Use the Right Organic Pesticide

Take control of your garden with the help of this in-depth look at a variety of organic pesticides and how to use them.

Squash bug. Photo by Adobe Stock/Darek.

When faced with a pest problem, gardeners often wish for a solution that comes in a spray bottle. It’s true that many poisons sold in garden centers will kill any, and often all, insects in your garden. But pesticides are hazardous to humans and wildlife, and most will kill beneficial insects along with the problem pests.

Even organic pesticides can kill beneficial insects, so they should be used carefully and only as a last resort. Learn about insect pests often seen in your area and their natural enemies, as well as cultural methods that keep populations low, before you decide to grow a food crop.

The organic pesticides described in these pages pose minimal harm to organisms you don’t want to hurt, including humans. These products are also accepted under the National Organic Program standards, which serve as a framework for certified-organic food production. In turn, the nonprofit Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) evaluates whether or not specific products comply with those standards. OMRI uses a panel of experts that includes farmers, scientists, environmentalists, and businesspeople to decide which products should be approved for use by organic growers. Approved products usually display the OMRI seal on their label, or you can check the OMRI website to see whether a product is allowed, allowed with restrictions, or prohibited.

Allowed products may be used freely at the grower’s discretion; most of them are soil amendments and organic fertilizers. Many organic pesticides carry a restricted code because they can potentially harm beneficial insects and other wildlife, and thus should be used sparingly. Although all of the products listed here carry OMRI approval, many fall into the restricted category and should be used only when cultural controls have failed, and always according to label directions.

BT (Bacillus thuringiensis)

Bacillus thuringiensis, often abbreviated as Bt, is a naturally occurring bacteria that makes pests sick when they eat it. There are two strains commonly used as natural pesticides.



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