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How to Get Rid of Pests in the Garden Naturally

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Wondering how to get rid of bugs in your vegetable garden naturally? As a gardener, you know that harsh pesticides are often used as a quick fix, but the harm they cause to the backyard ecosystem and residues on the plants we eat is a cause for concern. Luckily, there is a better way to protect your garden and maintain a healthy ecosystem. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the world of organic pest control, where you’ll learn about identifying common garden pests and how natural repellents and homemade remedies can provide effective solutions. We’ll also dive into integrated pest management practices and how they can help you achieve a thriving garden. By the end of this guide, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to protect your garden from pests without resorting to harmful chemicals.

thriving vegetable garden

Understanding organic pest control

The word organic gets tossed around quite a bit in regards to gardening and I wanted to take a line or two to explain what this term means. In regards to gardening, organic means food production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents. Many of the methods I’ll mention below may sound like chemical pesticides (i.e. diatomaceous earth), but are in reality not artificial. 

Another note before beginning is healthy plants are going to be less prone to issues with insect pests. The first place to begin with preventing pests in the garden is with healthy plants. It’s a good idea to be sure you’ve planted your crops and plants in places where they will thrive and get the proper amounts of light and water. This will go a long way to avoiding pest problems altogether. 

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Identifying common garden pests 

Before delving into the natural methods of pest control, it’s essential to understand the various types of pests that can cause damage to your garden. Identifying common garden pests and beneficial insects is crucial as it gives you the knowledge to control infestations without harming the ecosystem. It will also help you to avoid killing beneficial insects, which could actually be natural predators of some garden pests. 

Some of the most common garden pests include 

  • aphids– tiny, soft-bodied pests that feed on plants
  • thrips– small, winged pests that can stunt plant growth and damage leaves
  • mites–  tiny, usually dark-bodied, pests that feed on leaves and plants. Spider mites are a common variety.
  • caterpillars– this can include a wide range of offenders, such as cabbage worms (common on brassicas) and tomato horn worms. Not all caterpillars are pests, per se, but they may still eat your plants, so you’ll have to know which plants you’re willing to give over to let’s say black swallowtail caterpillars for the sake of butterflies. 
  • Squash bugs- ​These large, flat insects can wreak havoc on a cucumber plant, feeding on just about any part of the plant.
  • Squash vine borer- For many years, this was a personal nemesis of mine. The vine borer moth lays eggs on many varieties of squash plants, and once the eggs hatch the tiny worms bore into the plant, and essentially destroy it from the inside. 
  • whiteflies– these may be the most obnoxious, but whiteflies are tiny white flies that love the underside of leaves and can burst out in flight when that leaf or plant is disturbed. 

While this is clearly not a comprehensive list, these common pests can cause immense damage to your plants, leading to stunted growth, leaf curling, and even death. On the other hand, many beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and praying mantis help control these pests by feeding on them or laying their eggs near them.

However, it can be challenging to differentiate between beneficial and harmful insects, making pest identification crucial. In the next section, we’ll dive into the world of pest identification and learn how to differentiate between beneficial and pest insects.

For a helpful resource for specific pests and the natural ways to get rid of them, see my ebook, Natural Pest Control for the Home Garden. This entire book is organized based on the type of pest and how to deal with it.

natural pest control for the home garden book

Identifying beneficial insects

Identifying common garden pests and beneficial insects is crucial for effective organic pest control in your home garden. Many pests such as aphids, thrips, mites, caterpillars, and whiteflies can cause damage to your plants, leading to stunted growth and even death. However, beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and praying mantis can help control these pests by feeding on them or laying their eggs near them. Thus, it is important to differentiate between beneficial and harmful insects and take steps to control infestations without harming the ecosystem.

One way to identify pests is by looking for visible physical characteristics such as the color, shape, and size of the insect. For instance, aphids are often pear-shaped and about 1/8 inch long, while spider mites are tiny and difficult to spot with the naked eye. Another way to identify pests is by observing the type of damage they cause to plants. For example, aphids suck sap from leaves, causing them to curl and turn yellow, while caterpillars eat holes in leaves and fruit.

In addition to physical characteristics and damage, it is also helpful to know the life cycle and behavior of pests. For example, whiteflies lay eggs on the undersides of leaves, and the nymphs that hatch from these eggs feed on plant sap. Identifying the location and time of day when pests are most active can help with control and prevention.

So, if you’re not able to clearly identify if an insect is one of the common garden pests, then there’s a possibility it’s one of the good bugs. Pay close attention to the good insects such as:

  • lady beetles (which look very different in their younger stages) and can feast on aphids 
  • parasitic wasps are great controllers of pests and are not a threat to humans
  • assassin bugs do their part to eat aphids and stink bugs
  • dragonflies may not eat garden pests, but they do keep your mosquito population under control which makes working in the garden so much easier. 
ladybug eating aphids
lady bug eating aphids

Natural Repellents for Use in the Vegetable Garden

​Who doesn’t love the convenience of a natural pest control product that can be purchased and used immediately? I know I do, because time is certainly a commodity, but be wary of pest control products that claim to be “natural” but are really just green washed chemical pesticides. Here are some good-quality, ready-to-use natural pest control products you can keep in your potting bench for use when you need them:

