Have you ever read the warning labels on bottles of chemical pesticides? You might be wondering what kind of alternatives there are for protecting your garden from unwanted pests. Most insecticide and herbicide mixtures include chemicals capable of harming humans and animals if ingested. Others are toxic if they touch your skin, and some may be considered deadly to breathe in. Chemical pesticides run off gardens and fields into streams and fields, toxifying their surrounding environment. Many times, correct application is sufficient for keeping chemical pesticides from becoming a problem, but often they are potentially hazardous no matter how you handle them.
No one wants their flowers, vegetables, and other plants infested with pests, however, so you will have to find an alternative means of warding off plant predators if you’ve decided against toxic pesticides. This is especially a must for vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and bushes, flowers grown for clipping, nut trees, or any other plant that comes into close contact with people and animals. Organic pesticides, used for thousands of years to keep plants healthy and people safe, might be the solution you are looking for.
“Organic” Doesn’t Mean “Won’t Really Work.”
The term “organic pesticide” might make you think of something made of smelly compost or a completely ineffective but natural solution. This is far from the truth– an organic pesticide is simply an insecticide or herbicide that is taken from a natural source and cooperates with the environment around it. It typically degrades back into the soil or air without negative effects on the living matter around it and is often safer to handle and store around your home.
Organic pesticides can be made from soap, plants, minerals, or oil. Some can be mixed up at home though you might still have to use caution; while an ingredient like hot pepper oil or laundry detergent isn’t going to harm your health, they may still act as an irritant on your skin or in your eyes. This proves the point that the ingredients in organic pesticides are often super powerful even if they are better for people, pets, and the environment.
Organic pesticides are like chemical pesticides in that they will only work if properly matched to your pest problem. What scares off beetles probably won’t work for aphids, and a natural slug trap won’t decrease your mite problem at all. Once you’ve identified the creatures damaging your plants and vegetables, you can start researching your organic pest control options.
Homemade Organic Pesticides
You might be able to mix up your first batch of organic pesticide in your kitchen right now. Dawn dish soap can be mixed with water and sprayed on plants in your house or out in the garden to ward off insects such as spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids says the SF Gate Homeguide. This concoction is very low in toxicity and shouldn’t harm beneficial insects in your garden, such as bees. Rodale’s Organic Life posts a recipe for a kitchen-made pesticide using garlic, onion, cayenne, soap, and water; all the ingredients are blended together then steeped and strained. This general spray is a bit more potent than dish soap alone, so they recommend using it only where pests are attacking your plants.
Household ingredients outside the kitchen may also be useful for killing off or repelling unwanted insects. Worms in the soil of your houseplants? Make a “tea” out of tobacco from cigarettes, pour into your potted plants, and watch the worms and root lice disappear. You can make a handy fungicide out of leaves from your tomato plants or use talcum powder to get rid of certain beetle varieties.
Other ingredients not typically found in the home but useful for making organic pesticide include citrus oil, eucalyptus oil, chrysanthemum flowers, and neem. Like the ingredients you use from around the house, essential oils and herbal ingredient should be used with care– if they are potent enough to kill off bug populations, they are potentially harmful to humans, at least as irritant. A simple internet search will yield recipes for how to mix up essential oils into sprays and tell you what kind of insects they will work on.
Commercial Organic Pesticides
If you don’t feel like mixing up batches up hot pepper flake tea or handling neem oil, there are lots of commercial organic pesticides you can purchase. Although your local garden supply might not carry a variety of natural insecticide products, online suppliers specializing in organic lawn and garden care should offer a broad range of organic pesticides. The extension office at Colorado State University and similar agricultural sites offer details about which commercial ingredients are organic.
While you can use neem oil in a homemade pesticide formula, it is easy to find premade insecticide mixtures featuring neem as their primary ingredient. The juice and oil of the neem plant has been used as a pesticide in Asia for centuries. Commercial neem mixtures can be sprayed onto the whole plant and is suitable for use with vegetable plants, trees, shrubs, and most plants used in residential landscaping. It helps control diseases, fungus, and mildew while thwarting a variety of insects and mites.
Sabadilla, extracted from lily seeds, is another ingredient seen in chemical pesticides that is considered organic and suitable for home gardening purposes. Ready-made pesticides with sabadilla may be used with most plants, including vegetables. It works against insects like caterpillars, stink bugs, and leaf hoppers.
Pyrethrins mixed with other chemicals in order to intensify their effects are not suitable for organic gardening and growing. However, pyrethrins on their own in the right concentrations are considered organic. They are highly effective and can be used to control a wide range of insect populations at once. Pyrethroids, often sold as insecticides for houseplants, are derived from synthetic sources and cannot be used as an organic pesticide.
Another option for the organic gardener is sulfur. It can be applied as a spray or powder, fights off various forms of mildew and fungus, and controls most common insects found on house plants, vegetables, and flowers. The only word of caution with sulfur, other than avoiding getting it on your skin, concerns other pesticides. If it is used too closely to the application of an oil spray the two together may turn into a toxin. Extreme heat may also allow sulfur to scorch your plants. Just another reminder that “organic” does not mean either ineffective or completely safe.
The Benefits of Organic Pesticides
If you have decided against the use of chemical pesticides in your landscaping and garden you can still protect your plants– and all the hard work put into caring for them– against pests of all kinds. You cannot determine the specific strength and combined ingredients in a chemical pesticide, but homemade mixtures allow you to make a pesticide tailored exactly to your needs as a gardener. As long as you have a little hot pepper, garlic, talcum powder, or any of the other household items mentioned above you can start using organic pesticides on your plants right away.
You still need to use caution when making organic pesticides, but you can rest assured these sprays are far less toxic if they come into contact with people and pets. And even if you are not a DIY person you can still find a wide range of commercial, organic pesticides that are ready to use on your plants. Organic pesticides give you the assurance you are both maintaining your plants and protecting the wellbeing of the people and animals that come in contact with your home garden.