Keeping Common Pests & Bugs Out of Your Garden
Gardening is a great way to create a connection with our planet and community. Growing your own food can empower you to take control of your health, and it can be a money saver too! But if pest infestations start cutting into your produce, you need a solution that gets rid of them fast.
Before I started EarthKind, I grew 2 acres of organic garden fruits and veggies alongside our 1100-acre farm. As a certified Master Gardener, I knew maintaining soil health was essential, so I chose natural amendments like herbs, spices, worms, and organic minerals to create a thriving ecosystem for my plants. When I got that right, gardening was no longer a scary endeavor filled with harmful chemicals or pest damage.
Garden pests come in all shapes and sizes depending on where you live, and the time of year. From snails to slugs, beetles to bugs, and all kinds of animals, a garden will attract attention — there are some beneficial insects while others wear out their welcome before your seeds sprout.
How to Keep Pests Out of Garden
Here are some tips for replacing harmful chemicals and poisons with natural repellents to keep pests out of your garden and help it grow:
- Companion planting
- Building physical barriers and roadblocks
- Soapy water and other spray solutions
- Keeping healthy soil
- Sprinkling cayenne pepper on soil
- Adding a birdhouse
- Keeping free-range chickens or guinea hens
- Sprinkling organic blood meal or hair clippings for larger animals
- Keeping a watchful eye
Further detail below on how each of these tips works and which common pests they are good for.
Companion planting means planting other herbs, flowers, or plants nearby a certain plant as a natural way to control pest problems. Here are some of the insects you can keep away with companion planting:
- The carrot fly is drawn to carrots, but it will also attack parsnips, parsley, and celery. Protect your vegetable garden by planting rosemary or sage throughout your carrot rows. No need for chemical pesticides as the herbs will act as natural insect repellents.
- Surround your potatoes with horseradish plants. It will deter beetles and also create a healthier harvest. Horseradish increases the disease resistance of potato plants.
- Plant garlic and chives around your leafy greens like lettuce. The strong scent will repel nibbling pests like aphids, mites, and Japanese beetles.
- Add marigolds to the mix. Aside from the bright pop of color, they will repel beetles and mosquitoes.
- Use garden lime and lightly dust green beans with it to repel Japanese beetles. Planting rosemary nearby helps too!
Check out this list from our friends at Mother Nature Network for more herbs and flowers that will help get rid of garden pests.
Stop Bugs with Barriers
Coffee grounds and crushed eggshells will stop crawling bugs and insects from ruining your harvest. Slugs, snails, caterpillars, and the like will be deterred by a bumpy path, so just sprinkle any of these natural alternatives around your plants to prevent pests.
If you’re planting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or brussel sprouts, sprinkle food grade diatomaceous earth along the soil. It creates an abrasive barrier to prevent crawling insects and cabbage moths (which begin their life as worms) from reaching your brassicas. The sharp edges in the earth will irritate their undersides. This method protected hundreds of plants from damage in my garden. Other Master Gardeners say it works for watermelon, squash, and cantaloupe, too.
Protect your young tomatoes by surrounding them with a barrier that cutworms can’t cut through. Place a collar of newspaper or a coffee can (with the closed end removed) around your plants — cutworms will squirm right away, in search of a new source of food.
If you are planting sunflowers, but birds keep snacking on your seeds, cover the heads with pantyhose. It may look strange but will keep blackbirds and other pests from stealing your sunflower seeds.
Soapy Water and Other Spray Solutions
- Half a teaspoon liquid Castile soap
- One and a half tablespoons of canola oil
- One quart of water
Blend and spray the affected leaves with this non-toxic solution. Insects will find more appetizing entrees elsewhere.
Another multi-purpose pest spray can be made with a mixture of 2 Tablespoons Dr. Bronner’s lavender (or peppermint) liquid soap and warm water in a 10” spray bottle. I’ve successfully used this to treat the leaves of melons and tomatoes that had leaf mold and aphid damage.
Keep Soil Healthy
Healthy soil is the most important pest deterrent because it creates healthy plants. Weakened plants lose their natural resistance and attract pests like a magnet.
Ask for a soil test of your garden soil at your local extension agent before you go to your local greenhouse. Make sure it has the right PH, and organic matter to do the job.
My favorite organic matter is composted sheep manure (6 plus months old.) Sheep manure doesn’t pass through weed seeds like horse and cattle manure does, it won’t burn the roots by getting too hot after you work it in. Plus, it provides beneficial microbes, essential nutrients, and the organic matter a garden needs. Follow directions carefully when you use any kind of manure, as there are dozens of options.
Sprinkle Cayenne Pepper on Soil
Sprinkle cayenne pepper on garden topsoil — the capsaicin creates an uncomfortable heat that will irritate pests on contact and send them scurrying away.
If it’s too late, and tiny worms have already shown up, mix up a liter of water, and 3 tsp of cayenne pepper. Place in a spray bottle and treat the leaves of the affected plants and those directly next to them. Also spray along the soil, as the worms will climb down the stems and look for a less painful plant to feed on. Watch closely for a week or so and spray again after rain or watering if needed.
Add a Birdhouse
Birds are my second favorite garden pest guard. They eat hundreds, sometimes thousands, of insects a day, and are a natural and attractive garden resident. Plant a tree nearby or hang a birdhouse to attract them. Consider adding a birdbath if there’s no natural water source nearby.
Keep the bird feeder clean and the water fresh to prevent mosquito larvae from taking up residence. Note: when using birdseed, steer clear of neonicotinoid-treated birdseed. The Journal of Science published a research study late 2019, claiming that migrating birds who ate the equivalent of just one or two neonic treated seeds, suffered immediate weight loss, delaying normal migration and severely harming their chances of survival.
Keep Free-range Chickens or Guinea Hens
Grasshoppers can cause havoc in a garden. Keeping free-range chickens or guinea hens can help.
Birds like bluebirds, blue jays and hawks eat them. So do insects such as praying mantises, dragonflies, and carpenter ants. Yes, ants living in close proximity can be a friend in the garden if there are grasshoppers, stink bugs, or cockroaches for food. If not, they’ll farm aphids for the sugary honeydew poo they produce.
Sprinkle Organic Blood Meal or Hair Clippings for Larger Animals
To keep rabbits, deer, squirrels, groundhogs, and other critters out of the garden, scatter organic blood meal on the ground between rows of vegetables or ask your hairdresser for clippings to spread around the perimeter. The smell of humans keeps them at bay.
A more expensive option is to apply a spray of coyote urine from a hunting supply store. Coyotes are predators to smaller animals. This usually takes care of an exceedingly difficult rabbit or squirrel problem.
Keep a Watchful Eye
As with anything else, you must keep an eye on your garden. For potato beetles, I’ve tried everything under the sun, and have found that a watchful eye is the most reliable.
To help stop the problem before it starts, carefully inspect the underside of the potato plant leaves while weeding, or watering. Once the plant is 5-7” tall with several leaves, you’ll spot little bright orange dots, about the size of a pinhead, with eggs inside. Once you find them, destroy them all, and the beetles will not return the rest of the year. It takes just seconds to do once the first few show up.
This last tip is a word of caution. There’s been a record number of snake bites in NC this spring due to so many people planting gardens during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is partially because rodent numbers are higher than normal due to restaurants and sporting center closures. Wherever there are rodents, snakes aren’t far behind. Overstocked pantries, with paper towels for bedding, and dog food close by (a mouse’s favorite meal) require protection. Don’t leave dog food out overnight; cover the container and place pouches of Stay Away® Rodent in storage areas, which uses the botanical ingredient balsam fur oil to repel mice.