How to Get Rid of Bugs Organically
The more we discover about synthetic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides the more we learn how unhealthy they are for the environment and the people and animals that live in it. Pesticides can create more problems than they solve.
Spraying garden chemicals to get rid of bugs and weeds not only cause health risks, they often aren’t even that effective. Initially, they will kill off a lot of pests, but eventually these pests can develop resistance to the pesticide and come back even stronger. Another problem is the side effects many synthetic pesticides can have on unintended targets (think of DDT and birds).
The best plan is to avoid the need to use pest control in the first place by starting with healthy fertile soil, matching your plants to the soil type, ensuring proper sunlight levels and watering conditions, and using appropriate organic fertilization and pruning, when necessary. But, if that doesn’t work there are many alternatives to chemical pesticides that can reduce pests while leaving a healthy environment for your plants, pets and family.
Barriers & Repellents
Barriers and repellents help keep bugs out of the garden. They can act like a wall preventing crawling insects from accessing your home or vegetables. For example, by planting carrots in toilet paper rolls cutworms can’t get to them. Plants can provide a living barrier to insects, too. Peppermint, spearmint and pennyroyal naturally deter aphids and ants, so plant them throughout your garden and these pests will stay away.
Simmering cedar twigs in water and then pouring the (cooled) water over plants will deter cutworms, corn earworms and other pests. Snails won’t cross a line of lime, just as ants avoid cayenne pepper or iron phosphate — a natural inorganic material widely used as a nutritional supplement — keeps slugs at bay.
In addition to the many “do it yourself” pest remedies, you can purchase organic pest control products that work on just about anything lurking around the garden or home.
Lady beetles, lacewings and preying mantises are but a few of the beneficial insects that will prey on the garden pests you don’t want. These “good” bugs can be lured into the garden with attractive habitat (food, shelter and water) or they can be purchased and released into the garden — you’ll still need a healthy habitat for them to survive.
There are many reasons to introduce beneficial bugs into your garden. Over the long term, they are safer and more effective than chemicals, but you’ll need to do a little research first to determine what your specific pest problem is and which beneficial insects to enlist to help. Luckily, the Internet provides a wealth of resources, as does your local extension service.
Biological Pest Control
Naturally occurring insect diseases caused by protozoa, bacteria, fungi and viruses, biological pest controls are effective against their target insects but are nontoxic to humans, pets, wildlife and beneficial insects. They are also less likely to build pest resistance than chemical pesticides and they break down quickly in the environment.
One of the better-known biological pesticides is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is often used against leaf and needle feeding caterpillars. This bacterium is found naturally in soils around the world and paralyzes the digestive tracts of the insects that eat it.
Spinosad is an insecticide derived from the bacteria Saccharopolyspora spinosa and can be used as an alternative to malathion sprays. Spinosad has been found to kill medflies, but not the predators that eat them, and it is approved for use on food crops. It also helps control thrips, caterpillars, leafminers, fruit flies, borers, and much more.
A third (of many) biological pest controls is milky spore powder which targets the white grubs of Japanese beetles. When the grubs come to the surface of the lawn to feed (usually July or August) they ingest the bacteria. These milky spores germinate and multiply inside the grub, killing it.
Home Pest Control
Inside the home is probably where most people are concerned about what sort of pest control they use. Choosing an organic way to get rid of fleas, roaches, mice and other creatures will help keep your family and pets healthy and safe.
Boric acid powder acts as a stomach poison to insects and can be used to control cockroaches, ants, termites, and many other household pests. When these insects walk through it, the boric acid sticks to their legs and is carried back to the colony. The fine powder is ingested as the insects groom each other. Boric acid is less toxic to humans and pets than table salt.
Tip: Make your own ant bait by mixing 2 Tbsp boric acid powder with one 8 oz. jar of mint jelly. Place the bait on small cardboard squares and position these “bait stations” in areas where pests are noticed.
Mice can be caught in either live or snap traps. It is best to set these along the edge of a wall (not in the middle of the room) where the rodents are likely to travel. If you choose a live or humane mouse trap, be sure not to contact the mouse and take it far from your home — and not near someone else’s!
To eradicate fleas you’ll need to treat the host (your cat or dog), the house and the yard. Here’s how:
1.) A citrus repellent can be made by boiling lemons and letting it sit overnight. The next day, spray your pet down.
