Whether you are a landscaper or a gardener, at some point, you are liable to come across a few pests in your yard. How you treat these pests is up to you, but I would strongly suggest that you resist the urge to douse your yard in hazardous chemicals when there are excellent organic methods.
Organic pest control methods can give you the benefit of reduced pests and the comfort of knowing that chemical treatments aren’t harming your family and pets. If you typically use chemicals to treat pests, please have an open mind and consider these organic pest solutions the next time you have a problem.
Hazardous, human-made chemicals are contaminating our Earth. Most of these are untested for human safety. Many in the landscape industry are dangerous to many other animal species and only minimally effective on the pests they target. Considering the links to cancers, cognitive and developmental function, and disease, we should all be very wary of any chemical that comes into our homes or yards. Chemical manufacturers are in business to make money; they are not in business to ensure our safety.
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Dangers Outweigh Benefits
After many years of landscaping, I cannot recall an instance where an insect infestation has done any serious damage to a yard. Here and there, you will see chewed and eaten leaves or groups of plants that insects of one sort or another have recently damaged, but the truth is, while it may be irritating to see this damage, it rarely kills the plants, and it never really has any long term effects. Compare this to the chemicals that poison our water and land for decades to come, and I think you’ll realize that you have an obvious and easy choice.
The use of chemical pesticides will often kill the predatory insects that would otherwise prey on the insect you are targeting. If we step back and let mother nature work, we will see that she is quite efficient and balanced without our intervention. The dangers of chemical pesticides far outweigh the benefits.
Planting a diverse and healthy landscape of plants that are native to your area is your best defense against pests. Healthy and happy plants can usually take care of themselves. Many of our pest problems come from overcrowding of single species planting beds and plantings that are not suited for our hardiness zone.
In organic pest control, you use natural materials or living organisms that are not harmful to the environment. There are different control methods such as mechanical, physical, and biological pest control. If you want to be earth-friendly and save some money, go for home remedies or use beneficial animals and insects to eliminate pests.
What is Organic Pest Control?
There are many techniques and methods to control pests and give your plants a healthy environment. Here are the most common methods of organic pest control.
- Mechanical and physical methods
- Biological control
- Home remedies
- Predatory animals and insects
For a great education on organic pest control and more information than you will ever want to know about how chemicals are bad for us, check out this great publication by Stephen Tvedten; The Natural Pest Control Manual.
Or, visit his website, which has a boatload of great free content: http://www.stephentvedten.com/
Mechanical and Physical Methods
We use traps or barriers to restrict or remove pests in physical or mechanical pest control methods. Whether it is the manual removal of insects or the use of barriers, it is all removal.
The Manual Methods
- Handpicking works best with easily seen pests like aphids, scales, mealy bugs, caterpillar, snail, Japanese beetle, and cutworms; handpick the adult insects to eliminate the chance for them to lay eggs and worsen the problem.
- Crush any eggs that you can find.
- You can often use a hose to spray down plants and leaves to discourage many leaf-dwelling insects. Spray enough to remove pests but not enough to damage leaves.
- Shaking the plants will often cause the insects to fall off, making them easier to collect.
- Depending on your location, you could introduce some chickens to your gardens, which would help you manage your bug population.
- If plants or parts of plants are extremely infested, remove that part and drown in water or burn to eliminate the pest.
The use of sticky traps are also an effective method to control insects outdoors and indoors. Insects are attracted to colors, and we can use this attraction to trap them. We can use a rigid material of a particular color in these traps and coat them with a sticky substance such as corn syrup or petroleum jelly to catch the insects. You can either buy a prepared sticky trap or make your own. If you are buying them, please buy the non-toxic organic ones.
If you want to reuse your homemade sticky traps, cover the colored trap with clear plastic before making it sticky. This way, when the sticky gets all full of bugs, you can pull off the plastic and reuse the rigid material.
Hang them near your affected plants and watch them fill with bugs.
