Natural Pest Control for Your Garden

Growing healthy vegetables and vigorous flowers and shrubs can be a challenge, especially when battling bugs and weeds. Here are some of my favorite options for battling garden pests.

Amanda Thomas
July 3, 2014
Episode #116

Now that summer is here, most of us are spending much more time outdoors. Summer flowerbeds and vegetable gardens are on the to-do list for many, but it can be a challenge to battle bugs and weeds. It’s frustrating to grow beautiful tomatoes only to have them chewed up by insects!

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For me, commercial pesticides and weed killers just aren't an option. Here are some organic, non-toxic, homemade options for battling those garden dilemmas.

1. Got Slugs?

This surefire method for getting rid of slugs is a tip from generations back. Sink a tuna can or another short container into the ground. Next, fill it with beer to about an inch below the top of the container. Slugs, attracted to the beer because of the yeast, will go for a drink and then drown.  It's important to sink the container into the dirt and keep the beer an inch lower than the soil. You want the slugs to go after the beer and drown. If the beer is near the soil, the slugs can just have a drink and then munch some vegetables when they're done with happy hour.

Another solution that works well with slugs, snails, and earwigs is diatomaceous earth. Sprinkle this over plants and around the edges of your garden beds. The diatom particles are small, sharp, and but only harmful to the exoskeletons of insects, slugs, and snails. Insects cannot become immune because diatomaceous earth is a mechanical killer, not a chemical one.

2. Are Furry and Feathered Friends Eating Your Plants?

If bunnies, deer, mice, squirrels, and birds are chowing down in your garden, mix up a bit of this spray and spritz your plants weekly. Mix 4 tablespoons of Tabasco sauce, or any hot sauce, with 1 quart of water and 1 teaspoon of dish soap. The capsaicin in the pepper spray will irritate these unwanted diners and they'll look for less spicy fare elsewhere.

3. Is Powdery Mildew Making an Unwanted Appearance?

My baking soda spray is a tried-and-true method for preventing powdery mildew when applied weekly. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of dish soap, and 1 gallon of water. Add this mixture to a spray bottle, or a garden sprayer for easier application, and spray it onto the foliage of susceptible plants. The baking soda disrupts fungal spores, preventing them from germinating. The oil and soap help the mixture stick to plant leaves. This spray is effective on a variety of fungal issues.

Another solution you can use on powdery mildew is a mix of equal parts milk and water, sprayed on the infected plants. Three treatments, each a week apart, should control the disease.

4. Are Mealy Bugs Crashing Your Garden Party?

Give this mixture a try and say goodbye to uninvited mites and aphids. Mix 1 tablespoon of canola oil, a few drops of Ivory soap, and a quart of water in a spray bottle. Spray the affected plants both from the top down and from below up, making sure to get both sides of the affected plants. The oil smothers the insects.

When it comes to garden pests and weeds, one solution can combat both: Compost! Whether you're a farmer or an apartment dweller with a fire escape farm, you need to be making this free form of fertilizer. Mulching and top-dressing your soil with compost or natural fertilizer is the best way to develop strong, vigorous plants. This pest-resisting “black gold” not only adds nutrients to your soil but also improves soil structure -- it increases moisture retention and helps beneficial microbes multiply. If you want to start composting but are unsure how to get started, check out this link at eartheasy.com or visit your local nursery and ask a garden expert for help.

Unfortunately, even with composting, some weeds are just inevitable. I’ve got a few handy remedies for dealing with those unwanted buggers:

5. Try Vinegar!

You know I love using vinegar around the house, but did you know it works for weeds, as well? Be careful, though. Vinegar can also kill the plants you want to grow. Try using a foam paintbrush to brush vinegar onto the leaves of weeds you're trying to kill. This prevents the vinegar from getting onto other plants and ensures that the entire leaf surface is coated.

6. Weeds Growing in Driveway Cracks?

Boil some water and pour it over those pesky weeds popping up in the cracks of your sidewalks or driveways. Most weeds can't stand up to this treatment. If you’ve got some really stubborn weeds that regrow even after you’ve pulled them and used the boiling water treatment, a vinegar and salt mixture might be the way to go.  Here’s the recipe:

Homemade Weed Killer

In a large plastic jug combine:

  • 1 gallon of white vinegar (5 percent acidity)
  • 1 cup table salt
  • 1 tablespoon dishwashing liquid

Shake well. Funnel the weed killer into a plastic spray bottle.

Coat the weeds with the solution on a dry, sunny day. Any plants soaked will die within several days. They won’t be back, and nothing else will ever grow there.  Please note that this concoction will kill just about any plant it comes in contact with, so keep it away from your other plants, as well as your lawn.

Funnel any leftover weed killer into an empty plastic container. Cap it tightly. Label it clearly and store in a cool, dark spot indefinitely.

Bugs and weeds are the gardener’s worst enemies, but with these organic solutions, I hope to save you a few gardening headaches. If you’ve got other organic methods of controlling bugs and weeds in your yard, please share them by tweeting me @thedomesticceo.

Until next time, I'm the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home!

Spraying plants, growing weeds, slugs, and other images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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