Asked if they would prefer to grow their vegetables in a winter vegetable garden or in a summer vegetable garden, many gardeners would opt for the first, for one obvious reason: there are far fewer pests and pest-related problems in the winter. Compared to spring, winter is a much quieter time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of dangers lurking in and above the ground. Caterpillars, snails, wildlife, and other problematic insects remain active in the cooler weather, eating anything from leaves to seedlings and fruit. Let’s take a look at some of the most common pests you are probably going to stumble upon in your garden this winter.
1) Leaf-infesting insects (slugs, caterpillars, aphids)
Caterpillars are a common occurrence in winter crops; they’ll eat your leafy greens in a heartbeat if you don’t pay attention to the first infestation signs: shredded leaves, premature defoliation, and fruit damage. Aphids are also a big fan of vegetables, preferring to feed on lettuce and celery, but will contaminate a wide range of plants including ornamentals, trees, weeds, and fruit crops. They not only cause physical damage, but also transmit viruses from weeds and other plants that put at risk the entire plant. Finally, snails and slugs will chew holes in the tender leaves of your vegetables, causing them to look unsightly and, at worst, even killing the entire plant.
Voles are the tiny, mouse-like creatures that typically strip bark from roots and trunks of plants, chewing through stems and sometimes killing branches or the entire plant. But voles’ damage isn’t limited to gnawing on bark; they tunnel through lawns, forming lumps and trails on the surface and causing the soil to gain a spongy feel. Junipers are a preferred meal of voles, but many other shrubs and trees are a potential meal.
Moles are even more problematic than voles, creating an extensive network of tunnels in your winter garden. The direct damage is minimal in the case of moles: they destroy very few plants and roots by feeding directly on them. The real problem is the vegetation they dislodge while tunneling in search for food; since their daily food intake equals 60 to 100% of their body weight, they sometimes dig up to 150 feet of new tunnels each day.
4) Wildlife (rabbits, deer, rodents)
During prolonged periods of snow cover, your garden may be visited by rodents, rabbits, and deer in search for food. Trees and shrubs are especially vulnerable to these invaders, but ultimately any vegetation can be a source of food when resources are scarce. Mice and rabbits may strip the bark off the trunks of small trees, exposing them to pests and diseases, while deer will feed on the foliage of the lower branches of evergreens.
Regular landscape inspections, pruning, and weed removal may decrease the extent of winter pests’ damage. There are a number of ways to protect the plants in your garden in order to eliminate and prevent pest damage. Plastic collars can be applied to the trunks of trees, especially the young ones, which are more vulnerable to wildlife attacks. Hardware cloth or chicken wire are other options you can consider, equally effective as long as they are properly installed. You can also use repellants and sprays, especially during warm spells, to keep invaders at bay.
Despite your best efforts, invaders may still sneak into your winter garden and wreak havoc. Some of the infestations are easier to detect than others, and you may be able to eliminate the entire pest population yourself, using homemade remedies and aerosol sprays. Others might get out of hand without early detection and a quick response, so it’s best to rely on professionals to prevent further damage. Immediately after noticing the first signs of infestation, contact your local pest control company to talk about the safest and most effective method of saving your winter garden.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid garden