With any sticky trap, you may want to put it in some sort of wire mesh container so that you catch plenty of bugs, but not birds. Sticky traps in your garden will catch birds that were likely there to eat the bugs from your plants.
- Yellow traps attract fruit flies, whiteflies, mealy bugs, thrips, leaf miners, leafhoppers, scales, and midges.
- White traps are suitable for flea beetles, cucumber beetles, whiteflies, and plant bugs.
- Light blue traps lure thrips.
- Black traps attract horse flies and deer flies.
Floating Row Covers
Floating row covers are one of the best methods to control pests in your lawn or garden. These covers are translucent and porous polyester fabrics that prevent insects’ entry. If your garden is under the influence of mobile pests like cabbage moths, beetles, Mexican bean beetles, flea beetles, aphids, or bugs, floating row covers are best to keep the pests away from your plants.
You can have either lightweight or heavy floating row covers depending on your choice or need. In fact, both of these are easy to use. As these row covers are more like blankets and let in 8O% of the light, the lighter ones are good for summer as they do not cook the plants. When the season gets colder, use heavier covers that will retain warmth to give plants suitable growth conditions.
When using row covers, be careful not to restrict pollinating insects. Only use them temporarily during peak infestations.
Pheromones are specific chemicals that insects secrete to communicate with others. These are strong smells that insects use as a signal to attract mates and warn off predators. Scientists used these scents and duplicated them to make traps. When any moving pest passes nearby the trap, it is attracted towards it and is trapped. One of these traps’ limitations is that they are sex traps as they mostly attract male insects.
Pheromone lures moths, armyworms, cabbage loopers, corn earworms, cutworms, tomato pinworms, and European corn borers. It can also attract other stinging insects.
Tips for using pheromone traps
- Each trap is designed for a specific insect. It will not be sufficient to use a single trap for all insects. When using pheromone traps, make sure you have selected the right pheromone for the insect you are trying to control.
- The traps are not safe for pets and children, so keep them out of their reach.
- Traps are not weather resistant and check after any storm or winds for repair or replacement.
- Don’t forget to wash your hands after using pheromones, as pests may follow you for the smell you carry after working with the traps.
- It is essential to read the label before use. Some of the traps are specifically designed for the outdoors and need to avoid using indoors.
Biological control is a way of controlling insects and diseases with the help of other organisms. It is one of the safest organic pest methods and has many ecological benefits.
Bacillus thuringiensis is soil-borne bacteria used to kill specific insects or a class of insects. This is usually available in liquid or powder that needs to be diluted before use. You can also get some products in the form of granules or dusts to directly apply to the infected plant.
The bacterium releases a protein in the insects that cause their death. If you use Bacillus as pest control, make sure you are using the right type as each type of BT is useful only for a particular insect or a class of insects.
BT var. kurstaki is one of the most common strains that kill a wide range of insects like corn worms, tomato hornworms, cabbage loopers, caterpillars, and European corn borers.
Trap crops are used to lure insects away from the plants we are trying to protect. We choose a plant that we don’t care about but that the insect prefers to eat over the plant that we do care about. This way, our preferred plant can remain insect-free, and the insects can eat the trap crop. Once the trap crops attract a good amount of pests, they can be destroyed, pests and all.
For example, if Cucurbit (melons, squash, cucumbers, gourds) is your preferred plant (cash crop), you can plant a Blue Hubbard Squash perimeter as a trap around the Cucurbit.
Similarly, you can grow Sunflowers around your tomatoes as a trap crop for leaf-footed bugs.
When you don’t want to use mechanical or biological means of pest control, home remedies are the ultimate and instant solution to tackle pests. Here are some common treatments that you can apply at your place and enjoy pest-free plants.
