Whiteflies and aphids and snails, oh my!
Just picturing a slug creeping over your kale leaves is probably enough to have you googling the harshest pesticide chemicals known to man to kill all the bugs!
But before you reach for all those synthetic sprays and powders with a bunch of ingredients you can’t even pronounce, take a moment to read through our top tips for organic pest control.
When it comes to keeping the creepy crawlies out of your garden, our methods focus primarily on defending. It’s much better to prevent an outbreak from occurring in the first place than to try to treat once one’s already started. For that reason, our two best defense methods use simple barriers to control access to your garden.
If you already have seen signs of an infestation, don’t panic. We’ve got three organic methods to relieve pest pressure on your plants, as well.
Cover garden with garden mesh
Adding a physical barrier to your garden is the simplest and most effective method of organic pest control. It’s also pretty cheap, especially compared to the cost of a bunch of pesticides to treat a problem that’s quickly gone from bad to worse.
Simply lay agfabric garden netting or mesh over you garden as soon as you plant seeds or starter plants. By working proactively, pests never even have a chance to come into your garden and attack your vegetables, flowers, herbs, and fruit.
This type of barrier might seem flimsy, but it’s effective against birds, moths, insects, and even squirrels. The small holes in the mesh keep the bad guys out while letting in water, air, and sunlight. Plus, you can still see your plants to check in on them.
Plants like herbs and leafy greens can be grown entirely under garden mesh. Fruiting plants that require pollination will require you to open the mesh and give pollinators access to the flowers during the day during fruit production.
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Cover fruit with mesh bags
Like agfabric, this is a simple and inexpensive method that removes easy access to your prize jewels (read: tomatoes). Think of this tip as locking your doors and closing your windows to deter a home robbery.
When you’re growing something like tomatoes or strawberries that look really tempting to squirrels, birds, and other pests, you can add some much-needed protection to the fruit and give it more time to ripen by enveloping the fruit in an organza bag (the type you might store jewelry in). This thin barrier allows sunlight and air in but is often enough to keep unwanted guests out.
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Spray with soapy water
If the pests you see in your garden are large (such as a tomato hornworm), put on a pair of gloves, pick the pest off your plant, and drop into a bowl of soapy water.
For smaller pests (such as spider mites, aphids, and mealy bugs), first try spraying with a strong stream of water for several days in a row. If this does not help, then make a diluted mild soap spray from castile or dish soap and water. Soap works to remove the protective coat around soft-bodied insects, causing their bodies to dehydrate, but it must be sprayed directly on their bodies to be effective. Spray the top and underside of your leaves where these pests like to hang out. (Make sure to do a test run on a small section of a plant first and then wait for a few days to check for damage.) Reapply every couple of days.
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Apply Neem oil
Neem oil is an organic pesticide produced from neem tree seeds, and it’s been used for hundreds of years to control garden pests.
Not only do bugs hate its garlic smell, which makes it an excellent repellent, it also hinders insects’ ability to feed and makes it hard for them to grow and lay eggs.
Neem oil is safe to use on edible plants. It repels nematodes, prevents powdery mildew, and controls aphids, smider mites, scale, whiteflies, and beetles by killing insects at every stage of development (eggs, larvae, and adults).
We use even this organic pesticide sparingly when necessary, but when we do need it, it’s quite effective.
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Sprinkle Slug Magic
If you’ve got a slug or snail problem, Captain Jack’s Slug Magic can come to your rescue. This two-in-one bait and killer also works on earwigs, sow bugs, pill bugs, and cutworms.
The main ingredient in Slug Magic is iron phosphate, which naturally occurs in soil and is safe to use around pets and wildlife.
To apply, you’ll sprinkle the granular formula around your garden.
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Spray Bt – Bacillus Thuringiensis
If you have a caterpillar issue, then we highly recommend first picking off as many pests as you can by hand and dunking them in soapy water. If your issue is out of control, then we highly recommend Bt. Bt contains a bacterium that is harmful to caterpillars and worms such as the ones you find on your tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale plants.
Bt kills worms and caterpillar-stage insects while causing no harm to birds, earthworms, or beneficial insects, such as honeybees and ladybugs.
The caterpillars must ingest the spray, so it is best to spray the front and back leaves of infested plants.
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Pests are a natural part of every ecosystem, even the thriving ones. It’s totally normal to see some bugs in your garden, and a lot of times, nature takes care of it for you. Give aphids enough time in your garden, and ladybugs will come. Attract birds to your garden with a bird bath or feeder, and they’ll take care of those caterpillars for you.
It’s not our job as gardeners to weed out every ounce of wildlife from our gardens. Aim to keep your plants happy by protecting them and giving them a healthy environment to grow in (raised beds filled with great soil, plus regular watering and tending). Then, when necessary, we can use moderate pest control methods.
Remember, the absolute best method of organic pest control is just your shadow in the garden on a daily basis.
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