Guide to Organic Pest Control

Protect your garden from slugs, squash bugs, Japanese beetles, and more with these simple, organic products.

| Winter 2017-2018

Sharp-eyed handpicking and trapping can control many garden pests, but not every insect battle can be won with hand-to-hand combat. Instead, you may need an intervention plan that affects the pest, yet causes little or no harm to natural predators and beneficial life-forms that live in your garden. This is where organic pest control products can come to the rescue. To help you match the best products with each pest, we’ve organized our guide in two ways  —  by pest and by remedy. Download our convenient “Organic Remedies for Garden Pests” table, and then bring yourself up to date on cures with the information following in this article. The information in the table and the text is based on current recommendations from sustainable agricultural research centers throughout North America.

In the last few years, much has been learned about the secret world of garden insects. Spraying is not your only option. Growing flowers to provide nectar and pollen for beneficial insects, and excluding pests with row covers are both remarkably effective preventive measures. And don’t forget our feathered friends  —  wild birds, ducks, and chickens feast on all kinds of garden pests (see “Poultry Pest Patrol” below).

Top Organic Pest Control Products

Before you decide to use any organic pest control product, take the time to correctly identify the pest and see if it will respond to cultural controls, such as simple handpicking. (Using the wrong product could cost you time and money, and may backfire by killing natural predators.)

The Basic Biologicals. The oldest and best-known of biological pesticides is Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). The subspecies B. thuringiensis ssp. kurstaki remains a top remedy for leaf-eating caterpillars. Bt is based on a naturally occurring soil bacterium that causes the insect’s gut to rupture several hours after ingesting it.

Sunlight degrades Bt after a few hours, so it’s best applied late in the day to be consumed during the nightly feeding. Keep in mind that your objective is to place the substance where the caterpillars will eat it. In the case of corn earworms, this means squirting the Bt solution into the tips of young ears of corn. When using Bt to control leaf-eating pests, repeat treatment every 7 to 10 days, or until it’s no longer needed.

Always follow label directions for diluting concentrated solutions of Bt and other natural pesticides. Some Bt products include genetically modified strains; products listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) include only naturally occurring forms.

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