Pet or Pest: Garden Critters

By Jai Fernandez and Martina Balanza

Healthy gardens are teeming with life, and not just plant life. While growing plants, it’s likely that you’ll encounter some cute or creepy crawlies that keep your plants company. Here’s our guide to determining what the presence of these critters mean for your plants.


1. Ladybugs

Most ladybugs or ladybeetles are beneficial in any garden as they are the natural predator for many destructive garden pests like scales, aphids, and mites. Fully grown ladybugs can eat upwards of fifty aphids a day, making them effective pest controllers for your plants. There are, however, a few species that snack on leaves instead of aphids. So, make sure to observe what these dotted creatures do before jumping to any conclusions.

Tip: Some herbs like chives, cilantro, and dill can help attract ladybugs to your garden!

2. Ants (Langgam / Hantik)

Ants are generally beneficial to the garden as they aerate the soil by digging tunnels into the ground, and decompose organic waste. While ants are rarely cause for concern, some species, like fire ants or carpenter ants can damage your garden. Additionally, ants have a special relationship with aphids as they will often protect them and sometimes even bring them to their nests because of the “honeydew” that aphids produce. So, while ants may generally be good for plants, you may have to be wary of the company that they keep. 

3. Bees (Bubuyog)

Bees play a vital role in your garden and the ecosystem by pollinating flowers, crops, and trees. Consider planting flowering vegetables, like tomato, pepper and eggplant to make your garden a bee-friendly space. These small pollinators also need water to keep hydrated, so leave out a shallow dish of water with a few rocks or pebbles inside, so that bees have a landing space. Empty and refill the dish frequently to avoid attracting mosquitoes. 


4. Earthworms (gen: Uod)

Earthworms are a greatly beneficial presence in the garden: they decompose plant debris into nutrient rich content for soil and aerate the soil by burrowing. Because of their role in creating richer soil, some people create compost bins where they allow earthworms to live in and do their thing. This is called vermicomposting. When interacting with earthworms, please do not prolong their exposure to direct sunlight, as they will dry out. This is due to the fact that they need moisture to breathe through their skin, which is the main reason why they stay underground and only come out when it is rainy.



5. Slugs and Snails (Kuhol / Susô for either)

These mollusks wreak havoc in gardens by eating all types of vegetation. Plants in direct contact to the ground, as well as small seedlings with tender leaves are the most vulnerable to slug damage. They thrive in warm, moist, and humid environments (a fitting description for the Philippine climate) and are active at night, so avoid watering your garden late in the day, lest these hungry critters devour all your leafy friends! 


6. Caterpillar (Hígad)

Locally known as “higad” these hairy insects feed mostly on leaves, and in large numbers can strip trees bare of leaves. When taking care of a few plants, it is ideal to keep these pests away. However, it’s important to remember that these hungry creatures eventually grow into butterflies and moths, insects that are well known for their role in pollination. In other words, while they do eat your plants, they also eventually help some of them bear fruit and reproduce.

When dealing with the hairy variety of caterpillars, avoid directly touching them as they may cause rashes and skin irritation.

7. Aphids 

Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that suck nutrient-rich sap out of leaves and stems, which weakens plants. They also secrete a substance on the leaves they stay on called “honeydew” that is prone to accumulating mold or attracting ants. Check the undersides of leaves and petals as those are common aphid hiding spots.

8. Fruit Fly (Langaw)

Smaller than the regular flies we usually encounter, fruit flies are attracted to most types of ripened soft-skinned fruits and veggies. Fruit flies and their larvae can contaminate produce and cause illness when unintentionally consumed. To avoid coming across these fellows, make sure to immediately consume fruits once they are ripened or store them in sealed containers.

Oftentimes, the presence of bugs and insects is a hurdle that first time gardeners have to get through. But whether we love them or hate them, it’s important to remember that our garden residents play significant roles in our ecosystem. So hopefully this guide has been helpful in understanding the critters that we might encounter in our gardening journeys! 

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