Tag Archives: organic pest control

Quick Organic Pest Control

Gardening can be a lot of fun, and it can also be a bit heartbreaking and difficult. It’s never fun to see your beans devoured by bean beetles, find that your broccoli is full of cabbage worms, or notice a tomato hornworm has taken a big bite out of your tomato. On the blog, we’ve discussed integrated pest management and many preventative strategies like resistant crops, row cover, attracting beneficial insects, and crop rotation. Today, we’ll talk about quick organic pest control solutions for those of you who are knee-deep aphids right now.

Quick Organic Pest Control Solutions

Getting rid of pests is challenging, but you can use a few methods to get them back under control. Most methods work best when you catch problems early. Check your garden regularly for signs of pest issues like curling leaves, holes in leaves, slimy trails, and eggs or insects on the underside of leaves.


No one wants to hear this, but handpicking is a decent option for some larger pests like tomato hornworms and potato beetles. Just put on some gloves and grab a bucket of soapy water to drop them in. The soap breaks the surface tension, so the insects sink to the bottom and drown.

Blast Off the Insects

This method doesn’t work with all insects, but sometimes all you need is the water hose. Try using a strong stream of water to blast off insects like aphids. 

Remove and Burn Heavily Infested Plants

I always hate pulling plants, but sometimes it can allow your other plants to thrive. If you have one plant or patch of a crop that’s heavily infested, it may be worth using it as a trap crop. Remove it and burn it to kill the insects.

Check the SESE Crop Guides

Our crop guides have some great information for dealing with crop-specific pests. For example, did you know that you can trap squash bugs by placing boards around the base of plants? Squash bugs will hide under the boards at night, and you can collect them in the morning. Find that helpful tip and other great information in the SESE Squash, Pumpkin, & Zucchini Growing Guide.

You can find all of our guides under the Growing Guide Section of the website.

quick organic pest control solution (aphids)Look for the OMRI Label

Yes, some pesticides are organic. When looking at pest solutions, you’ll want to check for the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) label. Products with these labels are naturally derived and allowed for use in certified organic farming operations.

While these products are organic, they aren’t without their downfalls. Many products affect beneficial insects the same way that they affect pests. Also, just because they’re organic doesn’t mean they’re completely safe. You still should avoid ingesting large amounts or letting children handle them.

Here are a few of the organic pesticides available and how they work:

Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

This grayish powder is made from crushed fossilized diatoms (single-celled algae). While completely safe for humans to handle, it’s very abrasive and will scratch and scuff the exoskeleton or soft body of insects that come into contact with it. This causes them to dehydrate and die. 

It works well against insects like flea beetles, aphids, slugs, worms, and mites. Unfortunately, it doesn’t discriminate, meaning it also kills lacewings, ladybugs, bees, and butterflies. 

Also, because insects have to come into contact with it, you’ll need to apply it fairly thickly, covering your whole plant. You also need to reapply every time that it rains. 

Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT)

This naturally occurring soil bacteria is available in OMRI-certified liquid sprays. It’s toxic to several types of insects including butterflies, moths, and skippers, flies, and beetles. Some strains of the bacteria are more specific. 

Again, it has the downside of affecting other beneficial insects that come into contact with it. It’s great for getting rid of cabbage moths and worms but could also kill swallowtails, so use it sparingly and appropriately. It also needs to be reapplied after it rains.

Neem Oil

Neem oil naturally occurs in the seeds of neem trees. It has a garlic/sulfur smell and is used to combat various pests, including Mexican bean beetles, mealy bugs, fungus gnats, Japanese beetles, nematodes, and thrips. It’s also used to kill certain plant fungal diseases.

Neem oil works as a repellent because of its bitter taste and strong smell. It also interferes with insects’ hormone systems making it difficult for them to reproduce. 

It’s considered one of the safer pesticides for beneficial insects as it only affects insects that ingest it or are directly sprayed. So if you spray your beans, it will affect the bean beetles feeding on their leaves but not a butterfly landing on the leaf.


