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Use natural pest control

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Inexpensive, effective methods of natural pest control can help rid your lawn, garden, and landscape of insect pests and other undesirable intruders, without the use of synthetic chemicals or other harmful deterrents.

How to use natural pest control

  • Start with healthy soil and healthy plants. Healthy soil and healthy plants--suited to your climate and growing environment—are better able to ward off pest infestation. Use organic soil amendments to create healthy soil. Grow seeds and plants suitable for your climate. Plant the right grass for your climate. When purchasing plants and seedlings, inspect them closely for signs of insects or disease.
  • Take preventative precautions. Insect infestations are less likely in the vegetable garden if you practice crop rotation and control weeds. Quick action also helps; check plants every day or so for signs of insects and take remedial action promptly. Time plantings of vegetables so that crops won’t mature when their primary insect predators are at their peak.
  • Practice companion planting. With companion planting, one type of plant derives benefit from being planted close to another type of plant. Some pairings may attract beneficial insects, others may repel harmful ones. In the vegetable garden, for example, planting corn, broccoli, or radishes near cucumbers can deter cucumber beetles. The pungent odor of members of the Allium family (onions, garlic, and chives) repels aphids, carrot flies, moles, and weevils. Alliums also help prevent fungal diseases and their flowers attract beneficial insects. African marigolds emit a powerful allelochemical which repels nematodes, while French marigolds attract hoverflies, which eat aphids.
  • Put up fences, netting, or row covers. Larger pests, such as wildlife, can be deterred from damaging vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and landscape plantings using physical barriers such as fencing, hedges, netting, or row covers. A thick hedge can discourage deer and other large predators, but if rabbits or deer are a persistent problem, fencing may be the only solution. Netting can be effective in keeping birds and animals from feasting on your berry bushes and fruit trees. Floating row covers made from spun polypropylene or cheesecloth can protect garden crops from flying insects including aphids, carrot flies, and cabbage flies, preventing insects from landing and laying their eggs on protected plants. Be sure that row covers are secure, since pests that do get under the row cover are safe from their natural predators, and will only add to your problems.
  • Hand pick insects and other small pests. The simplest solution for caterpillars, slugs, beetles, and insect larvae is to handpick them off the plant. Crush the bugs or drop them into a can of soapy water.
  • Repel pests with hot pepper spray. Hot pepper spray is an effective repellent for deer, aphids, whiteflies, harmful beetles, and other pests. Buy a commercial spray or make your own: Combine 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid, 2 tablespoons of hot red pepper sauce, and one quart of water in a spray bottle. Dishwashing liquid helps the spray stick to the plant. Reapply spray after it rains or after watering with an overhead sprinkler. Don't use when plants are flowering; pollinating bugs don’t like hot pepper either.
  • Attract the good guys. Attract birds and animals that feed on pests by providing shelter, water, food, and nesting sites. Toads and frogs, for example, feed on slugs. Make a garden pond or put up a birdbath to attract birds that feed on harmful insects.
  • Use natural attractants. Pheromone traps can control the insect population of many harmful moths and beetles by using synthetic mate-attracting chemicals to lure and trap them. Such traps can be too alluring, however, enticing even more of the unwanted pests to the vicinity.
  • Use beneficial predators and parasites. Introduce beneficial predators to your garden to keep pests away. Many beneficial predators and parasites occur naturally, and some can be purchased through garden catalogs. Helpful insects include ground beetles, ladybugs, beneficial nematodes, and parasitic wasps. Chemical pesticides kill these "good bugs" along with their food source.
  • Try other natural remedies. Insecticidal soaps may be the best bet for a serious insect infestation. Sprinkle wood ash or diatomaceous earth around garden plants to discourage cutworms, slugs, and snails. Dust plants with wood ash to prevent beetles. Wood ash raises soil pH, so don't overdo it, and be aware that wood ash is toxic to toads.

Find it! Natural pest control

Using natural pest control helps you go green because…

  • It alleviates the use of synthetic chemical pesticides, which are harmful to human and pet health, as well as to the environment.
  • It prevents pesticides from polluting groundwater and waterways.
  • It keeps organophosphates and other agricultural pesticides--which cause cancer and other serious illnesses--out of our food and water.

The US is the world's largest manufacturer of pesticides, followed by Germany and Japan.[1] In 2001, US shipments of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals totaled $8.9 billion, with nearly 25 percent of pesticides shipped used for lawn, garden, and other non-crop household and institutional purposes.[1]

Though pesticides were in use since before World War I, it was not until 1954 that public health concerns were addressed. Congress amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDC Act) requiring the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set residue tolerance levels (maximum allowable pesticide residue) for pesticides used on raw produce. These tolerance levels were determined using a risk/benefit analysis—public health risks were weighed against benefits to the food supply.[1]

Initial legislation focused on preventing pesticides from entering the food supply via food grown commercially and in home vegetable gardens. Health risks, however are not limited to ingestion—pesticides can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Exposure may come from contact with chemical pesticides on treated grass or from mists or sprays during insecticide application. Exposures can also come indirectly from food, drink, or household items contaminated by pesticide application. Pets are also at risk from pesticide exposure, and may contribute to human exposure by tracking lawn and garden pesticides into the house.[2]

In 1970, the newly created US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was tasked with setting residue tolerances, and two years later Congress created the Federal Environmental Pesticides Control Act, requiring all pesticides manufactured in the United States to be registered with the EPA.[1] In the 1990s, the Clinton administration introduced a program to reduce the use of agricultural pesticides in the United States, and to prevent the export of banned pesticides for use on foreign crops, which are then imported back into the US. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Food Quality Protection Act, which stated that all exposures to pesticides must be shown to be safe for infants and children, who are especially at risk when exposed to these chemicals. A 1998 study by the Environmental Working Group, however, found that 77,000 infants consume unsafe levels of pesticides every day.[1]


Today, a controversial trend is biotechnology, which is the genetic engineering of plants to make them resistant to diseases, insects, drought, pollution, and herbicides. Biotechnology also involves the use of bacteria and viruses to create biological insecticides.[1]

Related health issues

Studies link organophosphates, a common class of agricultural pesticides, to cancer, fetal abnomalities, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Parkinson's disease.[3] Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a five to nine times higher likelihood of having pesticide residues in their blood than those who don't have breast cancer.[3]

A 1999 study by the Consumers Union reported that produce sold to American consumers "contains toxic pesticide levels high enough to be dangerous for young children."[4] Infants, young children, and developing fetuses can't easily detoxify the majority of pesticides, and are especially suseptible to neurotoxins, since brain and nervous system growth continues until children are about 12 years old.[5]


  • allelochemical: A chemical produced by one plant that is toxic to another plant.
  • crop rotation: The practice of growing different crops in succession on the same land.
  • organophosphate: A class of toxic organic molecules containing phosphate, and often fluoride, that are used as insecticides and nerve gases, such as sarin. Many organophosphates block the action of an enzyme that recycles an important brain chemical called acetylcholine.

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