2.) For the home, sprinkle regular table salt or boric acid (test for color fastness) over the carpet, let sit overnight and vacuum the next day. Wash all pet bedding in hot water, adding eucalyptus oil to the final rinse.
3.) In the yard, diatomaceous earth can be applied to all pet resting areas or wherever fleas are suspected.
Traps & Lures
Everyone is familiar with the common mouse trap — the one with the big hunk of cheese that shows up in cartoons. But, traps can be used to catch insects as well as mammals.
Traps use visual lures, pheromones or food to attract pests and capture them, without hurting other insects, animals or the environment.
Traps can either be used to monitor or control a population. When monitoring a population, insect traps can help determine when the insect emerges, how many there are and other information important in deciding what to do about a specific pest.
Traps used to control a population do just that — they capture insects or rodents and (usually) kill them. Sometimes traps alone can take care of your pest problem, other times they are best used in conjunction with another pest management tool. For example, fly traps work well to attract and trap adult flies while fly parasites attack immature fly pupae.
Natural insecticides are generally botanical, meaning they are derived from plants that have insecticidal properties. Compared to chemical pesticides they have fewer toxic effects and break down much more quickly in the environment. However, they are still poisons so only indulge as a last resort.
|Botanical Insecticide||Use Against|
|Neem||caterpillars, gypsy moth, leaf miner, loopers, mealybug, thrips, whitefly|
|Nicotine Sulfate||aphids, spider mites, thrips and other sucking insects|
|Pyrethrum||aphid, cabbageworm, flea beetle, flies, harlequin bug, leafhopper, Mexican bean beetle, spider mite, squash bug|
|Rotenone||aphid, cabbage worm, carpenter ant, Colorado potato beetle, cucumber beetle, flea beetle, fleas, Japanese beetle, loopers, Mexican bean beetle, mites, spittlebug|
|Ryania||aphid, codling moth, corn earworm, oriental fruit moth, thrips|
|Sabadilla||armyworm, blister beetle, cabbage looper, cucumber beetle, harlequin bug, leafhopper, stink bug|
As mentioned above, you’ll need to do a little research before selecting an insecticide so you know specifically which one to choose. Apply all these pesticides locally — do not blanket spray the whole garden — to minimize their risk.
If you are trying to get or keep organic certification be sure to check the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) or the National Organic Program (NOP) for a list of materials approved for organic use in the United States.
Soaps and Oils
Insecticidal soaps and oils are most effective on soft-bodied, sucking insects such as aphids, spider mites, whitefly and mealybugs. While less effective against many hard-shelled, adult insects (such as beetles), they can be used to control their immature larval stages and eggs. As a result, timing the application is an important factor when using these natural insecticides.
The fatty acids in insecticidal soap (this is not the same thing as dish soap) penetrate the insect’s outer covering and cause the cells to collapse, thereby killing the pest. It must be applied directly to the insect and will not be effective once it is dry. Insecticidal soap is considered a least-toxic pesticide and will not harm beneficial insects such as praying mantis and ladybugs.
Horticultural oil is a highly refined paraffinic oil, that once mixed with water is sprayed on plant foliage. It works by coating and suffocating insect pests and their eggs and can be used throughout the year as both a dormant and growing season spray.
d-Limonene, made from the oil extracted from citrus rind, is a relatively new organic insecticide that works by destroying the waxy coating of an insect’s respiratory system. Ideal for use in the kitchen and around the home, d-Limonene can be used to combat fleas, ants and cockroaches. In a recent study, d-Limonene (found in Orange Guard) was shown to reduce cockroach populations more effectively than Dursban, the toxic ingredient in Raid®.
Note: d-Limonene is approved by the FDA as a food additive, and is found in products such as fruit cakes, cleaners, air fresheners and pet shampoos.
Often plant diseases can be avoided by ensuring good draining soil and adequate air movement. But, when that doesn’t work and your plants start to show signs of rust, moldy coatings, blotches, wilting, scabs and rotted tissue it’s time to apply a fungicide.
Sulfur and copper are two organic fungicides that have low toxicity to animals, including humans. However, you still need to exercise caution and read the instructions before applying them. It’s also important to respect their temperature limitations.
A new broad spectrum bio-fungicide that is approved for use in organic production is known as Serenade Garden Disease Control. Containing a strain of Bacillus subtilis, it provides protection against many of the most common fungal and bacterial diseases, including bacterial leaf blight, botrytis, early blight, fire blight, late blight, powdery mildew and scab.