The Tiny Thing That’s Bugging Your Garden

There’s a tiny thing that’s bugging your garden this summer. So tiny in fact, that you can’t see it with the naked eye. Think minuscule, but with a big impact. I’m talking about Western Flower Thrips and they can be devastating to a garden.

Even though their official name is Western Flower Thrips, they like not only flowers, but foliage and vegetables too. In short, you can find them on just about anything in your garden. You may also spot them on shrubs like potentillas, spiraeas, lilacs and other blooming shrubs. It’s rare to find them on trees, but if you have some very young ones, you may find them there. Since thrips like to overwinter in hay fields, you may find them there too.

Thrips aren’t easy to spot, mainly because they are so very tiny, but their damage is very easy to recognize. The main thing you will see is that the new growth on your plants is distorted. You may also see some brown spotting and if it is a flowering plant, most likely the flowers won’t open or form correctly. If any of these sound familiar, then it’s time to check for thrips.

Check for thrips by taking a piece of plain, white paper and holding it under the plant. Gently tap the plant so that anything that is available will fall onto the paper. Thrips are usually brownish in color, but are very, very tiny. If it looks like there is a small speck moving across the paper, most likely you have thrips.

Due to their extremely small size and high rates of reproduction by laying eggs in the cracks and crevices of flowers, they can be difficult to control. The reason you need to eliminate them as soon as possible is because thrips are carriers of tomato spotted wilt virus. Once you get this virus in your plants, there is no way to get rid of it and it can devastate a crop. Crops that are particularly susceptible are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and a few other minor crops.

Captain Jacks Dead Bug Brew is our go-to for thrip infestations. This organic control is available in either a dust or spray and the bonus is that it’s effective for caterpillars and worms too. The active ingredient is a bacteria called spinosad which is a chemical that was discovered in abandoned Caribbean rum distilleries and has been able to be commercially reproduced. It’s an excellent product for thrip control and I’ve often wondered if maybe at least they end up drunk and happy on their way out?

Another systemic control, Bonide’s Systemic Insect Control, also works well, especially for those larger plants that you can’t reach using Captain Jacks dust or spray. This product should not be used on edibles however, so always be careful to follow label directions.

Thrips have one weakness though and that is that they have an incredible sweet tooth. One thing we have found to be super effective is to mix a little table sugar in with whatever control you choose. Mixing this into the spray will draw them out to feed on the sugar then the chemicals can easily do their job.

These tiniest of insects can wreak havoc on your garden so get them under control quickly if you’ve checked for them and find some. They’re a tiny problem that can turn your garden into a huge mess if left untreated.