When you think of garden pests, what are the first examples that come to your mind? Aphids? Slugs? Weeds? If you have a yard or garden, you have pests. It's just how it is (think: Geico). Getting these pests under control or even preventing them from taking up residence is hard work. However, with a few tricks, you can rid your yard of these pests in a natural, environmentally-friendly way. Your garden, for the win.
In all seriousness, natural or sustainable pest remedies are better for you and your garden because they aren't hazardous to handle, prepare, or apply and no special training would be necessary. In addition, you won't have to concern yourself with violating any federal, state, or county laws. That's always a good thing. These organic materials will break down into their natural components after use in your garden with no contamination to your soil, the ground water, or anything else in your garden. So, no need to call in the hazmat team to come clean up any spills.
These natural remedies tend to be easy to find and purchase, and are usually safer to handle than pesticides from chemical factories. Be sure, though, that you are as safe as you can be when mixing or handling the natural remedies, as most states will deem them as a "pesticide" because of their intended use.
By the end of this post, you will learn about our suggestions for the five best natural remedies you can use in your garden based on the five common garden pests we see most often, especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest like we do.
Quick Review: What is Pest Management?
Any living organism that has a negative effect on your garden or it's health is considered a garden pest. Some pests may only need to be treated once in a season, while other pests require consistent, on-going maintenance. On last week's blog post, we outlined how to strategize and manage pests in three basic steps. We also discussed what is meant by IPM, or Integrated Pest Management, an industry term. Check out that post to learn more about IPM and the steps we lay out for you to help you begin the process of pest removal or prevention.
Types of Garden Pests
For the purposes of this post, we will refer to three different categories of pests: animal, insect, or plant.
Animal Pest Examples:
- Squirrels (ever notice those teeny, tiny holes all over your yard? Listen to podcast Ep6 beginning segment here).
- Cats (ugh, don't get us started. We love cats but seriously, stop using our garden beds as a litter box!!)
- Raccoons (in some instances)
Insect Pest Examples:
Plant Pest Examples:
- Morning Glory
Alright, let's get to it!
(By the way, this post contains affiliate links. That means that if you click on any of the links we are promoting, we might get a small commission at no cost to you which helps us run our website and podcast)
5 Natural Pest Remedies for Your Garden:
1) General Weeds
What: Plant pest. Any plant in your garden that you don't want.
Why They Are Bad: These plants tend to out-compete other desired plants and also use up finite resources like water, nutrients, space, and light
How to Control: A combination of control methods work really well to control weeds in your garden, including hand pulling, roto-tilling, soil modification, mulching, optimum soil moisture, and denser plantings to shade/out-compete undesirable plants. Also, physically blocking weed germination in the soil with burlap or other fabrics with mulch on top can work very effectively. These are much more sustainable and non-threatening to our natural environment and easy to repeat.
- Always try to pull weeds before they go seed after flowering.
- Actually, try to pull or remove them before they even flower so you don't run the risk of them seeding.
- Some weeds like, Dandelions, can germinate, grow, flower, and produce seeds within a one and half or two week period. Sometimes in just days if all the conditions are right.
- For further resources, check out the Federal Noxious Weeds List.
What: Animal Pest. Slugs are closely related to snails and other mollusks but without a hard shell.
Why They Are Bad: They feed on soft plant tissue of many ornamental and vegetable plants, eating the plant leaves, stem, and fruit tissues. Their signature mark is leaving a slimy film over the remaining parts of your plant and a slime-trail to and
from the feeding area.
How to Control: Slugs can be kept away from your plants by using natural deterrents to make wide rings around planting areas, like with diatomaceous earth (sharp, jagged skeletal remains of microscopic creatures) or different slug-repellent pastes. Salt works wonders too!
- If you see a slug slime-trail, be sure to destroy it so other slugs won't follow the trail.
- Some people swear that beer works as well, BUT why waste a perfectly good beer? I mean, come on.....
What: Animal Pests. Moles are in the rodent family, blind, have barely any back legs and their front legs are more like flippers ending with little claws, and eat mostly insects and earthworms.