  • Neem oil, which is derived from the neem tree and is effective against a wide range of pests, including aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. Dilute the neem oil with water and a bit of soap, then spray onto the leaves of your plants. Some neem oil sprays will also come already diluted, such as the one here from Tractor Supply
  • Diatomaceous Earth is a white powdery substance that is actually the remains to organisms called diatoms. This is one of my favorite pest control methods for ants because we live in the south where ants love to make homes in gardens. A word of caution about DE, apply at a time of day when bees in your garden are not active, and apply directly to the area you’re having pest issues. DE can also be harmful if it gets on the bees, so don’t just sprinkle it all over. Grab a bag here from Tractor Supply. 
  • Bacillus Thuringiensis sounds incredibly fancy, but this is actually an enzyme that is very effective on caterpillars and other insects that like to chow down on the leaves of plants. A motivated tomato hornworm or cabbage worm can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time and BT, once ingested, will make the pest feel full, and they will no longer eat. You can purchase BT as a concentrate here from Tractor Supply and dilute it in a spray bottle. 
  • Insecticidal Soap is a wonderful pest control product to have (or make)! This is a gentle pesticide on your plants, and it’s perfect for aphids and white flies, especially since they can get out of hand rather quickly. Grab a ready-to-use bottle here

Many of these products can also be found at your local garden centers as well. 

Homemade Natural Pest Control Remedies

Homemade remedies can also be effective in controlling pests, and if you’ve been gardening long enough, you’ve probably heard a few of these. I cannot vouch for all of their effectiveness, as there are about as many opinions about these homemade pest control methods as there are gardeners.  However, as gardeners, we are always learning, and what works for some may not work for others, and that’s okay. Here are some homemade natural solutions for the vegetable garden:

  • Homemade Insecticidal soap spray: Definitely a winner and it’s a mixture of water and dish soap used to combat soft-bodied insects like aphids and mealybugs. Simply mix a few drops of dish soap with water in a spray bottle and apply to the affected plants.
  • Homemade Pepper spray: One of the most popular natural repellents is a mixture of garlic, onion, and cayenne pepper. Simply blend these ingredients together with water and let it sit for a day, then strain and spray onto the affected plants. The strong scent and taste will deter pests from feeding on your plants. 
  • Bucket of soapy water: Not a remedy per se, but sometimes the best results come from simply removing pests by hand and putting them in soapy water. This kills the bug and stops the reproductive cycle from continuing in your yard. I use this method for Japanese beetles.

By using natural repellents and homemade remedies in conjunction with pest identification, you can create a healthy ecosystem in your garden without the use of harmful chemicals. In the next section, we will explore integrated pest management practices that can help further enhance your organic pest control efforts.

Integrated Pest Management Practices

While natural repellents and homemade remedies can be effective in controlling pests in your home garden, they may not be enough to tackle a severe infestation. That’s where integrated pest management (IPM) practices come into play. This approach was widely taught and enforced in my local Master Gardener class, and it makes so much sense for those cultivating a healthy garden space. 

IPM is a holistic approach to pest control that focuses on prevention, monitoring, and management strategies to keep populations of harmful insects and animals at bay. The goal is not to eradicate all pests, but to maintain a healthy balance between the good and bad bugs.

One key aspect of IPM is to encourage biodiversity in your garden. By planting a variety of crops, you can reduce the spread of pests and diseases because predators and beneficial insects will have a diverse food source. You can also incorporate companion planting, where certain plants are grown alongside one another to enhance growth or repel pests.

Another IPM strategy is to regularly inspect your garden for signs of pest activity. Your eyes on your plants is really the best way to be on top of any pest issue. Look for chewed leaves, holes in fruits or vegetables, and discolored patches on plants. Early detection can prevent the spread of infestations and reduce the need for drastic interventions.

If pests are present, IPM advocates for using the least toxic method of control first. This can include a physical barrier such as row covers, trapping and removal of pests, or the use of biological controls, such as introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs or lacewings to prey on harmful insects. In the event that chemical pesticides are needed, IPM recommends using the least harmful products, such as those I listed above, and applying them in a targeted and precise manner, avoiding harm to beneficial insects and other non-target organisms.

By implementing IPM practices in your home garden, you can further enhance your efforts towards organic pest control and create a healthy and thriving ecosystem. Reach out to your local Cooperative Extension office if you have more questions about Integrated Pest Management and any recommendations that your local master gardeners may have for you. 

Maintaining a healthy and pest-free garden is possible without resorting to harmful pesticides. By implementing the principles of organic pest control and practicing integrated pest management, you can protect your garden and the environment while enjoying a bountiful harvest. 

Remember to identify common garden pests and beneficial insects, use natural repellents and homemade remedies, and find the strategies that work best for you. As gardening enthusiast Luther Burbank once said, “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.” So take the time to tend to your garden and reap the rewards of a flourishing and sustainable oasis that nourishes both your body and soul.

Natural Pest Control for the Home Garden

Want to prevent or get rid of pests in your home vegetable or flower garden but don't want to resort to using chemical pesticides? Use these helpful natural methods of both preventing pests from coming and for getting rid of them once they've arrived.