By Charlie Nardozzi

It’s summer and time to start enjoying the fruits of your gardening labors by harvesting a bounty of vegetables, fruits and flowers. However, you aren’t the only one who has been enjoying these luscious plants. Insect pests and diseases can take a bite out of your summer harvest. Many gardeners would rather not use toxic sprays in their yards and are turning to old-fashioned home remedies to control these pests and fertilize plants. But gardeners should discriminate between fact and lore.

“Over the years, many crazy things have been recommended for getting plants to grow or controlling pests. While there’s a grain of truth to many kitchen cures, be careful; some can be harmful, such as using ammonia as a nitrogen fertilizer,” says Jeff Gillman, University of Minnesota horticulture professor and author of The Truth About Garden Remedies (Timber Press, 2006).

Here are some safe and effective home remedies that Gillman does recommend. Give them a try in your garden.

Got Milk?

While not as effective as a commercial fertilizer, milk can deliver a noticeable amount of nitrogen to plants. It’s simple. Milk is high in protein, of which nitrogen is a component. A solution of one part milk diluted with four parts water is recommended. Add 1 to 2 cups of this mixture to a medium-sized plant every week or two.

Yolk It Up

Eggs are a great source of nutrition for humans, and for your plants, too! Eggshells contain minerals that plants need, such as calcium and potassium. Creating a fertilizer based on eggshells is easy. Work four to five crushed and dried eggshells into the soil per plant. Or make a liquid solution by boiling 10 to 20 eggshells in 1 gallon of water for a few minutes. Let cool overnight, strain off the shells, and water your plants once a week with the mixture.

Some (Don’t) Like It Hot

Capsaicin, the active ingredient that puts the hot in chili peppers, is a known insect and animal repellent. It can deter a range of bugs, including mites, aphids and whiteflies. Simply mix a few tablespoons of hot pepper sauce in 1 gallon of water and spray. A tablespoon of liquid soap mixed in helps the repellent stick to leaves. To increase the potency, mix in a bulb of crushed garlic and strain. This repellent can last up to one week and will need to be reapplied, especially after a rain. Test this spray before you treat plants, as it could cause some burn.

This Brew’s for You, Slugs

Slugs are a big problem in many gardens. But it turns out they like to wash down a meal of hosta and astilbe leaves with beer. So, you can use beer as a bait to trap these slimy critters. Bury a 6- to 8-inch-deep container in the ground around slug-favored plants so the lip is even with the soil. Add beer to within 1 to 2 inches of the lip. At night, the slugs are attracted to the beer, they party on and end up falling in the trap and drowning. Remove dead slugs in the morning and replace beer for the next round.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, book author, speaker, and radio and television personality who has appeared on HGTV, PBS and Discovery Channel television networks. He is the senior horticulturist and spokesperson for the National Gardening Association and chief gardening officer for the Hilton Garden Inn. All materials courtesy of the National Gardening Association.