14 Natural Ways to Keep Pests Out and Your Garden Organic

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated April 22, 2022
A couple at home gardening in spring
Photo: Sarah Mason / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Pest control tips that are anything but garden variety

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Gophers are digging holes in your garden beds, while squirrels are eating your vegetables. If you need to control these unwelcome guests but don’t want to deal with side effects from pesticides or repel beneficial insects and wildlife that help your garden flourish, read on for 14 effective natural fixes for both insects and animals.

1. Use Pheromone Traps to Get Intel

These traps, baited with the chemicals insects use to attract mates, aren’t that effective at repelling pests. However, they can provide you or your local gardener with information on which ones (like tomato pinworms or moths) are descending on your area so you can fight back accordingly. 

2. Put in Companion Plants

Close-up of a hand planting bulbs in the ground
Photo: Olga Simonova / EyeEm / EyeEm / Getty Images

Plant garlic or onion bulbs around susceptible plants to deter aphids and borers, while chrysanthemum pyrethrum flowers can repel aphids, cabbage worms, and other insects. Plant these bushes around your home, then dry and crush their blooms, mixing with water to create a pest control spray. 

3. Cover Plants 

Reusable clear polyester floating row covers keep out insects and heat but let in rain and light. Opt for lightweight varieties to deter pests in the summer, and choose heavier types in the cooler months. This strategy is ideal for seedlings but not for plants requiring insect pollination. 

4. Entice Birds

Birds in a stone birdbath
Photo: DESPITE STRAIGHT LINES (Paul Williams) / Moment / Getty Images

Maintain a birdbath with fresh water and put up a bird feeder you keep stocked with seeds. By making your garden hospitable to bug-eating birds, they’ll help decimate your pest population.

5. Make or Buy Pest Control Spray

Choose from several different types, then spritz infested plants. The simplest method is to mix water with a small amount of liquid dish soap or cayenne pepper in a spray bottle. 

Or buy an oil spray, but test it first since it could harm beneficial insects and burn plant leaves. Spray a few leaves, then wait two days and check for damage, like spotting or discoloration. If you don’t see damage, spray the whole plant, ensuring the mixture comes in direct contact with pests. In general, apply in the early morning on cooler days and avoid blooms. 

6. Purchase Insecticidal Soap

The potassium salts in these soaps dissolve insect exoskeletons when they contact bugs. As with oil sprays, run a spot test and avoid treating plants on hot days.

7. Opt for Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Sprinkle this off-white powder on plant leaves and beneath fruits and vegetables growing on the ground to deter bugs with exoskeletons. 

8. Pick Up Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT)

This soil bacterium infects and kills insects. However, since specific types are only effective at obliterating particular pests, purchase the variety you need. For instance, opt for BT var. kurstaki (or BT var. berliner) for caterpillars and BT var. tenebrionis for Colorado potato beetles. 

Also, treat pest larvae since the bacterium is only effective against bugs in the non-adult stage. Spray on cooler days, wear goggles and a mask, and reapply one or two days after the first application if your garden is heavily infested.

9. Order Parasitic Nematodes

Send away for dormant nematodes, microscopic roundworms that kill insects within a couple of days. Then during the evening or on an overcast day, mix them with water and immediately apply to moist, warm soil. Finish by watering. 

10. Set Sticky Traps

Buy or make traps, which feature rigid materials in specific colors covered in a sticky substance. Since certain hues attract specific types of insects, it’s critical you choose the right color to target the right pests. For instance, go with yellow for fruit flies, fungus gnats, and midges; white for flea and cucumber beetles; and light blue for flower thrips.

11. Treat With Garden Lime

Put garden lime around the perimeter of your garden to repel raccoons, skunks, and snakes. Once these critters lick off the lime, they’ll experience a burning sensation and hopefully avoid returning to your garden.

12. Install Stainless Steel Mesh

To rout out gophers, arrange stainless steel mesh around root balls of plants or lay underneath a layer of sod. 

13. Arrange Chopsticks

Place chopsticks or plastic forks in the ground to discourage dogs and cats from entering beds and digging up plants.

14. Try Dried Blood Meal

Find this organic material at top-rated local nurseries. Every week to 10 days, scatter between rows of vegetables to turn off deer, rabbits, and groundhogs. Since this material attracts dogs, cover it with garden lime to avoid drawing them to your garden.

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