There’s nothing like to have a home garden to start appreciating the trials and tribulations of farmers who cultivate our food. Between nature, weeds, and insects, not to mention the challenges of soil fertility, striving to put a meal on the table that comes from a home garden can be an extremely surreal experience-especially when adhering to organic protocols that do not rely on fast but potentially harmful solutions such as herbicides, pesticides, and traditional fertilizers. Homemade herbicides can help you get a handle on noxious or invasive weeds without as much labor as hand-weeding. Insect pests can turn your once lush garden into their all-you-can-eat buffet.

Adult ladybug
Ladybug

When it comes to keeping your crops safe against large numbers of plant-munching insects, there are a lot of methods that can help turn the tide in favor of your own harvest.  And while removing insects by hand is a time-tested process, doing so can be incredibly challenging. Another less time-consuming way of knocking back insect populations is by applying natural or homemade insecticides to reduce their numbers or eradicate all together. Not all insects are harmful, so be careful when applying insecticides, particularly harsh pesticides can affect even beneficial insects, which can lead to your local garden environment.

No gardener wants insects to wreak havoc on a bed of ripe crops. Luckily, unwanted guests can be held away. Since some pesticides can harm beneficial bugs that actually benefit your plants, first try these simple control measures before using the strong stuff.

Knowing the main offenders

Pest damage varies on the type of pest, the type of plants you have, and how pests act around them. Some pests will destroy your plants from the core; others only ruin your leaves. Some pests remain there only to feed on other pests, while others spread disease among your plants. While not all pests do the same, there are several different natural pesticides for whatever pest you can find.

1. Aphides

What they look like

 Aphids may be yellow, white, red, or black, and either winged or wingless. White cottony aphid prefers fruit trees.

Young aphids

Plant damage

 Aphids are usually found clustering on tender plant growth, where they suck sap, causing distorted leaves and flowers. While finding hundreds clustered on a plant stem can be surprising, they rarely do enough harm to destroy a plant. Unless they affect a large crop, they typically aren’t a cause of great concern.

Pest control method

 A heavy water spray from a hose knocks them off plants or pinches the infected stem and crushes it on the ground. A spray of insecticidal soap also works, but the area where they were fed will still show some distortion as it develops. Ladybug larvae and lacewings (both beneficial insects) may help control aphids. Notice that any process used to monitor or kill aphids would also affect beneficial insects that feed on them.

2. Maggot Cabbage

They stick to cabbage-family crops, particularly Chinese cabbages, and live across North America. Maggots burrow through roots, killing plants directly, or making entries for disease species. Apply floating row coverings

Cabbage maggots
Cabbage maggot

Pest Control Method

• Invest transplants in tar-paper squares

Slow down first-generation by delaying planting

• Apply parasitic  nematodes around the plants base

 Burn roots from used crops. 

• Mount wood ashes or red pepper around stems.

3. Caterpillars

Caterpillars are soft, segmented larvae with separate, harder head capsules with six front legs and rear fleshy false legs. Many fruits and vegetables, ornamentals, and shade trees will find them. Caterpillars chew leaves or along margins; and some fruit tunnels. 

Pest control method

• Promote predators and parasites

• Hand-pick the crop

• Apply floating row coverings

4. Cutworms

Cutworms are the fat, grey, or black larvae most active at night. They are present throughout North America and are found on early vegetable and flower seedlings and transplants. Cutworms chew through stems at ground level; they can devour small plants in May and June. 

Cutworm

Pest control method

• Using Cutworm collars

• Delay fertilizing

• Hand-pick cutworms curled below ground surface

5. Flea Beetle

Flea beetles are small, dark beetles; when disturbed, they jump like fleas. They hang on most crops and are distributed across North America. Adults chew several small, round leaf holes (most harmful to young plants) and feed on plant roots. 

Flea beetle
Flea beetle

Pest Control Method

• Apply floating row coverings

• Spray garlic spray or kaolin clay

6. Japanese beetles

Adults are metallic blue-green, Bronze-winged 1⁄2-inch beetles, while larvae are fat, brown-headed white grubs. They are present in all states east of the Mississippi River on many vegetables, flowers, and small fruits. Adults skeletonize leaves, chew flowers, and defoliate plants while larvae feed on plant roots in lawns and gardens. 

Japanese beetle
Japanese Beetle

Pest Control method

• Shake beetles from plants early morning

• Apply floating row coverings

• Set baited traps on two sides of your vegetable garden, at least 30 feet apart.

• Spray insecticide-soap on beetles

7. Colorado Potato beetles:

Adults are yellow-orange beetles riddled with ten black lines. They’re found throughout North America and Europe on potatoes, onions, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, and petunias. They defoliate plants, decreasing yields or destroying young plants. 

Colorado potato beetle

Pest Control Method

• Apply floating row coverings

• Using deep strokes mulches

• Handpick

• Attract parasites and predators

• Neem oil spray

The Ultimate Guide to Garden Pest Control

The most effective way to prevent insect damage is to create an unwelcoming environment for them. The best defense is a healthy garden with healthy soil.

Remove any weak plants

They may still be infected. If not removed, they are very likely to attract predators. Take the plant, remove it from the garden, and dump it far away.

Building good soil

Natural methods of composting, mulching, and top-dressing your soil with compost or natural fertilizer are the best way to grow healthy, vigorous plants.

Reduce disturbance

No-dig or no-till gardening can help reduce the introduction of pests into the soil and increase beneficial microbes.

Seaweed Mulch or Spray

Seaweed contains trace elements, including iron, zinc, barium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium, which promote safe plant growth. Seaweed fertilizer in mulch or spray form improves growth and gives plants the strength to resist disease. Seaweed mulch repels slugs.

