Imagine spending months cultivating and paying special attention to the garden you dreamt about all winter long, only to come out one morning and notice something doesn't seem quite right.
Pests can destroy a garden little by little, or have a devastating effect in just one night.
That's why garden experts say it's important not only to prepare for pests, but know the signs of impending doom and what can be done to save your garden.
Know your pests
Although the main pests in the Northwest Indiana region are insects, other animals can wreak havoc on gardens at this time of the year as well.
"There are also bigger animals that can compromise plantings and crops - rabbits, deer, raccoons and birds," said Nancy Kuhajda, extension program coordinator with the University of Illinois Extension - Will County.
Certain animals tend to favor particular crops, she said.
"For example, when people ask how do I know my strawberries are ready, I jokingly respond - the day after the blue jay has eaten all of them," she said. "There are some crops that seem to have their favorite pests. Young green beans, for example, are like candy to rabbits."
Nikky Witkowski, an extension educator with Purdue University Cooperative Extension - Lake County, said Japanese Beetles can be the most common pest found on vegetables or fruits.
"Beyond that, you can have lots of Squash Bugs appear as fruit ripens more," she said.
She added a hidden pest is the Squash Vine Borer.
"If your squash/zucchini plants start to wilt all of the sudden and die, you most likely were attacked and there is nothing that can be done now," Witkowski said.
An extensive list of common garden pests and their images can be found at The Purdue University Cooperative Extension, Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory at ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL.
While gardeners can't prevent pests, they can exclude them, Kuhajda said.
"Putting up a garden fence to keep garden marauders out is a good idea if you have rabbits in the area," she said. "For insect pests, some gardeners will use floating row cover, a thin polyester fabric that lets light and water through, but keeps pests at bay."
Kuhajda said it's important for gardeners to remember there are many products advertised that claim to repel pests, but most are prohibited for use around produce that is eaten.
"There are also urban myths, or folk remedies that people feel safe in using because they come from the kitchen or laundry room," she said. "Beware these products are not licensed for use in the environment and prohibited for use around food."
Proper fall clean-up also is essential to preventing pests the following year, Witkowski said.
"If you had something that was insect infested, don't compost it," she said. "You are saving even the bugs for next year."
When bringing in plants, make sure they don't have eggs on them.
"Harvest fruits quickly - ripening or over-ripened fruit attracts the bugs," she said.
Lyndsay Ploehn, an associate educator with Purdue University Cooperative Extension - Porter County, said she recommends companion planting.
"This is a method of planting vegetables together that complement each other, and keeping those that don't away from each other," she said.
Chives, for example, should be planted near apples, berries, carrots, grapes, peas, roses and tomatoes. Not only do they improve the flavor and growth of their companion plants, they also deter aphids and Japanese beetles.
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts should be placed next to plants such as marigolds and nasturtiums, but kept away from strawberries. The marigolds repel cabbage moths, while the nasturtiums repel aphids.
Adding flowers to the garden also has an extra benefit, Kuhajda said.
"They attract beneficial pollinators that help with vegetable and fruit production," she said.
If looking online for a way to rid Japanese Beetles that have invaded your garden, you'll likely come across a beetle trap. These traps are marketed to gardeners who have roses and other susceptible plants, and contain chemical attractants that lure the beetles.
However, Witkowski said, these types of traps can actually do more harm than good.
"The traps will draw them from over a mile away," she said. "So don't use them unless you want to bring them in from your neighbors' as well."
Instead, Witkowski advises to try bait plants.
"Meaning, go buy or plant something they really like and hope they go to it more than your fruits instead," she said.
With Squash Bugs, eradicate as soon as possible, she said.
"Stay on top of the Squash Bugs and squash as needed as they will have population bursts if you are not lucky," Witkowski said.
If you choose to chemically treat, she said the only organic chemicals are ones with Pyrethrum in it.
"This works for both the Squash Bug and the Vine Borer," she said. "However, you can only preventatively treat the Borer, so you are too late typically for it."
Gardeners should be aware that killing all insects can harm a garden as well, as many insects are beneficial to the growth of the garden.
Kuhajda said treating a pest problem organically is better classified as treating with synthetic products (fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides) versus non-synthetic products.
"In either case, identification is the key," she said. "Gardeners need to know who or what is causing the problem. With pests, exclusion is still the best course of action."