Why They Are Bad: Being under the surface of your garden, moles tunnel and can sever plant roots. They make their mole-hills as they move the excavated tunnel material to the surface. This makes a manicured lawn look like mini-rolling hills and can seriously damage your lawn mower. With their tunneling, they create pockets of voided soil where water can collect which can change your gardens' water drainage and create uneven areas in your garden due to collapsing soil.
How to Control: Moles can be controlled in a few different ways besides trapping and killing them. It comes down to modifying their food in your garden so they don't want to visit or make a home there. Different forms of Caster oil from the Caster Bean can be applied so it filters down into the soil. This works really well to deter and push moles out of your yard. The Caster oil coats the mole's food so it doesn't taste good thus running them out of your yard for your neighbors' yard. HA! (Just kidding, neighbors. We would never intend to do that).
- Moles and their offspring start to make their hills in your garden in the early Spring.
- The hills are connected to each other, so if you want to use bait to make them sick and go away, you can punch holes into their tunnels to place the bait with a broom handle going directly between two hills.
- Be sure to replace and cover the hole you make with a rock or piece of wood so it completely covers the hole thus preventing any light from penetrating into the tunnel.
- If light makes it into the tunnel, the mole will abandon that tunnel due to the threat of predators from above.
4) Aphids –
What: Insect Pests. Little white, purple, brown, black, yellow, or green insects that are laid by egg on the underside of plant leaves, where they hatch and start to feed by sticking their needle-like mouth into plant tissues
Why They Are Bad: They use their needle-mouths to suck up and eat leaf cells distorting growth and can discolor tissues to make a speckled or dot-like pattern on the leaves. While feeding, they can inject a toxin into the plant tissue that makes leaves curl and can further distort growth. They also can produce what's called "honey-dew", which is their waste product. If ants don't come by to take away and consume the honey-dew, this substance can then promote mold growth and further disease on the plant.
How to Control: Aphids can be controlled by gently spraying and washing your plants' leaves with water. Another way that isn't exactly natural, but does work, is to mix dish detergent with water in a spray bottle to then spray on the aphids. A different mixture could be 1-quart of water with 1 tsp of liquid dish soap and a pinch of Cayenne pepper.
- Spraying and washing will need to be done repeatedly as one washing doesn't catch all Aphids.
- Washing off the soap-water mixture after about 15-20 minutes helps get the aphids off your plant, but also helps get the soap off your plants' leaves.
- If left on the leaves, the soap and water mixture can actually desiccate and dry up some herbaceous or annual plant leaves, like Zinnia's or Celosia.
- A good way to minimize this damage is to use the spray mainly on more waxy coated leafed plants.
5) Root Weevil –
What: Insect Pests. Black, white, yellow, spotted, mottled, or brown insects that have chewing mouthparts that eat chunks out of plant leaves on their margins, mostly.
Why They Are Bad: The damage to different plants, like Rhododendrons and Viburnums, makes the plants look raggedy and unappealing with notches of leaf missing. It usually doesn't affect the overall health of the plant, though. They emerge in the Spring during a period of 4-6 weeks, feed for another 4 or so weeks before laying eggs, then the eggs hatch into larva after 2-3 weeks. The adults live 90-100 days.
How to Control: The Root Weevil is nocturnal and only feeds at night on your plants. The adults do the most damage to the leaves, but the larva can eat stem and root tissue that can, in worst cases, girdle and kill the plant. Prevention is best by pruning any leaves or stems touching or close to the ground. When physically threatened, like shaking a whole plant, they will freeze and drop from the plant. So, place a sheet or something to collect them just underneath the canopy of your plant and then shake the crap out it. Then you can gather up the sheet and submerge it in water or try a different method. Sticky tapes and barriers can work too.
- Look for leaf damage in either the Spring or Fall seasons.
- They will also feed on Salal and Huckleberry species, so keep an eye on some of your native plants as well.
- They live in the mulch and debris under different plants during the day in either the wild or in a garden, so keep as cleaned up and tidy as possible.
Well, that's all for now.
Thanks for reading and we hope we inspired you or educated you in some way. For information about upcoming spring gardening, listen to our podcasts or check out our post about how to mulch so you can get your garden ready for a fantastic season ahead! Make sure to watch for next week's blog post where we will profile the March flower of the month, the Daffodil.
Let us know if you have any questions or comments anytime, we would love to help.
~ Sean and Allison
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