Cleanliness is the key

Clean your garden area of insect-breeding debris and weeds. Use mulch-clean.

Interplant and rotate

There are a lot of plant-specific insect pests. When combined, problems are less likely to spread across a crop. Rotating crops annually is a common method to prevent re-infestation of pests

Keep leaves dry

Water just after sunrise, so leaves will be dry most of the day. Wet foliage encourages plant-insect and fungal damage. There are a lot of methods of supplying water to root systems without wetting the foliage.

Disinfect

If you dealt with infested plants, disinfect your equipment before going to other parks. This will limit insect invasion.

Only certified dealers

By shifting plants from one garden to another, we can also bear pests and diseases. Purchase plants and soil changes from a reputable source to ensure any introduction is safe and disease (and pest) free.

Snakes are your garden’s best friend

Though snakes may not be the favorite guest of all, garden snakes help monitor small rodents, slugs, grasshoppers, and more.you should Learn about your area’s beneficial snakes and do your best to improve their habitat in and around your yard. ⠀

Insects can be your friends too

Beneficial insects are insects that you can attract or purchase from catalogs that feed on harmful insects or larvae.⠀

Arachnids, Chalcids, Ichneumon

These tiny beneficial insects destroy leaf-fed caterpillars. You will attract them by planting carrots, celery, parsley, caraway, and Queen Anne’s lace, all members of the Umbelliferae family. These plants are easy to grow, and some can bloom. The flower attracts the insects.

Ladybugs

They eat aphids, mites, whiteflies, and scale. Planting daisy family (Compositae), tansy, or yarrow will draw them to your garden.

Lacewing

Lacewings are avid consumers of aphids, and their larvae feed on aphids and other insect pests. They are drawn to flowers like yarrow, goldenrod, black-eyed Susans, and asters. Lacewings can also be purchased online, like many other pests.

Hover-flies

Hover-flies are avid aphid users, and hover-flies larvae eat aphids and other pests. Like the Lacewings, flowers like yarrow, goldenrod, black-eyed Susans, and asters are drawn to them.

Praying Mantis

These big insects love most garden pests. Praying mantis eggs are set in the garden where they hatch and develop to adult size rapidly. Eggs are available via mail order and online catalogs.

Nematodes

Nematodes function against cutworms, a common pest that kills sprouts before they grow into seedlings. Nematodes also kill beetles and root weevil larvae.

Nematode eggs are microscopic and sponge a million at a time. They’re combined with water and added to the soil, where they hatch and get working. If they get on leaves, wash them to the ground. Nematodes are harmless to humans.

Non-toxic homemade pesticide remedies

These natural and DIY pesticides help eliminate harmful parameters from your crops but are healthy enough to keep you and your family safe from food poisoning. Homemade remedies are easy, and you know what’s going on in your yard more than anyone else. Homemade sprays can be used to combat harmful insects. They typically contain noxious (but non-toxic) ingredients such as garlic, cayenne, stinging nettles, or horsetail, dissolved in water, and combined to spray on plants. A few basic formulas:

Insects (Mites, Aphids, Mealy Bugs)

  • Mix one tablespoon of canola oil and Ivory soap in a quarter of water. Shake well in a spray bottle. Spray plants from above and from below to get to the leaves beneath. The oil smothers the insects.

Grubbing

  • There’s a natural, effective remedy called milky spore for lawn or garden grubs. Granules scatter on the soil, allowing the grubs to contract a disease that destroys them. This natural regulation only affects grubs, leaving beneficial species unharmed. Milky spore multiplies over time and remains idle, waiting for grubs to get infected. One treatment will last 40 years. The grubs are Japanese beetles’ larvae. So, remove the grubs and remove the beetle.

Mites and larvae

Mix two teaspoons of hot pepper or cayenne pepper with a few drops of Ivory soap in a quarter of water. Let stand overnight, stir in a spray bottle, and apply as above. Often shake the container during use.

Earwigs, Slugs, and Other Plant Pests

  • Sprinkle diatomaceous earth over plants and along edges of garden beds. Particulate diatoms are very tiny and sharp – but dangerous to the tiny exoskeletons of insects, slugs, and snails. Insects can not be immune to its action, as it is a mechanical killer, not a chemical.

Wireworm

  • You can use potato slices as bait to clear wireworm soil before planting. Simply put potato slices on the soil surface in your garden: the potatoes will draw the wireworms out, which you can handpick along with potatoes.

Fungal illnesses

  • Mix two tablespoons of soda in a gallon of water. Pour into a spray bottle and spray areas. Repeat every few days until the problem ceases.

Mild powdery

  • Mix milk and water and spray on contaminated plants. Repeating this procedure three times should limit the spread, carry them a week apart. Neem oil spray can also work against powdery mildew.

Insects, fungal diseases

  • Combine one tablespoon cooking oil, two tablespoons baking soda, and a few drops of Ivory soap into a gallon of water. Pour into a spray bottle and use it.

Fruit-tree insects

  • Lime sulfur and dormant oil can be sprayed on the trunk and branches of dormant fruit trees at nurseries and garden centers. It would suffocate cases of insect eggs. Since the oily spray is heavy compared to other water-based sprays, a pump sprayer is required. These are fairly inexpensive and rentable from some nurseries. However, use this approach only when the tree is dormant. Otherwise, it will destroy the tree.

Commercial dormant oils can contain oil or kerosene. A less toxic process involves Mixing 1 cup of vegetable oil and 2 tbsp of liquid soap in 1-gallon water. First, mix soap and oil, then add water.

Growing a garden is not as easy as it looks. You will find some things are easier to grow than others. But half the battle is dealing with bugs…learn the good from the bad and know how to best deal with them and you will have a successful garden!

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Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.

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