5 Common Garden Pests & How to Deal with Them

Try these organic tips for dealing with common garden pests without using harmful pesticides…

Pests are always a reality in the garden, but when you’re an organic gardener, you can’t just throw a chemical pesticide at them and expect it to solve the problem. (In fact, this often creates more problems than it solves in the long run, which is why so many people are switching to organic gardening methods!)  So what can we do to protect our precious veggies from common garden pests, while also maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem?

One important thing that is absolutely necessary for healthy plants is healthy soil. Healthy and balanced garden soil is actually your first step to reducing the presence of pests in your garden. Healthy plants are better able to withstand a few nibbles from garden pests, and they are also less likely to attract them in the first place. There are a number of things that go into building healthy soil, and you can learn more about that here…

But in the meantime, let’s move on to the next part of our arsenal: Beneficial insects. By offering plants that support beneficial predator insect habitat, you can attract insects that will actually feed on garden pests and reduce their presence in your garden. Read more about that here…

But if it comes down to it and you’re still having a problem, here are a few tips suggested by UrbanFarm.org for managing 5 of the most common garden pests that may be bugging you or your garden without resorting to harmful chemicals:

  1. Aphids and other sucking bugs puncture the skin of your plants and suck on the juices. The first line of defense against this type of bug is spraying it off the plant with a strong burst of water. If aphids continue to appear, mix one teaspoon of natural dishwashing soap with a quart of water and spray it on the plants. Warning: Don’t use antibacterial soaps, as agents in these soaps can kill the microbial life in your soil. (You can also try this neem oil spray recipe that has worked very well for us.)
  2. Caterpillars can also cause me fits in my garden. The simplest control method is to watch for the telltale signs of leaves being eaten, then look under the damaged leaf and pluck the caterpillars off. I then send them sailing to the coop, where the chickens get a morsel to fight over. If the caterpillars get really out of control, most nurseries sell a natural nontoxic bacteria called BT, which can be sprayed or dusted onto the plants and is very effective.
  3. Roaches and ants can also pose a pesky problem both indoors and out. The most effective natural cockroach deterrent is boric acid, found at drug and hardware stores in the form of a powder. Mixing the boric acid with something the bugs like, such as honey, will attract them. They then consume the bait, take it back to their nests and the problem just seems to handle itself. I use bottle caps to mix this concoction in and then set them in the corners of the yard and house and wait for them to work. Mixing garden-grade diatomaceous earth (which is unpolished) with boric acid and spreading it around your problem areas is also very effective. Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder with very sharp edges, which essentially cuts the bugs and starts to desiccate them. Then the boric acid helps finish the job. Both of these substances are naturally occurring and, in the quantities you will use, are nontoxic to humans and animals.
  4. Birds are always an interesting pest to deal with in our gardens. Mostly they like to dig up the sprouting seeds of corn, beans, and other large-seeded plants. The easiest solution is to bury the seed deeper. I use my index finger to poke a hole (about three inches) into the ground and drop the seed in. The big seeds of corn and beans have no trouble getting through the soil and are hardier for their travels. Additionally, I save old bed sheets and use them as a top mulch for the newly seeded garden beds.  Plant your seeds, then spread the sheet with rocks on each corner.  Then for the first 3 to 5 weeks water the sheet.  The plants will let you know when it is time to remove it.  This handles two issues – mulch and bird protection – in permaculture we call this “stacking functions.”
  5. Mosquitoes pose a pesky problem for gardeners with few options for controlling them without the use of chemicals. The first thing to do is to peruse hidden areas in the yard for abandoned cups, buckets, or toys that might accumulate water. Also, change out your pet dishes frequently and dump those planter bottoms. All these areas collect enough water for mosquitoes to breed in. If you are barbequing, you can throw some sage and rosemary on the coals to repel mosquitoes. There is also a great mosquito repellant from All-terrain called Herbal Armor. It is free of DEET and other chemicals, uses only natural ingredients, and also comes as a lotion with SPF in it.

Personally, we haven’t had many issues with too many of these pests in our own garden. Cabbage caterpillars and aphids have been the most common for us. Ladybugs often take care of the aphids before they become a big problem, and we control the caterpillars with BT, or simply keep the brassicas covered with insect netting throughout the summer months.

Birds we actually love to have in our garden! They eat lots of caterpillars – even the big tomato hornworms, and have never posed a problem with seeds. However, if you do have an issue with them, using the tips above, or covering your seedling beds with netting after planting, should help.

By choosing natural solutions instead of resorting to chemicals that can upset the natural balance of your garden ecosystem, you can help nature take care of the problem for you.

What methods have you used to control these common garden pests? Comment below, or chime in in our Facebook community and let us know!


Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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