In an evermore health conscious world, people are constantly seeking better and more natural pest control for gardens. Better ways of protecting their plants, grasses, flowers and vegetables without the use of poisonous chemicals that kill indiscriminately.
Natural Garden Pest Control
Whether you live in the country or the city, are urban or rural, if you have plants, an army of insect-pests and parasites are on a mission to find them…and they will. Take heart, for we have many weapons available to us to help protect our beloved lawns and gardens. Choosing the right ones plays an important role in determining the results we are able to achieve.
The least toxic approach to battling these space invaders is a cultural one.
Newton’s 3rd Law
One of our greatest defenses in the battle of the bugs is putting Newton’s 3rd Law to work for us. As there are many plants, flowers and shrubs that attract all manner of pests to your yard and garden, there are also an equal number that will repel them.
A Better Way
With that in mind, let’s outline some of the natural alternatives that will produce the desired result and offer a safe alternative to chemicals. The main objective is to control the pests without hurting the good bugs along with reducing our environmental impact on the planet. All three can be attained with just a little effort on our part.
There are several measures we can employ to control pests and insects while reducing our own impact on Nature. Some methods are reactive (after the damage) while some are preventive (planting natural deterrents). Reactive treatment might include spraying with chemicals to kill eggs and larvae and/or removing damaged leaves and stems.
DOUBLE the yield in
HALF the time!
Our favorite gardening pro Tom Bartels is giving away a 70 page ebook & teaching free video workshops on gardening but they're filling up fast,
so sign up now!
Listed below are some of the naturally effective ways we can rid our lawn and garden areas of these insect-pests while being better stewards of our planet.
This type of natural pest control is known as the cultural method. We just need to know which plants to plant.
Plants Selections That Attract a Variety of Good Bugs
We won’t designate plant-to-bug specifics as many overlap and there are literally hundreds of them, but by installing a variety of insect attracting plants you can encourage an army of beneficial bugs to set their barracks up at your house. Many plants attract multiple insects that can help rid us of the bad bugs.
Volumes have been written on the many plants that attract beneficial insects into your yard and garden and since there isn’t time or room to list them all here, below are more than enough plants to get you started.
You can realize good results naturally by growing Parsley, Spearmint, Marigolds, Lemon Balm, Pennyroyal (mint), Cosmos (white sensation), Dill, Sweet Alyssum-white, Caraway, Coriander, Masterwort, Queen Anne’s Lace, Common yarrow, Crimson thyme (roll Tide roll), Peter Pan goldenrod, Lavender globe lily, Fennel, Buckwheat and many others that will help protect your lawns and gardens as they attract reinforcements to help you do battle. Some of these plants attract beneficial insects while repelling others. You can also choose plants that are resistant to assault from certain types of insects. Certain Rhododendrons species are resistant types. The following have developed a resistance to adult weevils. Our thanks to toxipedia.org for this list.
The list of recommended Rhododendron hybrids (color/rating):
- P.J.M. (pink/100)
- Rose Elf (blue/90)
- Oceanlake (violet-blue/80)
- Dora Amateis (white/79)
- Crest (yellow/79)
- Point Defiance (carmine-pink/76)
- Odee Wright (yellow/73)
There are many more plants that have evolved natural defenses against certain invaders. Specific plants and more information can be found online.
The Proper Way to Install Your Insect Attracting Plants
As important as these plants are, just as important are proper planting techniques. It would be a shame to do all that digging and planting only to discover the plants didn’t make it due to improper planting.
While specific planting instructions may vary from plant to plant, you’ll want to make sure each hole is deep enough. When installing plants from pots, a good rule of thumb is to have the root ball lie just below ground level in the hole.
3 Easy Compost Secrets
Our favorite gardening pro Tom Bartels is teaching free courses on composting but they're filling up fast, so sign up now!
When transplanting make the diameter of the hole at least 2-3 times larger than the root ball. The reason is, if you don’t, the roots get jammed up and can’t reach out to establish themselves.
If the plants are root bound when removed from their planter, you can easily cut off a third or more of the entire ball from the bottom. It won’t hurt them. In fact, this encourages new growth of the roots and removes the dead ends. The now open-ends can more readily absorb water and nutrients.
The Natural Way
Physical Control Methods: Barriers
Garden Fabric: Gaining in popularity is a safe, effective and natural way to protect your plants from birds, insects and the sun and in some cases, even the weather to a degree. No pun intended. One of the more popular and easy to use methods is garden fabric, also referred to as row covers or floating row covers.
You may have seen these white coverings over rows of crops in a field or in a backyard. This is a very effective method for keeping the bugs and other pests off your favorite plants without using poisons.
