In winning the battle against the insects and critters in the garden, one does not need to turn to insecticides made with petroleum-based chemicals. Between growing certain plants, finding non-toxic alternatives or even making your own you can do the job without killing off beneficial insects and birds. These pesticides build up over time in the soil, killing off the good creatures found there. You risk poisoning birds, spiders, frogs and other amphibians who are actually working for you. In the healthy ecosystem of your yard, birds eat all sorts of insects; ladybugs eat large amounts of the aphids that can quickly ruin your rosebushes and parasitic wasps help rid your vegetable garden of tomato hornworms. Not everyone can have chickens to scratch and peck through the soil ridding it of grubs, slugs and other insect pests. Many bug woes can be managed by planting certain types of herbs among your flowers, fruits or vegetables. Strong smelling herbs do wonders in the garden when planted among certain plants they can throw the scent off, so to speak, confusing the pest and leaving your plant pest-free. With roses, planting onions, chives or garlic around the plant helps to keep the Japanese beetles from stripping the canes of leaves and blooms. I find this also works well around fruit trees/bushes, as will planting tansy. Marigolds are a very popular choice in repelling insects and those pesky rabbits coming for a nibble. They can be planted throughout the garden and at the end of the season turned under into the soil for added benefit. Nasturtiums help keep pests away from any member of the cabbage family as well as squash and broccoli. Pungent herbs do double duty in the garden, lavender is known for its moth repelling properties in the linen closet. It is reportedly ideal for keeping deer away as well. Mints and their strong scents work well planted among tomatoes and cabbage. Be sure to contain these or else you will have an invasive pest of the mint variety! One easy way to control the mint is to place pots of mint around the garden or else plant the pot of mint, pot and all, into the ground to prevent it from spreading. There are also plants you can grow that, when harvested, can be prepared into a spray form to apply to plants. Unlike their extremely chemical-laden, toxic cousins these will have to be reapplied any time it rains or your garden watered as they will wash off. You can begin with a very simple recipe of liquid soap and water. 1TB biodegradable liquid soap (I like Dr. Bronners’ Peppermint or Lavender Castile Soap, Ivory or Murphy’s works well too) to 1 gallon of water, mix well and use in a spray bottle. Spray all over the plant starting at the top and be sure to spray the underside of the leaves. This recipe will need to be reapplied daily to your plants.
Hot pepper & garlic spray steeping in the sun Hot peppers work well as a spray application, garlic is another. My homemade insect repellent of choice (recipe below) is made with onion, garlic, cayenne pepper (hot sauce will work here too) and water. I spray this on my fruit trees, vegetables and roses when the gypsy moth caterpillars invade. It also works well for Japanese beetles and anything else that chews up the foliage. I’ve also found that this spray keeps rodents away as well. This is reapplied after rain or anytime I water the garden. My favorite aphid fighter is a citrus spray; one of my worst pest problems has been aphids. You will need 1 pint of boiling water and the rind from one lemon (or should you have lemon essential oil a few drops in tepid water). Steep the peel in water and then strain before pouring into a spray bottle. I sprayed my roses just once last summer and didn’t have a problem for the rest of the season. One last, rather morbid but still effective, recipe is made from the ground up bodies of the insect you are trying to repel. You will need as many bug bodies as possible and ground up the wee corpses into a powder and add to one quart of water and spray on the plants that the particular pest ravages. (I warned you that this was morbid!) Most homemade repellent sprays follow a basic recipe, either with 4:1 or 2:2 ratios of water to leaves. Chop or mash leaves to release volatile oils and add warm water, let steep overnight and strain then pouring into a spray bottle along with a teaspoon of biodegradable liquid soap. Any pungent herb can be used, and made in the following fashion. Here are a few non-toxic ideas. Geranium- leaves used to keep insects away. Scented varieties such as rose geranium work well too. (It also works great as a body spray to repel mosquitoes and black flies!) Marigold- 2:2 ratio for general insect and rabbit repelling Mullein-4:1 ratio of water to mullein leaves to spray against white flies Nasturtium-2:2 ratio using leaves for a spray to fight aphids and white flies Rhubarb-4:1 ratio (use boiling water for this) for aphids, black spot and fungus Tomato Leaf-2:2 ratio (potato leaves work well for this too) Wormwood-2:2 ratio using leaves to fight aphids and caterpillars This last plant while highly effective will kill all insects, even beneficial ones, so use sparingly and as a last resort. Pyrethrum (Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium) – An African flower which contains a natural insecticide. It is less toxic than commercial insecticides (it is an ingredient in many popular insect sprays) and extremely effective against insects. Take two tablespoons of pyrethrum flower heads and add to one quart of hot water, steep for one hour. Take care not to breathe in the fumes as they are toxic. Mix with 1Tb of liquid soap. Cool and strain mixture and pour into a spray bottle. Homemade Dormant Oil This is sprayed on fruit trees in late winter; this is an alternative to the petroleum based products available. Mix: 1 cup vegetable oil 2 tbsp liquid soap Then add to one gallon water, shake well and pour into sprayer or spray bottle. Shake often during use. All-purpose Insect Spray 1 head of garlic 1 tbsp cayenne pepper or hot pepper sauce 1 quart water 1 tbsp liquid soap (biodegradable like Dr. Bronners’, Murphy’s or Ivory) 1 small onion Chop garlic and onion, add cayenne and mix with water. Let steep 1 hour, strain and then add liquid soap and store in a covered jar in the refrigerator up to one week. Use as a spray as needed. These are just a few easy to do recipes made from plant products you may already have in your yard. There are many other organic ways to rid your garden of pests- catalogs devoted to providing such products. If you have the money then that is fine, but some of us need something more frugal and handy. Those aphids and Japanese beetles aren’t going to wait the 3-5 business days until your handy-dandy organic spray arrives. It can be hard to find non-toxic remedies in a local store so when you need something in a pinch, look to your own garden and cupboards. There are also the options of introducing predatory insects such as ladybugs or the praying mantis to help keep aphids at bay. This brings us back to companion planting. By adding plants that help repel the pests or entice the beneficial insects, you are inviting them to come in and do the work for you. Imagine spending a relaxing time in your beautiful garden which is free of harmful chemicals that can make you, your family and your pets sick. This can easily be achieved with some planning of your garden layout and content and should things get out of control you can easily whip up a spray or two to keep your plants pest-free.
Copyright © 2006-2013 Stephanie Lowell-Libby
Stephanie Lowell-Libby is a writer, a longtime organic gardener and former farmers’ market gardener living in New Hampshire where she is raising her beloved wee girl “Pixie” (who has recovered from her 2010 diagnosis Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and subsequent treatment and is healthy and thriving once again). A photographer, passionate cook, genealogist, licensed massage therapist, reiki practitioner, aspiring homesteader and spends much of her time outside enjoying all nature has to offer.