Diatomaceous Earth in the Garden

Overview

Diatomaceous earth is an easy-to-use and pesticide-free means of controlling unwanted and destructive insect populations in the garden. This all-natural method of pest management is harmless to humans and pets, but can quickly and easily eradicate a wide variety of soft-bodied insects known to cause damage to plants.

Definition

Diatomaceous earth comes from the fossilized remains of countless single-celled, marine and fresh water diatoms that lived millions of years ago.The hard shells of diatoms are made of a myriad of elements, including silica and calcium. The diatoms are ground up by the manufacturer, which leaves them with microscopic sharp edges. However, to humans diatomaceous earth simply feels like a soft and downy powder with a consistency similar to talcum powder.

Benefits

Many gardeners have traditionally resorted to herbicides and pesticides to resolve insect infestations in their plant, flower and vegetable beds. Diatomaceous earth is a considerably safer alternative because it physically eradicates pests on contact without the use of synthetic means or chemicals. Because it is all natural it is also safer than using chemicals and is considered safe to use around both people and pets. Another benefit of employing diatomaceous earth in the garden is that there is not a means for insects to build a chemical resistance to it.

How It Works

Diatomaceous earth is sprinkled around plants that are having unwanted insect infestations. It quickly and effectively pierces through the exoskeletons of soft-bodied insects such as ants, aphids, earwigs, mites and slugs, which causes rapid dehydration and ultimately, death. Within a few days a plant that was previously infested with unwanted insects can be relatively pest free.

Where to Buy

Diatomaceous earth can be purchased locally at home improvement stores or garden centers as well as from organic garden supply shops. However, it is important to only purchase diatomaceous earth intended for garden use as opposed to diatomaceous earth designated for swimming pool use. Because the variety for swimming pool use has been heat treated to maximize filtration, the diatoms will not retain their sharp edges.

Safety Considerations

Before applying diatomaceous earth be sure to read and adhere to the manufacturer's application and safety instructions on the package. While Diatomaceous earth is considered safe to use around people and pets, it is good form to wear a face mask when applying it in the garden, especially if you are doing a large-scale application. Doing so helps to ensure that you do not inadvertently inhale it and cause lung irritation. It is also important to note that diatomaceous earth should be applied sparingly in the garden, because it will not only kill pesky, unwanted insects, but also beneficial insects such as ladybird beetles and honey bees.

Keywords: diatomaceous earth, organic pest control, diatomaceous, natural pest control, garden pest control

About this Author

Faith Schuster is a freelance writer from New England whose craft, gardening and lifestyle articles have appeared in newspaper, print and online publications for more than 10 years. She holds a degree in English from the University of Hartford.