Use Coffee Grounds
Insects and pests do not like coffee grounds, and it repels them. Ants especially hate coffee grounds. If there is an ant’s infestation in your lawn, laying down, some coffee grounds can help.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is best to be used against fruit flies. Fill about half of a bottle with the apple cider vinegar and place it near the plant. When using this home remedy, make sure the bottle allows the flies’ entry but is narrow from the top, and flies cannot get out once entered. A funnel-shaped bottle works well for this job. The fruit flies love to hover over fruits, and their smell attracts them. When you make a trap, flies will be drawn and trapped in the bottle.
Tinfoil and Bananas
You can use banana peels to deter aphids in your garden. Place some banana peels under the top layer of the soil near the plant’s base. You can also place a tin or aluminum foil over the ground and then place peels.
Fly Bait / Sugar Baits
Many types of homemade sugar baits and traps can effectively kill pests, including mosquitoes. With the recent concerns of diseases spread by mosquitoes, much research has been done as of late. Creating a sugar-water mix with about 1% Boric acid has been proven effective against mosquitoes and many other insects.
DIY Mosquito Trap
Check out this simple video for how to create your very own do it yourself mosquito trap
Stephen Tvedten suggests that adding some yeast to the above-mentioned sugar baits makes them even more attractive to biting mosquitoes.
Boric acid comes from Borax, a naturally occurring compound, and has been used as an insecticide and cleaning agent. It has been found to kill many insects and is considered generally safe because it occurs naturally. Studies indicate that in very high doses, it could be dangerous, so please keep it away from pets and children.
Neem oil is a commonly used remedy to eliminate insects and pests. As it is the extract of the tree and inhibits insects’ growth cycle. You can spray the infected plant with neem oil, and it retards the growth of young insects and the insects that proliferate. It is effective against squash bugs, Mexican bean beetle, aphids, caterpillars, and Colorado potato beetles. Available here.
Tweetmint All-Purpose Enzyme Cleaner
This product contains no harmful chemicals and is an effective cleanser and an effective pest deterrent. This product is sold super concentrated and must be diluted. It contains a specially formulated enzyme that can kill many insects or arachnids by dissolving their exoskeleton. It should only be used sparingly when you have a bad infestation to avoid negative effects on some of the more beneficial insects in your garden. You can buy it Here.
Smite & Banish
This is a natural substance made by a soil bacterium that can be toxic to insects. It is a mixture of two chemicals called spinosyn A and spinosyn D. It is used to control a wide variety of pests such as thrips, leafminers, spider mites, mosquitoes, ants, fruit flies, and others. You can see it here.
Beneficial animals and insects for pest control
When it comes to pest control, animals and beneficial insects come first to fight damaging pests without affecting nature. Some of the animals that are widely used are
Dogs can help keep your yard relatively free from mice, rats, squirrels, gophers, and rabbits. They certainly won’t rid your yard of these pests, but they will definitely discourage large populations.
Some people consider frogs a nuisance due to their sound, but some folks find it downright relaxing. Frogs are outstanding predators and consume hundreds of insects daily. If you do not have frogs in your garden, invite them by building a pond.
Toads have a diet very similar to frogs, so rest assured they are helping to control your insect population if you see these in your garden.
Nematodes are tiny microscopic roundworms that live in soil and kill other soil-dwelling pests such as armyworms, root maggots, cutworms, squash wine borers corn earworms.
They are called parasitic because they inhabit the target insects’ bodies and end up killing them, usually within a day or two. These all-natural soil friends are a really effective and affordable way to protect our gardens from certain pests.
Nematodes occur naturally in the soil, but you can purchase more to add to your soil to boost its resistance to pests.
When ordering, you will get dormant nematodes in a moist medium that you can store in the refrigerator for about 4 months. These are living little beings, so you will want to use them as soon as possible. They love moist and warm soil.
As you can see, we have many, many natural and safe solutions for a comparatively small problem. Let’s not destroy our lives and our earth with hazardous chemicals to kill a few bugs in our yard. Pests are not the end of the world, stay calm and try to let mother nature take her course. Oftentimes, with or without help from us, Mother Nature will take care of it. The end of the world is the end of the world. I’m sure that none of us want to see that any time soon!