Many common insecticides and pesticides rely on toxic poisons that could potentially harm the health of you and your family. These toxins may also leak out into surrounding soil and waterways, affecting fish and other wildlife. Reducing the use of toxic chemicals in a garden doesn't mean you have to openly welcome the many pests that may invade your yard. Several less toxic options are available to defend your yard from pests in a safe, natural way.
Hang Sticky Traps
Sticky traps work because insects and pests stick to them, which means they're not bothering your plants. Hang sticky traps from plant branches in your garden, spacing each trap apart by 3 to 5 feet. You can buy sticky traps at garden stores or make your own using 4-inch by 6-inch index cards painted in specific colors. Coat the cards in petroleum jelly or any other sticky substance and hang them where you need them, replacing each card once it's covered in stuck insects.
Specific colors attract specific pests:
- White draws the attention of cucumber beetles, whiteflies and flea beetles.
- Red attracts a wide variety of flies.
- Light blue traps different kinds of thrips.
- Yellow is the most attractive color, pulling in leafhoppers, gnats, leafminers, fruit flies, whiteflies and midges.
Dust Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder made from crushed diatom fossils. Use food-grade diatomaceous earth to control pests on contact. Dust the powder onto plant surfaces where it works as a nonselective insecticide killing any pests that brush against the powder. Or, create a 2-inch-wide circle of diatomaceous earth around the base of each plant to kill ground pests like slugs, snails and ants.
Mix a Soapy Insecticide
Soap has been used for almost two centuries as a safe insecticide. It kills most soft-bodied pests on contact, including psyllids, mealybugs, mites and aphids. You can buy pre-mixed insecticidal soaps at the garden store or mix your own solution.
Measure out 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap. Ideally, use a biodegradable, eco-friendly soap product.
Pour the soap into an empty, clean spray bottle.
Add 1 pint of water.
Spritz the soap onto pests. The solution must cover the pests to be effective because it works by suffocating them.
Repeat every seven days until the pest problem is controlled.
Spray Sulfur Minerals
Fungal diseases can quickly kill your plants but commercial fungicides can be harsh. Sulfur is the oldest fungicide ever recorded and has been used as natural, organic disease control for more than 2,000 years.
Use any garden sulfur spray or dust according to its label. For example, when using a 90 percent sulfur dust, mix 1 1/2 to 3 tablespoons into 1 gallon of water and pour it into a garden sprayer. Spray it onto ornamental plants or crops, evenly coating the plant's exposed surfaces. As a fungicide, sulfur can control rust, various rots, powdery mildew, leaf spots and sooty blotch.
- Place your hands in front of you, palms facing in toward your body.
- Create a rolling motion with your hands, circling them one over the other away from your body.
- As your outer hand moves away, down and back in toward your body, pinch and pull a weed.
- Repeat with your other hand, cycling your hands forward along your flower bed or row of vegetables.
If pulling by hand seems too much of a chore, try boiling water. The steam and heat causes the cells in the weed to explode, killing the plant. Pour boiling water directly onto the weed, coating the entire plant. Repeat a few days later if the weed starts to regrow.
Harness the Sun
Soil solarization kills everything -- weeds, soil-borne diseases and pests. It channels the power of the sun's heat and ultraviolet rays and it's best to do it at the peak of summer.
Mow the area or pull any large weeds or plants.
Rake the area to create a level surface.
Water the site to moisten the soil to a depth of 1 foot.
Cover the site with a clear plastic tarp.
Weight down the tarp's edges with bricks, rocks or other objects. The sun will "bake" the soil with the soil reaching temperatures of up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the tarp after six to eight weeks.