Pyrethrins are pesticides derived from naturally occurring pesticides found in chrysanthemum flowers. They control various insects indulging squash bugs, cucumber beetles, ants, and mosquitoes.

These pesticides are often considered non-toxic, but they aren’t harmless. It can irritate human skin, cause illness if ingested, and kills beneficial insects. Pyrethrin is also extremely toxic to fish, amphibians, and other aquatic life. Never use pyrethrin near a creek, storm drain, or other waterways.

These are just a few of the organic pesticides and methods for dealing with pests in the vegetable garden. Remember, prevention and catching pests early makes a huge difference in effectiveness!

Planning a Bird-Friendly Garden

When we think of nature’s helpers in the garden, we often immediately think of bees and butterflies. We tend to overlook birds, but they’re just as helpful to have around. Songbirds like Cardinals, Bluebirds, and Chickadees feed on various garden pests, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds pollinate flowers, and larger birds like Barn Owls and Kestrels feed on voles, mice, and other rodents that can damage your garden. 

Sadly, many bird species are declining. They’re facing the effects of climate change, habitat loss, and pollution. Providing a bird-friendly garden can help your garden be more productive while giving these incredible creatures a helping hand. Here’s how you can plan a bird-friendly garden for next year.


You might think that birds wouldn’t care about the layout of a garden, but they do! To start with, you generally want to avoid large open expanses. Songbirds are more likely to visit your garden if you add elements of height and cover. These could be shrubs and fruit trees as well as taller patches of annuals and perennials like sunflowers, Joe-Pye Weed, delphiniums, and hollyhocks. 

The exception to this is openings beneath large trees. These can be great spots for owls and hawks to hunt. They’ll perch in trees on the edges of clearings waiting to swoop down on unsuspecting prey. 

Think about creating a bird-friendly garden with patches of different layers. The tallest layer would be mature trees, followed by shorter trees and shrubs and vining plants like grapes or native Trumpet Honeysuckle on large trellises. Next are herbaceous plants like many of the annual vegetable crops, herbs, and flowers we grow, and last is the bottom layer of mulch like straw hay, wood chips, or decaying leaves. These layers provide habitat for perching, nesting, hunting and foraging, and cover from predators. 

Selecting Plants

The best thing you can do when adding plants for a bird-friendly garden is to select as many native species as possible. These are the plants that birds and their prey are well-adapted to using. They’re also generally low-maintenance and tolerant of local conditions.

If you can add trees to your property, they can help birds and other wildlife. Some great options include native hickories and beeches, which provide protein-rich food for birds like Blue Jays and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Native cherries and dogwood are also excellent choices because they produce berries that are favorites for many songbirds. Just be sure to research what will do well in your area. A local field guide to native trees or chatting with your county extension agency can be helpful.

Patches of dense, twiggy shrubs, small trees, or hedges are great places for songbirds to seek cover and nest. Native options like Eastern Red Cedar, Southern Arrowwood, and willows work well. Those that do double duty by providing fruit for you and the birds are also great options. Consider raspberries, elderberries, or mulberries.

Herbaceous plants provide seeds for birds, nectar for hummingbirds, and habitat for insects that birds feed on. Great native choices include rudbeckia, echinacea, bergamot, butterfly weed, goldenrod, and coreopsis. You can also help birds by allowing any bolting lettuces to go to seed. Their little seeds are a favorite of species like Goldfinches. Take a look at plants bloom times and plan a garden with something blooming all season.

Other Additions for a Bird-Friendly Garden

Water Features

Birds are also attracted to water sources. Providing a spot in your garden where they can drink, and bath can make your garden much more attractive. Birdbaths are a decent option, but moving water can be more enticing. Consider a birdbath with a bubbler or a fountain. It’s critical to keep this water clean. You may also want to add a partially submerged stone to allow bees and other insects to get water without drowning.  


