There are many safe, organic and cost effective ways to rid your garden of destructive pests. The first step is to determine what is causing the problem in your garden. Many harmful insects are plant specific. You'll have greater success, if you apply the organic solution that matches the problem.
1. Discourage Mammals
To discourage mammals, such as woodchucks and deer from eating your plants, mix one tablespoon of liquid detergent and a half bottle of hot sauce into a watering can and add water. Sprinkle this mixture on those plants that animals seem to find tasty. You may need to reapply the solution after it rains, but sometimes one bad experience discourages animals from returning.
A motion detector lawn sprinkler may also discourage animals from devouring on your shrubs, flowers and vegetables.
2. Install Barriers
Install a mesh fence around your garden and leave the top foot unattached. The loose top will flop back on a climbing animal, such as a raccoon, preventing it from entering your garden.
Diatomaceous earth powder, consisting of the remains of tiny sea animals has sharp edges that will cut slugs and intimidate them from entering your garden.
Cover your berries with one-inch mesh to prevent birds from eating them all. A finer mesh can be used to cover seedling until they are large enough to outgrow flying insect damage.
3. Install Traps
Control slugs by placing a shallow dish of beer near your garden. Slugs are attracted to fermenting liquids and will climb in and drown. You can also place a board or an overturned clay pot in your garden to create a place for slugs to hide. Then overturn the board or pot and kill any slugs you find underneath.
Fill a yellow dish with water to attract and drown flea beetles. Flea beetles are attracted to yellow.
Place traps near the edge of your garden so insects are attracted out of your garden, instead of drawn in.
4. Soaps and Oils
Soap has been used for over 200 years to control soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mites, mealybugs and psyllids. The potassium salt of fatty acids in soap disrupts the insect's cell membranes and removes their protective outer waxy coating causing them to dry out and die. Insects must come in direct contact with the soap solution for it to be effective.
Spraying two applications of insecticide soap on your plants five to seven days apart can control small soft sucking insects. Use soap sparingly to avoid smaller crop yields and do not apply on hot, sunny days to prevent leaf damage.
You can use a prepared commercial insecticide soap product or make your own by mixing one tablespoon of liquid dishwashing soap with one quart of water.
Tropical neem tree oil can be sprayed on plants to smother squash bugs and Mexican Beetles. It may also reduce insect feeding and reproduction rates.
You can also make your own oil spray by mixing one cup of soybean or cottonseed oil with one tablespoon of liquid soap. Add one tablespoon of this mixture to one cup of water and spray it on affected plants. Do not apply oils when the temperature is above 85° F or if your plants are drought or heat stressed.
5. Attract Beneficial Predators
Place a birdbath, feeder or a nest box near your garden to attract insect eating birds.
Diversify your garden by using companion planting techniques to attract beneficial insects and repel pests from your garden.
Repel pests on your roses by planting chives or garlic in your rose bed. Use tomatoes to repel diamond back cabbage moth larvae from your cabbage plants. Nasturtiums can be used to repel cucumber beetles from your cucumber plants. The nasturtiums also provide habitat for beneficial spiders and ground beetles.
Attract beneficial insects to your garden by planting dill near plants in the cabbage family. Cabbage plants will support the dill and dill attracts moths that eat cabbageworms. Plant sweet alyssum with potatoes and dwarf zinnias with cauliflower to attract beneficial insects including predatory wasps and ladybugs.
You can also plant sacrificial plants to protect your harvest. Let a few pigweed or ragweed plants grow among your peppers. Leaf miners prefer the taste of these weeds to peppers. Be sure to remove flowers from the weeds to prevent future weed control problems. Radishes will attract leaf miners away from your spinach plants. Some damage to the radish leaves will not prevent underground growth of the harvestable root.
Try some or all of these organic ways to promote a healthy garden. You'll save money by making your own organic pest control solutions and encourage natural biological pest control. Remember many garden pests are plant specific; so determine what is damaging a particular plant before applying a solution.
Colorado State University Extension Website, "Insect Control: Soaps and Detergents".
Mother Earth News, "The Organic Gardener's Guide to Pest Control", June 1999, p.40.
Mother Earth News, "Guide to Organic Pest Control", August-September 2008, p.35.
Organic Gardening Website, "Companion Planting".
Organic Gardening Website, "Controlling Insects Without Pesticides".
Maureen Farmer is a master gardener and has loved plants all her life. She enjoys growing most of her own produce in raised beds. She is the owner and founder of The Farmer's Garden, a free surplus backyard produce trading service available across the United States.