Uses for Tobacco in the Organic Garden

Tobacco is a traditional gardening tool for killing unwanted pests, but this old-time technique has its flaws.

  • Tobacco is a traditional pest remedy, but there are other ways to deal with soil pests.
    Photo by istock/efired

Question: I’ve heard that cigarette butts or snuff soaked in water can be used to kill soilborne pests, but will it harm earthworms? I don’t have any specific case to treat but would just like to know for future reference.

Answer: Cigarettes and snuff have only one use in my opinion — to create health problems for people. Tobacco and the various toxic chemicals in the tobacco might help kill some bugs and pathogens, but they’ll also hurt beneficial nematodes, helpful microbes such as Trichoderma, beneficial insects, and, yes, earthworms. Handling tobacco products and then plants can also spread tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) to numerous plant species. It’s interesting that tobacco smoke doesn’t apparently spread the disease.

My approach is quite different. A much better way of controlling insect pests and disease pathogens is to avoid using anything that kills, and instead use materials and techniques that stimulate life. Beneficial life on plants and in the soil will overcome and control most pests. Gardeners making the change to organic growing practices are often surprised at how easy disease control can be. The reason it’s so easy is that most soil and plant diseases are basically microorganism populations out of balance.

To increase beneficial nematode populations, we have several tools at hand, including compost, cornmeal, garlic, apple cider vinegar, various sugars, and the entire Garrett Juice formula (1 cup compost tea or liquid humate combined with 1 ounce each apple cider vinegar, liquid seaweed, and liquid molasses diluted in 1 gallon of water).

The only time I use a killing pest control is for plant viruses, at which point I use a 1-percent solution of hydrogen peroxide.- Howard Garrett, AKA “The Dirt Doctor

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