Garden Pests 101: Caterpillars and Rabbits and Slugs, Oh My!


Eddie Connor

June 6, 2015

When the weather warms up in the DC area, many residents turn to a favorite spring pastime: gardening. Fresh fruit and vegetables are a welcome addition to any meal, and picking them from your own backyard is the icing (or cherry) on the cake. However, whether you have a few tomato plants or acres of perfectly tilled soil, you’ll eventually have to deal with garden pests.

Garden pests come in all shapes and sizes. Tiny insects can damage a garden just as significantly as birds, rabbits, and even deer can. Pests are naturally attracted to gardens because they are a food source, but there are simple measures that you can take to prevent pests from damaging your plants.

At Connor’s, we utilize Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a holistic approach to pest control that effectively excludes or eliminates pests and wildlife while reducing health risks and environmental impacts. We highly recommend that you take IPM into consideration anytime you embark on a pest control project, especially when you are working in the garden.

As always, we’d recommend letting pest control experts handle your more serious pest issues, but there are measures you can take on your own. Below we’ve listed some of the worst offenders, garden pest-wise, along with tips for keeping them at bay.


Many insects can prey on your harvest and ultimately spoil fruits and vegetables. Caterpillars are known for their ability to eat…and eat and eat. They will gladly feast through your garden’s bounty, but they can be easily deterred. They have soft, sensitive bellies, so placing crushed eggshells on the ground beneath plants will keep them from climbing up to eat leaves.

Caterpillars may be annoying, but you shouldn’t remove them completely. Once a caterpillar completes its metamorphosis into a butterfly or moth, it becomes a gardener’s best friend. Butterflies and moths prey upon pests and deter them from making a home out of your garden.

Carrot Flies

Carrot flies bother carrot plants in an almost unending cycle. Flies lay eggs near carrots and they hatch into maggots that tunnel into the roots and feed. The first generation of these bugs emerges in May, while the second digs in autumn, spends all winter feeding, and then pupates in late spring. When carrot flies are feeding, leaves turn bronze and seedlings do poorly.

If your carrots are on a flat site, create a barrier around your patch roughly three feet high to keep the flies at bay. They’re weak flyers, so they won’t be able to go over the barrier, as long as there are no hedges or anything of height nearby. Another tried and true practice for discouraging carrot flies is to remove all carrots and parsnips from the garden over winter. This stops another carrot fly generation from hatching and infesting your veggies.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails don’t do a good job of hiding their tracks. They leave a slimy trail behind them, and due to their slow-moving nature, they are easy to find and catch. They typically nibble on lettuce and leafy greens overnight, but can munch on the leaves of just about anything.

Luckily, just like some of us, slugs and snails cannot resist beer. If you dig a hole and leave a shallow bowl of beer at ground level, the slugs will crawl into the beer and drown. Slugs and snails are also very susceptible to the eggshell trick we shared above.


A notoriously pesky and persistent garden pest, rabbits have an insatiable appetite for fruits and vegetables. They can also burrow nearly two feet into the ground to get under fences and bypass barriers.

The best way to keep rabbits out of your garden is to dig deep around your garden beds and install wire fencing both above- and below-ground. Rabbits also hate garlic and an all-purpose pesticide spray that includes garlic should deter them from eating your fruits and veggies.

We hope our suggestions help you protect your plants and enjoy your garden. Let us know if garden pest issues become more than you can manage. The Connor’s team is always happy to lend a hand.