From homemade sprays to natural enemies, there’s always a way to protect your plants without causing damage to beneficial insects, the environment or your family.
Almost every creature has natural predators, and garden pests are no exception to the laws of nature.
- Ladybugs are a great way to naturally fight the insects in your garden. Ladybug larvae have a voracious appetite for soft-bodied pests – especially aphids. The larvae and adults alike will happily munch on mealybugs and mites as well. Ladybugs are attracted to dill, fennel, yarrow and angelica.
- Lacewings are attracted to angelica just like ladybugs, so planting angelica can benefit you in multiple ways. While adult lacewings mostly feed on flower nectar, lacewing larvae will eat almost any pest they can get their mouths on. The larvae will eat any aphids present but will also eat mites, moth eggs, small caterpillars, hornworms and thrips.
- Parasitic wasps known as braconid wasps will control the caterpillar population – including hornworms – and other pests like aphids, flies and leaf miners. Braconid wasps will lay their eggs on or inside hornworms, where the larvae eat the hornworm from the inside out.
There are several plants that repel bad bugs or attract beneficial insects. Not only can these plants keep your pest problem under control, when planted correctly they can also improve the taste and quality of your crops.
- Basil will attract bees to pollinate your plants, while repelling flies and mosquitos. Basil is perfect for companion planting with tomatoes; it improves the flavor of your tomatoes while keeping pesky mosquitos away. Basil also repels aphids and hornworms.
- Mint will keep away cabbage moths, ants, aphids and rodents, but is invasive and will have to be carefully monitored to make sure it doesn’t take over. Keep your mint in pots to keep it from spreading too aggressively.
- Mammoth dill is a great trap crop for aphids – they absolutely love dill – and your dill plants will also attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps that will eat aphids and other bad bugs.
- Garlic helps repel aphids, ants, beetles and spider mites, and will also improve the flavor of your vegetables. Check out this interactive infographic for more information on companion planting.
You can use common ingredients found in your home to make natural insect repellants and insecticides.
- Peppermint tends to repel biting bugs and spiders, so mixing 10-20 drops of essential oil into a cup of water and using it as a spray will repel a large population of your pest problem.
- Tabasco is a great way to keep the bad bugs at bay. Combine tabasco sauce, four cloves of garlic and a quart of water. Blend ingredients and then strain through cheesecloth into a spray bottle. This recipe repels aphids, caterpillars and whiteflies.
- Tomato leaves are safe for your family and pets, but some people are allergic to nightshade plants and should handle this recipe with care. Blend together 1 ounce of tomato leaves with a quart of water, strain into a bottle and spray the stems and leaves of your plants, especially the underside where pests like to hide.
- Homemade soap insecticides are great for controlling pests like spider mites, mealybugs and aphids. Use a gentle liquid soap like Murphy’s Oil Soap and mix three capfuls of soap with a quart of water. Use this spray in the early morning or late evening, as applying in strong sunlight can cause plant burn.
- Neem oil spray can be made using a ½ ounce of organic neem oil, 1 teaspoon of a mild soap and 2 quarts of warm water. Neem oil contains more than 50 natural insecticides and as such is a great option for keeping pests away.
Your best bet for a natural pest-free garden is using a combination of the methods discussed in this article, along with rotating crops and tilling the soil to overwintering pests.