For many gardeners, a good offense is better than a good defense when it comes to pests in the garden. As soon as some gardeners plant their first seeds, they are already thinking about pest control. The question is, when is it necessary to step in with pest control methods?

If you have bugs in your garden, find out what they are. The same is true about plant diseases. There are many books, field guides and garden websites to help you identify your insects, and someone at your local nursery may be able to help with local pests. You may find that the “pests” in your garden are not doing any harm at all!

In fact, over 95% of the insects in your garden are either beneficial or cause no harm. Some, like bees and butterflies, are vital to the fertilization process for plants. Most ant species simply collect weed seeds and insect eggs and are known as “nature’s vacuum cleaners.” Centipedes prey on slugs and snails, dragonflies eat mosquitoes and aphids, and the common ground beetle feeds on cutworms. Lady bugs, spiders, lacewings and even some types of mites are also natural “pest control” species that should definitely be welcomed into your garden.

Broad-spectrum insecticides often kill the good insects. For instance, Malathion, a common mosquito-killer, kills the mosquito-eating dragonfly population as well! As an organic gardener, you do have safe, natural options to control pests. In fact, many of them can be made from common household products.

Methods to Control Pest Insects

The first thing to remember is to spot-treat the problem, rather than trying to spray and treat your entire garden. Second, good ol’ water is one of the most effective weapons.

Select a control measure that targets the pest. Use the insect’s own biology against it. An insect cannot become resistant to its own biology, and you will win this battle every time. For instance, use a natural bait that is poisonous for ants that you know they will carry back to their nest and feed to their queen. This won’t kill them right away, but if you are patient, you will find that the whole mound will be dead in a week or two. One suggestion is to find out what they like (sugar? grease?) Then take the ingredient and mix in some borax – not too much, or they’ll either detect it or die before reaching the colony.

Home-made Insect Sprays

These home-made organic pesticides are just as effective and a lot less toxic to the environment than those that are available commercially. In fact, many are completely non-toxic.

Basic Oil Spray:

1 cup of vegetable oil (soybean, corn or canola)
1 tablespoon dishwashing liquid.

Place oil and water in a jar or empty ketchup bottle. Leftovers can be kept in these containers for later use. Take 1 tablespoon of oil mixture from above and add 2 cups of water. Mix the solution in a spray bottle and spray the plant with the problem infestation. As oil and water don’t mix, shake the spray bottle often to keep the solution well mixed. Repeat every 10 days.

Alcohol Oil Spray

To increase the effectiveness of the basic oil spray, add some isopropyl alcohol to the mixture. This mix is lethal to many insects.

1 cup alcohol
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 quart water

Mix ingredients together and place in spray bottle. Spray on infested plants as necessary.

Basic Soap Spray

Soap spray is the most common of all homemade sprays. It works best on soft- bodied insect such as mites, aphids, whiteflies, thrips and many others. It works by penetrating the cell membranes and causing the insects to dry out. Soap is less effective on fast- moving insects, because the spray must come into contact with them. Soap is safe on all edible vegetables and usually leaves no residue on plants.

2 tablespoons dishwashing liquid
1 gallon warm water.

Mix and use as a spray.

Insect Repellents

Many problem insects can’t stand certain plants and spices, and will avoid them at all costs. Here’s a few examples:

Garlic and hot spices

All bugs hate strong odors and spices, and garlic and hot pepper is the most effective. Simply take some garlic powder, or hot pepper juice or flakes, mix it with water and spray. Careful though, too much will harm your plants.

Cornmeal

Sprinkle corn meal around the base of your plants to repel several types of pests, such as cutworms. Cornmeal, worked into the soil, also attracts a type of fungus that kills disease-causing fungi.

Beer or Yeast

Mix beer or yeast with water and create a pitfall trap such as a shallow cup sunken into the ground to attract and drown snails and slugs.

These is just a few of many natural solutions to control your pest problem. With a healthy organic garden, you’ll have a lot of beneficial insects and birds helping you out, and rich, natural soil will mean healthy, strong plants that can better resist insects and disease. Sometimes you will need to intervene to control an escalating problem. Just make sure that the insects that you are killing are not the beneficial ones!

Article by Ena Clewes and Chris Molnar, contributors to Goorganicgardening.com. Find more tips and recipes on natural pest control in Ena’s organic gardening ebook.

Written by: Organic Gardening Staff Writer – Copyright Organic-Gardening.net all rights reserved