Page 1 of 3Pests can invade, destroy, and annoy both the garden and the gardener. While bugs are an inevitable (yet sometimes rewarding) presence in your garden, you don’t need harmful chemicals to ward off these little visitors. Many tried and true organic solutions can zap away pests without the toxic residues of chemical pesticides, which can leak into the ground and contaminate the groundwater that eventually flows from our taps. Try these organic methods to keep common garden pests out of your garden safely and naturally.
Aphids, also known as plant lice, are so common that almost every plant has one or more species that feed on it. They are small, soft-bodied insects that have needlelike mouths that suck the sap out of plants while simultaneously injecting the plant with their toxic saliva. This results in distortion and discoloration of the leaves and stem of a plant. Aphids can be brown, green, yellow, red, or black, depending on their species, but generally, you can counter all of them with the same methods. Aphids are particularly difficult to battle in that they are actually born pregnant, which means they multiply fast. To combat these critters naturally, first try to grow plants that attract predators of aphids, such as parasitic wasps (sweet alyssum, parsley, buckwheat, hairy vetch, yarrow, sunflowers and cosmos), ladybugs (dill, Queen Anne’s Lace yarrows, golden marguerite and fennel), hoverflies (tagetes), lacewings and praying mantids. Aphids also shy away from certain strongly scented plants, such as chives, basil, catnip, yarrow, and mint.
Slugs and snails are very easy to spot because of the slimy trail they leave behind. You'll usually find them on greens, such as lettuce. They usually come out overnight and hide during the day, when you'll find the evidence of their bite marks on plant leaves. There are many methods to control slugs and snails. They have very soft bellies, so an easy way to control them is to place crushed up eggshells on the ground beneath the plants they like to nibble on; these sharp edges of eggshells are like razor blades and will send them packing without killing them. Another more permanent solution is a beer trap. Place a shallow dish of beer at ground level near the plants being eaten, or create a beer funnel. (Find a 2-liter bottle with the cap. Cut it about 4 inches from the top. Dig a hole large enough for the funnel to fit (cap down) and fill it with beer at ground level.) The slugs cannot resist the beer, which they will crawl into and drown; both the slugs (and your garden) will have a happy ending. Natural enemies to slugs and snails include ground beetles, lizards, toads, and snakes to enlist their help when possible!
Rabbits may be cute, but they are notoriously persistent, sneaky, and very nimble. Just like you, they love the fruits and vegetables growing in your garden! They can burrow up to two feet into the ground to get around a fence. Your best defense against rabbits is to use fencing similar to chicken wire. Dig deep into the ground around your garden beds and place the wire fence underground and above ground. Rabbits also detest the smell of garlic so check out the recipe for the All Purpose Pesticide Spray (below).
Mosquitoes are more annoying and harmful to the gardener than the garden. When you're outside tending your garden, you don't want to get bitten. The most common ingredient in conventional bug sprays is DEET, which has linked with cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, rashes, and even seizures in a certain percentage of the population. Repel mosquitoes naturally with a eucalyptus-based repellent that contains the natural oil "eucalyptol." Studies have found these repellents to be highly effective, nontoxic alternatives to DEET. In addition, planting lemongrass can keep mosquitoes at bay.
Caterpillars are insatiable eating machines that can rip through your garden's bounty; but after their metamorphoses into a butterfly or moth, they become an ally, deterring pests and helping your garden. Like snails and slugs, these little critters have soft bellies that will not want to touch eggshells placed around the plant bases. You can easily remove caterpillars manually. Plucking them straight off the vine and move them to another area of the yard (away from your garden) or destroy them using one of the sprays or soaps listed below. Continued ›