Made of lightweight material that breathes, the covers can block out the intense heat of the summer sun while allowing warm sunshine to enter and air to circulate. They make an excellent insect and bird deterrent and are easily set up.
Opinions vary, as you can see from the reviews on different products, but the netting that I have personally used and can vouch for is below. I use a 10'x10' piece of this fabric for my 4'x4' square foot gardens. It covers the box even if there are hoops, it's more durable than other netting I've tried, and it's pretty cheap on Amazon.
3 Types of Fabric Netting
- Insect & Bird Protection
- Shade Netting
- Frost Covers
For insect protection, it is recommended you use support hoops to secure the cover to the ground. They’re pretty self-explanatory but essentially you place the cover over the hoops and pull the material taut. Secure the bottom edges with clothespins to the hoops or bury it deep enough to not be blown off by the wind. Garden pins are also available to ensure the mesh is held tightly to the ground. A tightly sealed cover deters the crawlers as well as the flyers.
The companies that sell these also make an all-in-one cover with built-in hoops that slide inside the cover like curtain rods.
Shade netting does what the name indicates. Young plants and seedlings can be sensitive to sunlight and shade netting offers a natural and easy way to protect them.
Frost Covers employed in colder months can protect plants from cold weather down to 28 degrees F. or -2 degrees Celsius.
A Side Note:
Pollination is necessary to many plants. Remember, if you are growing flowering plants such as strawberries, pumpkins, squash, peas and others that produce a bloom, should they begin to flower while covered, be sure to lift the cover up somewhat or peel it back a ways to allow the bees and other pollinators to do their job.
Hand to Bug Combat
There are several natural methods of eliminating plant invaders which do not involve the use of poisons to do so. One of the most effective ways is hand picking. Removing pests this way is pretty much self-explanatory. The hand picking method is just that, the removal of insects, eggs and larvae by literally picking them off by hand. It doesn’t get any more organic than the hands on-bugs off technique.
All that is required of you to begin this simple and effective method of pest control is a pair of tweezers and a small jar of dish soap in some water, plus a little time.
Generally found on the stems and underside of the leaves, aphid and other egg types can be systematically plucked and deposited into the jar of soapy water. You simply pick them off and drop them into the jar which will of course drown them. You want to kill them rather than discarding them to avoid the possibility of infecting surrounding plants.
Release the Wasps!
Biological Control Methods
Biological control is a method of natural pest control that incorporates the use of Nature to fight Nature.
There are swarms of insects that stand ready, willing and able to combat all forms of little critters hell bent on destroying our plants, vegetables and flowers. One group of these winged warriors is known as Parasitoids.
Ichneumonidae (ick-new-mon-id-eye) is a family of parasitic wasps that lay their eggs on or inside a host insect, or the hosts’ eggs using her long, stinger-like tail. They don’t sting so don’t worry.
Parasitic wasps are but one of many beneficial insects that help reduce pest populations. They are natural enemies of many of the insects that plague our plants, fruits and vegetables. These beneficial predator wasps are also known as biological control agents.
Once her eggs are laid she goes in search of her next living nest. As the attached growing eggs develop they feed on the host insect and…well, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to see where this is going. Suffice it to say this is a very effective method of natural pest control indeed.
Parasitic wasps, of which there are many types, prey on a number of insects including caterpillars, beetles, flies and more. You’ll want to have plenty of these beneficial beauties around and there are various ways to attract them.
The Law of Attraction
Attracting parasitic wasps and other beneficial bugs is easier to do than you may have thought. By growing a variety of lovely and efficient herbs and flowers you not only help keep pests away, you beautify the area and provide a home for a world of insects that are beneficial to your plants.
First however, and most importantly, do not use poisonous chemicals for insect control and then create an environment that is friendly to these good bugs. The poison will kill them. Many predators have built up a resistance to some pesticides over time due to their frequent exposure. The beneficial bugs, not having had that exposure have not developed that immunity, and are more susceptible to those poisons.
Food and Drink for our Friends
These friendly bugs get thirsty so be sure to have a constant supply of water for them and especially during the hot summer months. They tend to take up residence where there is steady food and water available. You supply the drink and Nature will set the table with a buffet of unwanted insects.
First however, let’s take a look at some of the insects you do want hanging around your place and what they like to dine on. The release of biological control agents can cripple and even wipe out many forms of unwanted plant eaters. You can even buy the eggs of these agents and place them into infected areas in lieu of chemical pesticides.
8 Insects You Want to Have Around
- Lacewings - Their larvae are often called aphid lions for their voracious appetites and also feed on mites and insect eggs.
