Traditional pesticides, as opposed to natural pesticides, are chemical compounds that food growers use to kill pests including insects, rodents, fungi and weeds. They do keep plants healthy but unfortunately they are detectable in our food. These chemicals are also one of the major causes of runoff pollution that enters our rivers, streams and water supplies. This is bad for our health as they reportedly add to the risk of various cancers and neurological diseases. And it’s bad for the environment.
Fortunately, there are several inexpensive and effective alternatives that are naturally derived from plants and trees. They are safer to use on our plants and don’t have any negative consequences. These natural pesticides are effective at keeping plants healthy while being safe enough to grow food for you and your family.
Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of marine plankton that have been ground into a fine whiteish powder. This strange-named compound, often referred to as DE, has many household uses including as a very effective natural pesticide.
The diatomaceous earth particles, when viewed under a microscope, are like small pieces of glass. When insects and bugs get in contact with it, the tiny shards cause them to be cut up or to dry out. Either way they die. Diatomaceous earth is very effective in killing most plant pests.
To apply, it can be sprinkled on the plant or on the soil around it. However, it must be reapplied after rainfall since it no longer has the same effect when wet.
One important note, you must use food grade diatomaceous earth, which is free of contaminants. One inexpensive, non-toxic and a very effective natural pesticide, Harris Diatomaceous Earth, is a reputable brand that’s readily available.
Neem oil has been used for thousands of years in India and the surrounding areas where the Azadirachta Indica tree grows. The oil is derived from the seeds of the tree and is readily available—usually in a concentrate—in stores where gardening supplies are sold.
When diluted with water, neem oil can be sprayed onto leaves (which also gives them a nice shine) or applied at soil level. The soil method is more effective since the oil will spread throughout the plant making it more deadly for pests. The pests either die from eating the plant or are repelled by its strong smell.
Before using neem oil on a plant species it’s best to test it first. The oil can burn certain plants, so apply it to a small test sample, wait 24 hours and then check for any damage. Obviously, if there are any burnt areas, the oil should not be used on this plant.
You can buy pure neem oil but, if you’re using it just for pest control, buying it ready-diluted in a spray bottle such as Safer Neem Oil is much more convenient. It’s inexpensive and approved for organic gardening.
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Horticultural oils, also called a spray oil, come in two “flavors,” summer oil and dormant oil.
For many years the use of oils was limited to the heavier dormant oil which was applied during the winter (dormant) season. Nowadays, there’s also the lighter and more highly refined summer oil that can be applied to actively growing plants throughout the growing season.
The newer horticultural oils today are safe natural pesticides which can be used on more plants now than before, and are one of the best ways to control a wide variety of pests.
Some horticultural oils are petroleum-based and some are made from vegetable oil such as soybean, canola or cottonseed. Bonide All Seasons Horticultural and Dormant Spray Oil is a concentrate and is highly recommended.
Companion planting is another completely risk-free method where even natural pesticides are not needed. The idea is to grow certain plants alongside each other with the aim of helping each other thrive by keeping pests away.
Some plants support each other, while some plants should never be grown together. Note though that, while some plants drive away pests, some grow rapidly and take all the natural resources, and some give off toxins. All this needs to be taken into account, so planning before planting is essential.
If you’d like to know more, here are some recommended books on the subject:
- Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting
- Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting
- Companion Planting: The Beginners Guide
Plucking bugs off plants by hand sounds a bit primitive, but it can be very effective for insects that don’t come in the hundreds. Just pick the bugs off (use gloves if you wish) and drop them into a container (don’t let them drop them on the ground). The benefit is that no pesticide is needed, while the disadvantage is that it can be more time-consuming than spraying with a natural pesticide.
Pest control for your plants can be risk-free and inexpensive. With the many natural solutions on the market today, you don’t need to use chemical pesticides in order to enjoy a beautiful, healthy garden for your fruits and vegetables.