Your garden is growing beautifully when one day you suddenly notice leaves dying off. Your tomatoes are dropping their flowers before setting fruit. Your squash vines are withering and dying, leaving their bounty rotting on the ground. You clearly have a pest problem. If you are trying to avoid chemicals in your garden, you should consider using one of the many natural pesticides that are gaining in popularity.
What Are Natural Pesticides?
Natural pesticides are, as their name implies, natural alternatives to their harsh and possibly dangerous chemical cousins. Many of these are derived from plant sources and repel bugs with their strong scent. Some use oils and soap to suffocate unsuspecting insects. Others act to disrupt the life cycle of garden pests.
Natural pesticides are readily available to purchase. You can find many options at garden, specialty, and home improvement stores. Gardeners who are more interested in a DIY approach can easily find recipes that have worked for others. In fact, we have included several here for you to try out.
You may find the need for some trial and error with natural pesticides. This is particularly true if you don't know what type of pests are invading your garden. Many natural options target specific bugs, so knowing what you are dealing with can save you time and effort.
If this all seems overwhelming, there are also professional landscape companies that specialize in natural and organic pest management. If you feel overwhelmed by the destruction being wrought in your yard, consider consulting an eco-conscious landscaper who can get you headed in the right direction.
Is There a Need for Natural Pesticides?
Chemical pesticides cause widespread death and destruction in your landscape. Most indiscriminately kill all insects, including beneficial ones like ladybugs and honeybees. This may seem trivial, but without pollinators, you don't get any fruit, vegetables, or seeds.
Earthworms are another victim of many chemical pesticides. These squirmy but gentle creatures are important for keeping your soil aerated and healthy. Their demise means the need for more soil conditioners and hard work tending the garden for you.
Perhaps the biggest reason you are considering natural pesticides in the health risk in using their chemical counterparts. There is growing concern about harmful effects from exposure to garden chemicals, including increased rates of some cancers. People who want to avoid these risks are turning to natural pesticides as a healthier and safer alternative for their families.
Best Natural Pesticides
The best natural pesticide for your situation will depend on the types of plants you are growing, the pests you are trying to prevent or get rid of, and the level of infestation you have. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Take a look through this list of the best natural pesticides and see which one might help with your situation. If you are not successful at first, keep trying. The many benefits of using natural versus chemical treatments in your garden far outweigh a little trial-and-error work.
You read correctly: dish soap. This is one of the most popular natural pesticides when used alone or as an aid to other treatments. This will work by suffocating small insects such as whiteflies, aphids, and mites.
To make a soap spray for your yard, simply mix 1 ½ teaspoons of a mild liquid dish or castile soap with a quart of water. This is not an exact science, so a good estimation will work fine. Shake the mixture up and pour it into a spray bottle. You are now ready to treat your plants with this simple, effective, and safe insecticide.
Use care when spraying soap during the heat of the day. It can cause burning and discoloration on sensitive plants.
This is an extremely effective insecticide which is made from ground-up fossils. It is available in bulk at many garden centers. Some also carry it in smaller quantities. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is completely safe for household pets and can even work to naturally kill fleas in and around your home. Simply sprinkle the powder around your garden to eliminate insects, snails, and slugs.
Unlike many natural products, this works not by smothering or repelling pests, but rather by dehydrating them. The ground up particles are incredibly abrasive, so they create scratches on insects' bodies. They also absorb liquids, speeding up the dehydration process. That also means that, like with most powdered products, you will need to reapply DE after every rain.
Neem oil is a very popular pest solution for many organic gardeners. It is non-toxic for people and pets and is safe for use around water supplies and wildlife. Neem oil is readily available at most garden or home improvement stores. Simply follow the direction on the container. If you don't have instruction, you can make a basic solution of two parts oil to one part liquid soap which can then be mixed with water for application.
Neem oil works in two ways. The first is by way of hormone disruption which will insects at every life stage. It also acts to deter feeding on treated plants and leaves. A bonus of using neem oil is that it is also an effective fungicide for treating powdery mildew in the garden.
Treat your garden pests with flowers. Chrysanthemum flowers contain the chemical pyrethrum which acts as a neurotoxin on unsuspecting insects. They will become immobile and therefore unable to feed or reproduce.
You can buy a commercially available pyrethrum-based pray or make your own from dried flowers. Simply boil about 3 ½ ounces of dried flowers in a quart of water. Steep for about 20 minutes and then strain. Once cool, your spray can be applied directly to trouble spots in your garden.
Tomato leaves contain a chemical compound known as tomatine. There is scientific support for tomatine's ability to act as a natural insecticide and fungicide. So, go ahead and treat your garden with vegetables.
To make a tomato leaf spray, chop up about 2 cups of fresh tomato leaves and add them to a quart of water. Let the leaves soak overnight and then strain the mixture. Apply it by spraying directly onto affected plants.
Tobacco has long been considered a natural pesticide. It contains nicotine which researchers are finding out is as harmful to insects as it is to humans. Use this spray carefully, however, since it can also harm other, more beneficial, insects.
To make a tobacco tea, steep one cup of dried tobacco (look for organic or all-natural products) overnight in a gallon of water. Strain the mixture into storage containers. Spray directly onto affected plants and new shoots showing signs of damage from aphids or thrips.
Garlic is a powerhouse vegetable. Not only does it have numerous health benefits for people, but it can also keep pests out of your garden. Garlic works by repelling insects with its strong odor, so it can be used both as a preventative and treatment.
People have been planting garlic among other flowers and vegetables for years. If you are looking for a more immediate fix, you can make a garlic spray to treat garden pests. Puree 2 heads (not cloves) of garlic in the blender with water. Let the mixture soak overnight, then strain it into a jar. Add a small amount of soap to help it stick to your plants and enough water to make 1 quart of concentrate. When you are ready to spray, add 1 cup of the mixture to 1 quart of water and spray directly onto your plants.
Hot pepper works much like garlic to deter pests. Beyond their strong smell, hot peppers can cause pain and irritation on sensitive skin. If you have ever chopped hot peppers and then touched your eyes, you probably know how much pain they can cause.
You can make a spray from chile peppers the same way as you would for garlic. This works best if you boil the pepper/water puree before letting it soak. Your hot pepper spray is not a concentrate, so go ahead and spray it full strength on affected plants.
If you don't want to handle fresh hot peppers, you can also mix 1 tablespoon of chile (not chili) powder into a quart of water. Mix well and add a few drops of liquid soap. You now have a safe, easy to make, and effective natural pesticide.
This is one method that requires no chemicals and is very easy to use. You can find sticky traps for a wide variety of insects and other pests, including bees, fruit flies, apple borers, and mice. Since they do not go directly on your plants, there is no chance of harming foliage or crops.
Predatory Beneficial Insects
Ladybugs, praying mantis, and nematodes… oh my! Adding beneficial insects or nematodes to your garden is a great way to ensure that you do not have a pest problem in the first place. These seemingly harmless critters will naturally seek out and feed upon specific harmful insects.
If you decide to use beneficial insects, make sure you release them early enough for them to be effective. Also, use care when applying pesticides around these little helpers, even natural ones can cause them serious harm.
If you are ready to ditch chemical pesticides in favor of more natural options, try one of these options for a naturally healthy yard. Although you may have to try a few to target a wide variety of pests, with all the options available you are bound to find the ones that work best for your garden.
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