May 9, 2018

The Best Natural Pesticides for Gardens

What's the best natural pesticide to use for killing insects in my garden?

This is a question I answer often, and it's never a quick explanation.  Here's my answer, in a nutshell.

Adopt an "integrated pest management" approach

  • Prevent and minimize the need for chemicals by keeping plants healthy
  • Plant disease/pest resistant varieties
  • Plant in the correct location
  • Use good watering practices
  • Ensure soil is healthy and drains well
  • Focusing on soil and plant health is the best prevention

If you've done all of this, and you're still having a problem with a plant, consider these points:

1) Ask yourself if treatment is necessary. Is the plant likely to die if you don't treat it? Plants are designed to withstand some pests/damage, and we don't need to spray pesticides just because we see a bug or a nibbled leaf. 

2) 95% of garden bugs are harmless, and most pesticides, even natural ones, kill the good with the bad, so use them sparingly.

3) If treatment is necessary, don't kill anything without identifying it first. Assume bugs are innocent, until proven guilty. If you aren't sure, check out my article on Beneficial Bugs before you bring out the pesticides.  You may be surprised to learn that the bug that seems to be nibbling on your plant is in fact a beneficial insect that is eating the nibbling pests. Identifying the pests will also help you choose the correct solution. There are some awesome "biological" pest controls, like Bacillus thuringiensis, that kill specific insects without harming others, but they'll only work if you use them on the right pests.

4) Choose the least toxic solution to achieve your desired result, and spot treat. There's rarely a reason to "nuke" the entire yard. (That's what my dad calls it when he sprays with pesticides).

5) Most natural pesticide sprays are "contact" sprays. This means they have to be sprayed directly on the insect if they are to be effective. Spraying the entire plant as a preventative measure, without spraying the pest, is a waste of your time and your money.
Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap works great on soft-bodied insects,
like aphids and mealy bugs.  Great for houseplants.
Orange oil is so versatile!  I love it so much, it got its own blog.
You can get Medina Orange Oil here.

Garden Safe Fungicide 3 is actually a 3-in-1 spray derived from the
Neem tree, which kills insects, mites, and fungi.  Buying it in a
concentrate will save you a ton of money.

Bacillus thuringiensis or "BT" is also sold as Thuricide.
BT is a bacteria that specifically targets caterpillars like
cutworms, squash vine borers, peach tree borers, etc.

Diatomaceous Earth is great for crawling insects, like slugs, snails, ants, etc.

!!! Caution: read notes below !!!
 Garden Safe Garden Insect Killer is a pyrethrin spray,
which is derived from chrysanthemum blossoms, and can
be used on a variety of garden insects.

!!! A word of caution on pesticides, even natural ones:  With all pesticides, even natural ones, I recommend applying them late in the evening to minimize exposure for honeybees and other daytime flying beneficial insects that may visit your plants.  Even natural pesticides can be fatal to beneficial insects, which you can read more about in my article on Beneficial Bugs and Critters.  

With that said, I almost never spray pesticides in my yard, but these are my go-tos when absolutely necessary: Bacillus thuringiensis, insecticidal soap, orange oil, neem oil, diatomaceous earth, or pyrethrins, depending on what I'm treating. If you're in Texas, you should be able to find some of these at your neighborhood H-E-B. If you are outside of Texas, or if you prefer to shop online, you can use the links above to buy them and I'll make a few cents, at no additional cost to you.

Do you have a gardening question?  You can ask in the comments below or on Facebook or Instagram.  I'll pick my favorite questions to feature on this page.
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