Why are my mustard greens dying and full of holes?


I recently had an email exchange with Ryan who lives in Pflugervill Texas, near Austin. He was concerned that mustard greens in his garden were being eaten by aphids and regardless of what measures he took, things were just getting worse. I thought our conversation might be of interest to many of you, as what Ryan experienced is so common.


“I planted mustard greens about a month ago and they where healthy and nice looking and now some leaves on the bottom and some on top are turning yellow. Someone said there were aphids on them and I sprayed them with some stuff. My question is can mustard greens get aphids on them? I know snails like them. And what causes the leaves to turn yellow? I have watered them once a week and we had rain for a few days so is it too much water or not enough?”

Yes, aphids may be the problem, but I doubt that water is. Are you using compost in your garden? What did you spray the greens with?

mustard greens eaten by insects

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salad greens eaten by insects

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“Hi Todd here are some pics of the mustard greens. As you can see they have yellow leaves on them and they are getting beat up. I know there are a few snails I found but a lot I have killed as well. I did put top soil in that spot and miracle grow dirt as well and I sprayed them with an organocide – a three in one garden spray – and if I can’t stop them from looking the way they do could I maybe replant some more as I love mustard greens.”

It appears that you have a number of insect problems. At this point, the mustard greens are a lost cause, so I would pull up all of the yellowed and otherwise damaged plants and bag them. Don’t compost them if you believe they’re loaded with aphids.

But if you’re overrun with insects your problem is more about HOW you’re growing your plants than the insects themselves.

Chemicals can’t control insects in the long term and Miracle-Gro is a no-go

First, you say that you used Organocide 3-in-1 spray. While the ingredients in that spray are indeed organic, it may have been unnecessary. I only use oil sprays on fruit trees, never in a vegetable garden.

Second, never use Miracle-Gro soil products – even the “organic” products. Last I checked, Miracle-Gro Organic contains salt-based fertilizer (ammonium sulfate), which destroys the microbial life in your soil.

Don’t take for granted any “organic” or “natural” labels – check the ingredients list. If there’s a chemical listed on the label, put it back on the shelf. There are no legal rules on organic labeling for soil products, only food, so chemicals or questionable ingredients are in many of these products, especially the ones made by the big chemical companies (of which Miracle-Gro is a prime offender). There are also no legal guidelines whatsoever for the “natural” label – it’s purely marketing.

For now, the best advice I can give you is this:

Yank out all of the damaged and dying mustard greens – this season is over (it happens to all of us once in a while).

Before planting your next batch of seeds or seedlings, work alot of compost into your garden bed. Don’t buy any topsoil, it isn’t necessary.

Plant your next bed of greens in a different location than where they are now to avoid possible insect infestation. This is called crop rotation.

When the next growing cycle is underway, inspect your plants every day and at the first sign of insect damage, sprinkle diatomaceous earth around, underneath, and on top of the plants. This will kill any thrips, snails, slugs and anything that flies, without impacting wildlife. But only use it when the soil is dry and when there’s no chance of moisture for 2-3 days, because when it gets wet, DE cakes up and becomes useless. Also do whatever you can to invite birds into your garden, as they’ll eat whatever insects you miss. Between birds and DE, you need nothing else.

Once your soil is in balance, you won’t have insect problems, as the beneficial insects prey on the insects we don’t want, keeping everything in balance. Don’t panic and resort to chemicals.

Read about using diatomaceous earth in your garden


“Thank you for the advice. I will pull the greens out then and I would like to plant more but I am out of room in the garden for the time being. What would be some good compost to buy as I buy mine usually from home depot or a little nursery by my house? Where can I buy that sprinkle stuff for the mustard greens to stop the pests from attacking them next time? And can buying lady bugs and releasing them in the garden help?”

If you’re out of room in the garden, let the bed rest, because if there’s nothing for the insects to eat, they’ll move on. I don’t know what brands of compost are sold in your area, but you don’t need anything special – plain old compost is fine. If you have the budget you might want to pay a little more for what’s called “soil builder”, which includes mychorrizal fungi and usually fish products or manures. Once again, avoid any products which include synthetic chemicals.

Diatomaceous Earth is available at most independent garden centers also – just ask. Yes, Ladybugs can be very effective predators of invasive insects, but they may surprise you and move out of your garden if they don’t find their favorite insects there. I’ve never bought any, but I always find a handful in my garden every year –  Ladybugs will move in on their own if the conditions are right.

For now, load up the garden with compost and/or soil builder and let it go to work before your next planting. I’ll be honest – you won’t see instant results like you do with chemicals. It takes months to see results from soil builder and compost, but be patient, because once the garden soil gets balanced, your gardening will be much easier. Gardening teaches us nothing if not patience.

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About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His first book, "Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden" is available on Amazon now. Google
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