- Ladybugs – The young larvae are born hungry, can’t fly and eat more than the adults.
- Hoverflies – Dine on aphids, mealybugs and more.
- Tachinid Flies – Kill cutworms, armyworms, cornear worms, squash bug nymphs and more
- Minute Pirate Bugs – Eat whiteflies, aphids, thrips and mites and many others
- Damsel Bugs – Feed on aphids, plant bugs and leafhoppers as well as small caterpillars
- Big Eyed Bugs – Eat insect eggs, mites, leaf hoppers and spider mites
- Parasitic Wasps – Are deadly to many types of unwanted insects - laying their eggs on a host pest then let their hatchlings do the rest.
Have You Considered Nematodes?
I certainly hadn’t until I began researching and now I’m thinking this may be the way to go.
If you don’t know, nematodes are microscopic organisms (non-segmented round worms) that live in the soil and are parasitic to many insect pests and their developing offspring. They can be purchased and introduced into the soil of insect infected areas.
Beneficial nematodes are of course all natural and can be used anywhere insect infestations can be found; including lawns, vegetable and flower gardens, backyards, row crops, pastures and around fruit and nut trees, greenhouses and just about anywhere there is dirt, plants and pests.
Below are listed some of the pests nematodes attack:
- Fleas & caterpillars
- Cut worms & Armyworms
- Maggots, thrips, ticks and gnats
- Japanese beetles & Grubs
- Citrus weevils, Queen ants & termites
This is merely a partial list. If you search online you can find companies that will ship nematodes right to your front door. Different species of Nematodes attack different pests so you can target certain insects that are causing you and your plants problems.
Another Way to Help the Good Bugs - Keep it Wild
When possible, leave a part of your yard or property in its natural state or with minimal mowing to form a natural habitat and environment in which the friendly bugs can live.
For the organic minded, the rotation of crops serves multiple purposes. When the same crop is planted each year, pests and diseases that attack those plants or crops are better able to establish themselves in the same location.
Crop rotation prevents the natural build up of many pests and diseases that take up residence in the soil and is a safer alternative to using pesticides to control those insects once they get established.
Rotation helps reduce environmental pollution. It also reduces the need for insecticides and pesticides to be introduced into the soil and is much more environmentally friendly. In addition, soil fertility is better maintained.
The Toxic Approach
If you take a purely all-natural approach, then any method involving chemicals is off the table. However, if you are 50-50 about it then a combination of natural and manmade methods may work best.
It should be noted, there are organic-based pesticides (derived from an organic source) which have a lower negative impact than broad-spectrum insecticides, but may still pose some risks to mammals and beneficial insects.
Then there are the synthetic or manufactured pesticides. As they say, “read the label”.
Which way is best is a personal decision. Like Life itself, it is about balance and choice.
When pesticides that are dangerous to people and pets are applied, the term pest-control becomes a relative one.
Pesticides: While you can control which pesticides you use to fight the multitude of invaders that see your yard and garden as a literal smorgasbord, you can’t control the effect those chemicals will have on the rest of the insect world and the environment as a whole. Once applied, your control ends. You can’t put the dragon back into the egg.
Certainly you can use a pesticide that will kill the aphids noshing on the leaves of your favorite plants and flowers but a good rinse from the hose will accomplish the same thing. Conversely, that pesticide may also kill many other insects, some beneficial to the plant. Those pesticides that kill indiscriminately are referred to as Broad Spectrum pesticides and are non- selective in their duty to rid your yard or garden of insects. They have a broad kill zone.
Bees are particularly susceptible to broad-spectrum poisons.
There is also Narrow Spectrum / Selective. Narrow spectrum insecticides target specific insects and pests and are considered safer for the beneficial bugs. It is still a poison though.
When all is said and done, it ultimately is up to you as to what approach or technique you will incorporate in your war against the multitude of ever-present, uninvited, plant destroying insects and their offspring. You can use totally natural methods or man made approaches using chemicals, or any combination thereof.
Less harmful pesticides and insecticides have been developed over the years and some are quite effective at killing their target but unavoidably, there are collective casualties.
Anytime you can get effective results without poisons or pollutants, you are doing the plants, friendly insects and the planet a big favor. If the infestation is too great, it may be better to completely cut back or uproot the badly infected plants altogether rather than soak them in pesticide in a moment of mad revenge.
Balance and choice.
There is always more to know and more to learn. This article is designed primarily to bring to your attention the alternatives available to those who prefer a more natural way of dealing with these invasive and destructive little pests.
Happy pest-free gardening.