Organic Pest Control Solutions

Protect your flower and vegetable gardens from pests and disease with organic pesticides. You'll be a DIY pest control pro in no time.

No garden is truly free of pests and disease: fungal infections, caterpillars, beetles, dogs, deer—the list of potential problems is seemingly endless. Fortunately, you can fight back against these pesky predators without risking your health or spending a fortune by using organic pesticides for plants. In many cases, you can get rid of problems before they arise simply by switching to organic gardening.

These simple organic gardening tips will help protect against the most common crises that arise in both vegetable and flower gardens.

Beneficial Insects vs. Garden Pests

Not all crawling and flying critters are bad for your garden. Without bees, broccoli, squash, apples and many other food crops would fail; many other insects perform a service by destroying harmful insects. Ladybugs, for instance, can help control aphids. Spraying organic pesticides and insecticides can destroy good bugs as well as bad, and should be avoided if possible, particularly when bees are present.

The following bugs are beneficial insects. Don't kill them if you see these in your garden!

  • Ladybugs
  • Praying mantis
  • Hoverfly
  • Lacewings
  • Honeybee
  • Dragonfly

Pick 'Em If You See 'Em

Larger insect pests and harmful caterpillars can be hand-picked if the infestation is limited. Once you get over the "yuck factor," this approach is easy, effective, and free. You can always wear thick gloves while you do it if you don't wish to touch the bugs directly. Trying to identify a particular pest? The best place to start is the host plant. Different insects target specific plants, so research what pests your host plant is particularly prone to and whether the pest will cause any significant damage.

Some common garden pests to watch out for:

Waste Management

Remove and destroy infested plants; don't add them to your compost pile. Removing dead leaves, fallen fruit, and other debris that can provide refuge for pests will help alleviate this issue.

Organic Insecticide and Organic Pesticides

Some gardeners use a homemade insecticide for plants, such as salt spray, mineral oil, or garlic spray. Use these natural insecticides and organic pesticides to fight off pests without causing harm to you or the plant. Just remember to reapply these natural garden pesticides frequently, especially in rainy climates, and check to see if your organic pest spray is actually organic.

DIY Organic Pest Control

Many plants are susceptible to attack only when the plants are young and tender. By using a phyiscal barrier for the young ones in your garden, you may be able to stop unwanted pests from getting into your garden in the first place.


Dogs, rabbits, and other animals may be deterred by installing a low fence securely attached at ground level. Larger garden pests, such as deer, may require much taller fencing, which can get somewhat expensive. To avoid this costly pitfall, consider the alternative of surrounding these plants with individual collars of fencing.

Row Covers

These lightweight fabric sheets cover plants without smothering them, and they still allow light to pass through. Commonly used in commercial nurseries to protect tender plants from light frosts, row covers can also provide protection to vegetable crops from smaller animals and insects like caterpillars, birds, rabbits, and squirrels. Row covers are most useful when plants are young; remove them as the plant stems harden, and continue with other natural garden sprays, such as organic pesticides.


Sometimes, you need to protect just one plant or a row of plants. A cloche is a temporary cover sized and shaped to fit a particular plant. For single plants, cut the bottom off of a gallon plastic milk jug and set it over the plant—a cheap, safe pesticide alternative. For row crops, protect them with a tunnel-shape cloche created with wire hoops and row-cover fabric. The primary danger with cloches is heat buildup on sunny days. Make sure to remove or vent the cloches before they overheat your plants.

Cutworm Collars

Cutworms are night-crawling pests that chew through plant stems at ground level; they are particularly fond of young transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, and their relatives. Foil cutworms and other pests by forming 2- to 3-inch-diameter collars out of large index cards. Slip a collar over each transplant and push the collar an inch or so into the soil.


Sold as bird netting, this lightweight mesh is perfect for protecting berries and tree fruits from any pesky animal. Voila, a simple organic gardening method without the chemicals involved.

If All Else Fails...

Some gardeners use a homemade insecticide for plants, such as salt spray, mineral oil, or garlic spray. Use these natural insecticides and organic pesticides to fight off pests without causing harm to you or the plant. Just remember to reapply these natural garden pesticides frequently, especially in rainy climates, and check to see if your organic pest spray is actually organic.

Disease-Resistant Planting

Various diseases and fungus infections can destroy a wide range of your precious garden plants. Leaves with a powdery appearance or strange coloration are common signs of infection. The key to beating diseases is prevention, mainly by choosing disease-resistant plants. If you aren't so lucky with this option, try these tips to make sure your plants thrive through nasty conditions.

Give Plants Space

Fungal infections need moisture to grow and spread. Tightly spaced plants don't dry as quickly after a rain, giving the fungus more opportunity to develop and spread. Don't space plants closer than recommended, and spread them even farther apart in more humid climates.

Keep Leaves Dry

To keep leaves as dry as possible, avoid overhead watering and applying too much natural garden pesticides, such as organic pest spray. Instead, water around the base of plants when possible. If you are growing vine crops, like tomatoes and cucumbers, support the plants on trellises so leaves and crops aren't in contact with damp soil. Only use the recommended amount of organic pest spray, otherwise you will have some sad-looking plants and crops.

Get Rid of Diseased and Dead Plants

Check plants often for signs of problems. Diseased or dead plant material should be removed from the garden to prevent spreading of disease.

Rotate Crops

Some disease-causing organisms will overwinter and multiply in the soil beneath a susceptible plant. Vegetable gardens are particularly at risk for this problem. To keep such diseases in check, change where you grow a particular crop each year. For instance, if you grew tomatoes in the northeast corner this year, plant them in the northwest corner next year. Rotation of crops helps promote better soil fertility and is one of the best natural garden "pesticide" for prevention.

Test and Maintain Your Soil

Many (though not all) plants grown in poor soil or soil that is too acidic or alkaline will quickly develop problems. Your local county extensive service can inexpensively test your garden soil and recommend changes to fix deficiencies. Plan to add organic matter to your soil regularly to improve its structure and water-holding ability.

Keep Weeds at Bay

Like death and taxes, weeds are inevitable. Although you can't rid your garden of them completely, you can keep them to a manageable level.

Use Mulch

Mulch offers plenty of benefits including keeping weeds down, cooling the soil, and preventing evaporation of moisture. Organic mulches also feed the soil as they break down and are the perfect organic gardening method to add to your to-do list.

Control Weeds Early

Young weeds are easier to remove; in the long run, frequent light weeding is less taxing than waiting until the weeds take over. Getting the weeds young ensures they won't develop seeds that will germinate in the future.

Apply a Safe Pre-Emergent Control

Preen, one of the most popular organic pesticides, contains a corn-based chemical that prevents annual weeds from developing. Because products like this don't affect established plants, these products can be distributed before seeds have sprouted to control many common weeds. Bear in mind, however, pre-emergent controls don't work on perennial weeds and annual weeds that are up and already growing.

How to Weed Your Garden

Get tips and tricks on how to get rid of weeds in your garden.

1 Comment

  1. For diseased plants, do not put them in the compost pile. Put them into the garbage can.

    Elaine Rhodes, Master Gardener

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