcohol:
- Soak a small piece of cotton in the rubbing alcohol.
- Place the cotton directly on the pest.
This should kill it.
Bacillus thuringiensis (BT)
Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) is an extremely effective organic pesticide and perfect for use inside your flower garden.
BT is a soil-based bacteria, but we’re interested in the toxin it naturally releases. The BT toxin can instantly kill several species of plant/flower-feeding insects. However, it won’t harm beneficial predatory garden pests, nor does it affect pollinators like bees. And, in case there was any doubt, it’s also harmless to humans and pets.
Notably, there is some debate regarding the consumption of BT-stained food. But since you’re using the toxin on flowers (which you’re not likely planning to eat), there shouldn’t be a problem.
Now, it’s worth noting that the BT bacteria have different strains, and each strain is adept at killing/deterring different species of pests. So, when buying BT, ensure you get the right variant intended to kill the pests in your garden.
Usually, BT is sold with different suffixes attached to its name. The suffix indicates which pests it’s adept at killing.
- BT-k targets caterpillars
- BT-i targets flies
- BT-g targets beetles
Be sure to identify which pests have infested your flower garden first. Then purchase a BT pesticide that targets that particular pest.
Insecticidal soap is readily available at any organic gardening aisle and is a great way to control and kill growing pest infestation.
These soaps are usually made using potassium salt collected from fatty acids and are completely safe to use in your garden. Unfortunately, it won’t discriminate between insects and kill harmful and helpful soft-bodied insects, so keep that in mind.
The soap mainly works by drying out soft-bodied insects. However, they can also suffocate scale insects. In addition, it’s not at all useful against chewing insects like caterpillars or beetles, in which case, you’ll have to use BT.
The soap is generally sold inside spray bottles. But it can sometimes come in big jugs, so you’ll need to transfer it to a spray bottle and then spray it directly onto the critters.
Common Flower Garden Pests and How To Find Them
There are so many different types of pests that can attack your flowers, and as we’ve learned, different pests respond to different remedies. Therefore, if you wish to effectively manage pests in your flower garden, you need to gain some knowledge about the enemy.
To help you out, I’ve put together a list of the most common flower garden pests discussing how they look, the way they damage the flower plants, and some targeted controlling measures.
Aphids are small pear-shaped critters with two short tube-like projections on their rear end and an antenna up front. It might or might not have wings, depending on the particular species, and is generally found in a diverse range of colors, including red, yellow, green, black, and brown.
Aphids can attack Calendulas, Fuschias, Roses, Honeysuckles, and many other flowering plants. The pests insert their straw-like mouths inside the plants and start sucking out their nutrients.
This creates a dehydrated and discolored appearance on the flowers as well as the overall foliage. Moreover, aphids spread different types of plant-based diseases, which can further damage the flowers.
You can try welcoming beneficial insects like parasitoid wasps and ladybugs to prevent aphids. Also, spraying soapy water directly onto the pests is an effective control measure.
Japanese beetles are small at around 1/2 inches (1.27 cm) but boast a distinct metallic blue-green color with bronze, or red wing covers, making them super easy to identify. Their larvae are small and fat, with clear white grubs and brown-colored heads.
Another way to recognize you have a Japanese beetle infestation is by observing the damage to the foliage. These pests skeletonize the leaves and chew small holes in flowering plants.
Luckily, they’re not only easy to detect but also somewhat easy to control.
First, set up plant covers and keep beneficial insects to deter these pests. If they do get in, proceed to use BT-g pesticide, spray oil-soap mixture, or rubbing alcohol to control the infestation.
Caterpillars need no introduction, and I’m sure you have encountered these short (sometimes long) colorful worms in your life.
These are essentially the larval stage of butterflies that feed on the nectar from flowers. As a result, most species (not all) of caterpillars prefer picking a flowering plant as its host. The caterpillar eats holes through the leaves and even the flowers as they stock up on nutrients, preparing for the big metamorphosis into butterflies.
That said, caterpillars are generally large pests and easy to spot. Furthermore, the way they eat holes through the leaves is unmistakable.
If you notice a caterpillar, you can easily remove them by hand and place it far away from your flower garden, where they pose no threat. Even if there’s a “caterpillar infestation,” you might have around 10-12 critters roaming around, which you can easily pick up and throw away from your garden.
That said, using the BT-k pesticide is a potential solution if you have a very large garden. You can also put up plant covers and spread diatomaceous earth on the soil to prevent caterpillars from coming in contact with your flowers.
Tarnished Plant Bugs
Tarnished plant bugs are really small, around 1/5 inches (0.51 cm). However, their green-brown bodies carry a distinct “Y”-shaped yellow marking making them easily recognizable.
The pests are known to attack almost all sorts of foliage, so intercropping won’t help keep these critters at bay. Vegetable plants, flowering plants, nothing is safe from a tarnished plant bug that’ll suck out the nutrition from a particular plant leading to withered, dehydrated, and sickly-looking flowers and leaves.
You can keep out tarnished plant bugs by keeping your flower garden clean and free from weeds. Another simple solution is to install plant covers.
In case of an infestation, neem oil is specifically effective at killing these pests. You can also harbor other beneficial insects that’ll eat these bugs.
Snails and Slugs
Snails and slugs are common garden pests that rarely eat holes through the flowers. Still, if these slimies are on a platform from where they have easy access to the flower, they can start nibbling on them, creating small holes throughout the petals.
If there are only a few snails and slugs, you can simply pick them up and relocate them outside the garden to solve the problem. Also, keeping diatomaceous earth spread across the soil will deter these pests and prevent them from climbing onto your flowering plants.
On the other hand, if there’s an uncontrollable number of slugs in your garden, you can resort to using Epsom salt, insecticidal soap, or even chili powder to deter the pests and reduce the population.
The first course of action to stop pests from eating holes through your flowers should be to keep the flowers well hydrated and healthy so that they don’t attract insects.
On top of this, you’ll want to set up physical barriers and install insect traps as the primary layer of protection. While you’re at it, you can spread diatomaceous earth and nematodes into the soil.
You can also try intercropping, attracting predatory insects, or keeping frogs and toads near the garden to help deter potential pests.