Today, we’re talking about how to keep your garden pest-free without the use of pesticides or insecticides. It’s a common question for people who want to maintain an organic yard or garden.
While it may not be easy, it is possible. So, don’t give up! Let’s turn that black thumb into a green thumb.
What is Organic Gardening?
Reconnecting with nature and all its beauty is a great way to heighten your awareness to the world around you, both big and small. Unfortunately, gardening is more complicated than it seems, as any true gardener knows.
First off, the soil is alive with a small-scale world mostly unknown to us. One scoop of soil can be home to hundreds of thousands of fungi, thousands of protozoans, and a huge assortment of microscopic creatures known as cryptozoa.
In the 1980s, Jostein Goksøyr and Vigdis Torsvik (Norwegian scientists), gathered a gram of soil from a nearby beech forest and took it back to their lab for analysis. They found between 4,000 and 5,000 different species of bacteria. Later, they traveled a few miles away to a coastal beach to collect another earth sample. This new sample revealed another 4,000 to 5,000 species of bacteria, completely different from the first sample.
If these two scientists can find around 10,000 unique bacteria within a couple miles of Norway, how much bacterial diversity is there? Nobody knows the answer to this question, but some estimate around 400 million (Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything 2004, p. 366).
While it’s not possible to get rid of all the living things in your soil, and of course you wouldn’t want to, there is a way to keep your plants healthy and mostly pest-free without using harsh chemicals.
While this guide focuses on gardens, the same principles can be used for landscaping in general.
Common Garden and Landscaping Pest Problems
- Mammals (deer, rabbits, birds, moles, etc.)
- Insects (aphids, beetles, caterpillars, mites, etc.)
- Slugs and snails
You can’t use pesticides and have an “organic” garden. When you spray pesticides, you are eating those pesticides (the amounts, however, are normally so small has to have a limited effect). They interrupt the bugs’ nervous systems. This can also have negative and detrimental effects.
One of the big, bad consequence of using pesticides is that you will become dependent on them. While the pesticides kill your garden pests, they also deter the natural animal predators that can help control your pest problem.
You’ll end up getting stuck in a cycle of pesticide use because you’ve driven away the natural pest prevention element. Read this if you’re just getting started with an organic garden.
How to Garden Without Pests or Pesticides
6 Ways to Keep Your Garden and Yard Pest-Free Without Chemicals
1. Healthy Soil
The first step towards growing an organic garden and landscaping is getting a soil sample, also known as a soil analysis report.
You can collect a soil sample yourself and send it to a laboratory, or you can contact a pest professional and have them take the sample and test it for you.
The results will be able to tell you which nutrients you need more of. This will keep you from guessing and wasting a lot of time, labor and money.
Learn more about soil samples an how to improve the quality of your soil.
2. Choose Healthy, Native Species
Don’t get distracted by all the seed packets at your local nursery. Learn what works well in your environment and stick with that.
If you live in Texas, learn about Texas native trees and plants. Some plants attract “good” bugs, such as lady bugs, green lacewings, predatory stinkbugs, and dragonflies. Other plants attract the “bad” bugs. If you don’t know what grows well in your area, conduct research online, ask around, and speak with your local lawn care experts.
Always inspect plants thoroughly before you purchase them. Small pests have a tendency of hitching a ride.
3. Block It Off
Consider fencing around your garden area to prevent kids, pets, deer and other creatures from wrecking your hard work. Keep in mind that installing fencing requires some skill and effort. Consider hiring a professional.
Another option for protecting your garden from weeds and pests is by raising the beds. Most raised beds are made out of bricks, concrete blocks, stones or wood. Add a mesh bottom to prevent burrowing animals.
With a raised bed, you have the additional options of installing a fence or cover. When installing wire fencing, make sure it is buried at least 8-10 inches in the ground. Blocking off your garden is a smart way to keep your garden pest free without chemicals.
4. Manual Control
Walk around your garden and get an intimate relationship with your plants. Know each plant and get to know their likes and dislikes. Check out the leaves. Look for damage. Over time, you’ll learn the individual preferences of your plants.
What we mean by manual control is literally searching and destroying pests in the garden, such as slugs and snails. Compost them, feed them to ducks and chickens, or simply crush them. If you have kids at home or around the neighborhood, consider paying them a quarter, or whatever you want, for every snail or slug they find.
Manual control may not be feasible for large plots of land, but if you have a small garden, manual control is the first thing you should do before resorting to any other method of pest control.
5. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth (diatomite) is made from the ground-up remains of one-celled freshwater algae called diatoms. The soft fossilized remains come in a fine powder and can help you kill insects around your garden.
The diatomaceous earth kills insects by piercing their skin or puncturing internal organs if any insects happen to consume it. Since the killing action is mechanical rather than chemical, there is no way to build a resistance to it.
- Always where gloves and a dust mask when applying.
- Diatmoceous works better under dry conditions.
- Apply early in the morning.
- Use diatomaceous earth as a barrier to kill and prevent crawling pests, such as slugs and snails.
- Spray white powder over affected plants.
This powder can be sprinkled directly onto plants and around the edges of your garden bed to protect against earwigs, slugs and other pests.
Other homemade pest control solutions include soap spray, coffee grounds, beer traps, and neem oil.
6. Neem Oil
Neem oil (from the nimtree, aka Azadirachta indica) is a powerful yet all natural insecticide. It contains antifungal and antibug properties – simply mix in water and spray on plants to treat existing problems and as a preventative measure.
Neem oil works as a natural insecticide and fungicide. It is particularly useful for controlling:
- Root rot
- Black spot
- Molds and mildews