Gardeners have a love-hate relationship with insects. Beneficial insects such as bees, ladybugs and spiders pollinate flowers and prey on leaf-eating insects. The bad guys, though, such as aphids, Japanese beetles and leafhoppers, can quickly wipe out roses, vegetable gardens or even perennials. Fortunately, many natural strategies are available for dealing with insects without resorting to synthetic poisons.
Gardeners and farmers used natural means of pest control for centuries until synthetic pesticides were developed in the early 1900s. These toxins were popular for most of the 20th century. In 1940 J.I. Rodale founded "Organic Farming and Gardening," a publication that informed the general public about the benefits of organic farming practices. Rachel Carson explored the dangers of pesticide use in her groundbreaking book, "The Silent Spring," published in 1954. In recent years, many gardeners have expressed an interest in organic gardening and natural pest management.
By using natural pest deterrents, homeowners keep their gardens free of toxic chemicals that may harm birds, fish and beneficial insects. These strategies take a more holistic approach to gardening, allowing a natural balance to unfold. Gardeners who use natural pest control often use other organic practices, such as composting and soil enrichment.
Organic gardeners use several strategies for managing pests. Rotating crops and planting diverse crops help confuse and outwit predators. Traps and row covers protect crops. Planting crops that attract beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, is a simple, inexpensive technique that is very effective, along with providing shelter and water for frogs, snakes and birds. Oil sprays, insecticidal soaps and bacillus thuringiensis are fairly safe natural pest controls for major infestations.
Just because a product says it's natural doesn't mean that it's safe. Several products, such as diatomaceous earth, pyrethrum and rotenone, kill beneficial insects and may harm fish or pollute water. These products should be avoided if possible--or used very carefully.
Only rarely do insects cause great harm. Using pesticides indiscriminately, according to Barbara Damrosch, landscape designer and author of "The Garden Primer," is much more likely to cause damage because they kill beneficial insects and destroy the natural balance of the garden. She advises gardeners to use preventative measures, such as rotating crops, growing a little extra for the bugs and avoiding plants that attract insect infestations.