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Guide to Organic Pest Control

Protect your garden from slugs, squash bugs, Japanese beetles, and more with these simple, organic products.

| Winter 2017-2018

  • Eastern lubber grasshoppers are voracious eaters common to the southeastern United States.
    Photo by Getty Images/majordesigns
  • Treat asparagus beetles with spinosad, and be sure to clean up winter garden debris to help reduce their numbers in the coming growing season.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/moneycue_canada
  • You can use insecticidal soap, diatomaceous earth, and horticultural oil to control infestations of aphids. You can also encourage healthy populations of predatory insects, such as lady beetles, which eat aphids.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Ivan Kmit
  • Japanese beetles can be controlled by applying Milky Spore disease (which targets and kills Japanese beetle larvae) in fall or early spring.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Phils Photography
  • Diatomaceous earth is made up of tiny fossils with sharp edges that will lacerate soft-bodied insects and cause them to dehydrate and die. In addition to garden use, you can also rub it into your dog or cat's fur, or add to dust baths for your chickens to control fleas, lice, ticks, and mites.
    Photo by
  • In addition to the smothering action of neem oil, contact with or ingestion of neem’s active ingredient slows feeding and radically reduces reproduction of squash bugs, Mexican bean beetles, and a few other hard-to-control insects.
    Photo by
  • In early spring, just as grasshoppers begin to emerge, place baits that contain the spores of Nosema locustae in and around grasshopper habitat. Young grasshoppers that eat the bait will grow weak and die.
    Photo by
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (commonly referred to as Bt) is a bacterium that targets leaf-eating caterpillars. Within 2 to 3 days of ingestion, the insects will stop feeding and die. Bt quickly degrades in sunlight, so apply in late evening for best results.
    Photo by
  • Aphids, mites, and other small sucking insects that don’t have much of an exoskeleton (shell) often can be controlled with two applications of insecticidal soap, five to seven days apart. After it's applied directly to the offending insects, the fatty acids of the soap will cause the bugs to die through desiccation.
    Photo by
  • Colorado potato beetles and larvae feasting on potato leaves.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Salman2
  • Female Colorado potato beetles lay clusters of orange eggs on the undersides of leaves. By encouraging healthy populations of lady beetles, ground beetles, and small wasps, you’ll ensure that only the best-hidden clusters of eggs survive.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/olgavolodina
  • Chickens, ducks, guineas, and turkeys can be great allies in your garden pest control endeavors. The following pests can be reduced by poultry: ticks, mosquitoes, flies, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, fire ants, termites, pill bugs, grubs, crickets, cabbageworms, and millipedes.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/domnitsky

Sharp-eyed handpicking and trapping can control many garden pests, but not every insect battle can be won with hand-to-hand combat. Instead, you may need an intervention plan that affects the pest, yet causes little or no harm to natural predators and beneficial life-forms that live in your garden. This is where organic pest control products can come to the rescue. To help you match the best products with each pest, we’ve organized our guide in two ways  —  by pest and by remedy. Download our convenient “Organic Remedies for Garden Pests” table, and then bring yourself up to date on cures with the information following in this article. The information in the table and the text is based on current recommendations from sustainable agricultural research centers throughout North America.

In the last few years, much has been learned about the secret world of garden insects. Spraying is not your only option. Growing flowers to provide nectar and pollen for beneficial insects, and excluding pests with row covers are both remarkably effective preventive measures. And don’t forget our feathered friends  —  wild birds, ducks, and chickens feast on all kinds of garden pests (see “Poultry Pest Patrol” below).

Top Organic Pest Control Products

Before you decide to use any organic pest control product, take the time to correctly identify the pest and see if it will respond to cultural controls, such as simple handpicking. (Using the wrong product could cost you time and money, and may backfire by killing natural predators.)

The Basic Biologicals. The oldest and best-known of biological pesticides is Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). The subspecies B. thuringiensis ssp. kurstaki remains a top remedy for leaf-eating caterpillars. Bt is based on a naturally occurring soil bacterium that causes the insect’s gut to rupture several hours after ingesting it.

Sunlight degrades Bt after a few hours, so it’s best applied late in the day to be consumed during the nightly feeding. Keep in mind that your objective is to place the substance where the caterpillars will eat it. In the case of corn earworms, this means squirting the Bt solution into the tips of young ears of corn. When using Bt to control leaf-eating pests, repeat treatment every 7 to 10 days, or until it’s no longer needed.

Always follow label directions for diluting concentrated solutions of Bt and other natural pesticides. Some Bt products include genetically modified strains; products listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) include only naturally occurring forms.

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