You plant a nice garden, you see sprouts and buds and birds and butterflies. Then suddenly, the wrong crowd shows up. Slugs, ants, mites, and other nasty critters treat your plants as if they were a tray of hors d'oeuvres. Here are a few of the more common uninvited guests you'll find in your garden and what to know about them.
Slugs are never going to win any beauty contests. There are over 30 species of these slimy creatures. They seek out damp, cool places to hide. Lift a rock or a piece of wood in your yard, and you might see a few. Slugs are active for two hours after sunset and two hours before sunrise. They munch on seedlings and ornamental plants, but they particularly love hostas. If you see large round holes in your plants' leaves, you're looking at the remains of a slug feast.
Spider mites are like little garden vampires. They bite and suck the fluids out of your plants. They can leave white or yellow spots on foliage, or even kill the entire plant. If you can't see them, look for fine silk webbing on your plants.
These sap-sucking insects can weaken your plants. They can pass diseases from one plant to the next, and generally stunt your plants. Look for them under leaves and flowers. While they have natural predators, you can protect your plants from aphids with several products.
Ants seem to be everywhere in the summer. You'll see mounds in the yard, and little columns of them marching across your patio. Of course, it's no fun seeing them in the kitchen. While they usually don't get beyond the nuisance level, they can contaminate food. If you have carpenter ants, they can eat away at wooden structures in your yard, such as decks and furniture.
If you live in the south, these creatures can make being in the yard miserable for your family and pets. They're very aggressive, and will defend their nests against everything. If the nests are threatened, they might just relocate - to another part of your yard. If you haven't been bitten but suspect that you have fire ants, look for large, hard mounds in your yard.