While they’re unnecessary for all bird species, birdhouses can help attract cavity nesters. Don’t just grab the first birdhouse you see, though. It’s best if you start by considering what species of bird you’d like to attract. Specific species have specific nesting requirements. Houses may need to be a certain size, a certain distance apart, or hung at a particular height. 

Bluebirds are an excellent choice because they’re helpful in the garden and have lost nesting habitat to invasive starlings. You can make or purchase bluebird houses with a hole that’s 1 1/2 inches in diameter to allow bluebirds in but exclude larger starlings. If you struggle with rodents, you may want to add a larger house with a 5-inch diameter entrance to attract barn owls. 

What to Avoid

  • Don’t use pesticides in your garden. These chemicals harm species like birds, toads, and predatory insects that naturally keep pests in check. Using them can make pest pressure worse over time. Even organic, low-impact products should be used sparingly. 
  • Leave the leaves! Dead organic matter like leaves and small twigs is great for your plants and birds. They provide habitats for worms, pupae, and insects that are essential food sources for baby birds. 
  • Keep natural areas. While not all gardeners have the space, if you have some natural areas let them remain untouched. Leave standing dead trees which make excellent nesting sites. Resist the urge to clean up fallen trees, limbs, and brush. These provide habitat for birds and insects and eventually rot down, adding organic matter back to the soil. 
  • Don’t clean up all your dead plants. We discussed this more extensively in our post, Wildlife-Friendly Garden: Fall Clean-Up, but leaving some dead plant material through the winter is important. Many flowers like echinacea and sunflowers hold seeds for birds, and the stalks may be home to overwintering insects that birds will feed on during the winter. When all the annuals have died back, these standing dead plants provide perches.

More Articles

Check out a couple of our other bird articles:

Tips for Organic Pest Management

Especially for new gardeners, seeing your veggies getting munched by pests can really dampen your gardening enthusiasm. There are a few ways you can solve your pest problem without resorting to chemicals.



If you have a small garden one of the best things you can do is handpick pests. Small insects like Potato beetles are easy to squash with your fingers. For larger insects like tomato hornworms you may want to carry a bucket of soapy water to drop them into.

Note leave any hornworms with white eggs on their back. These are eggs of parasitic wasps that will help control the problem.


Ducks and other small livestock can be helpful in ridding your garden from certain pests. Ducks are great at eating slugs! Of course, they’re a serious commitment and can also harm your garden by eating and trampling plants.

Organic Pesticides

These include products like neem oil and diatomaceous earth as well as homemade options. A popular mixture is one quart of water with 4-5 drops of dish soap and a few garlic cloves. After soaking for a few hours the garlic can be strained out and the mixture sprayed onto the plant’s leaves to kill and deter pests.

With any pesticide it’s important to keep in mind you may also be harming beneficial insects.


While it may be too late for this season prevention is always the best option.

Plant a Trap Crop

If you notice that one particular variety of brassica is particularly infested with cabbage worms you can use this to your advantage. Use these varieties to draw pests away from others. Some folks choose to burn a trap crop that becomes heavily infested. This can help prevent pests from reproducing and being a problem the following season.

Plant a Late (or Early) Crop

If you struggled with Mexican Bean Beetles at the beginning of the summer you may have better luck with a fall crop. Experimenting with when you plant and learning about pest’s life cycles can help you work around their peak times. Keeping a garden journal can be really helpful with this!

Use Row Cover

Row cover can be used for more than just frost protection. Lightweight row cover is perfect for keeping out some pests as long as it’s set up over plants early. We sometimes use row cover or tulle to protect brassicas from cabbage moths.

Practice Crop Rotation

Avoid planting the same type of crop (ie. brassicas) in the same place more than one year. Many pests over winter in the soil and will be ready to attract plants again the following year. Check out our post, Planning Crop Rotation by Plant Family.

Attract Beneficial Birds/Insects

Some birds and insects are the natural predators to common garden pests. Making your property a haven for these creatures can help prevent pests from getting out of hand.

Keep Plant’s Healthy

Weak plants are more likely to attract pests. Keep your plants healthy by weeding, watering, and building healthy soil.