Repel garden pests, but keep plants’ friends

Bug eating fruit

Even the best-planned, healthiest garden will attract pests. Bugs, slugs and other creepy-crawlies like a tasty lettuce leaf or tomato just as much as humans do. But if you are gardening to provide food for your table, you won’t want to use toxic chemicals to deter invaders. There are lots of nontoxic and organic alternatives that are safe for use around people, pets and such beneficial critters as birds, toads, lizards, and even beneficial insects such as ladybird beetles, mantises and certain wasps that prey on the bad guys.

Common remedies used by organic gardeners include insecticidal soaps, oil sprays, sticky traps, pheromone traps, sprays using specific types of the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis, and physical barriers such as row covers. Using readily available ingredients, you can concoct a homemade garden-pest spray that can be used to prevent or treat insect infestations. Organic Gardening magazine developed this recipe:

Homemade Garden-Pest Spray


  • garlic icon 1 Garlic Bulb
  • Onion icon 1 Small Onion
  • Spice icon 1 tsp. Powdered cayenne pepper
  • Measuring cup icon 1 Quart Water
  • Soap Dispenser Icon Tbsp. Liquid Dish Soap


  1. Chop, grind or liquefy the garlic and onion. Add cayenne and mix with quart of water. Steep mix for one hour.
  2. Strain mixture through cheesecloth, and then add dish soap to strained liquid. Mix well.
  3. Place liquid in clean spray bottle and spray plants thoroughly, including the undersides of leaves. The spray may be stored up to a week in a covered (and labeled) container in the refrigerator.

Note: Even the least toxic remedy should be used sparingly to avoid damage to beneficial creatures and plants.

Healthy soil ensures strong plants that are better able to fend off pests and diseases such as mildew, mold and leaf spot. And if all else fails, don’t hesitate to remove a stricken or infested plant from the garden. Just don’t put it in a compost bin — bag it for removal in the regular trash pick-up or, if local codes allow, burn it.

Planting the varieties most suited for your area also helps keep pests to a minimum.

Again, consulting the experts and doing some research will help you keep a garden that’s as pest-free and bountiful as possible.

Learn something new? Want to pass an idea to a friend?
Share the knowledge with your network! Share to your network!