14 Natural Ways To Control Garden Pests

Non toxic pest control for the garden starts by preventing harmful insects in the first place.

April 6, 2017
Natural pest control methods for gardens.
Azem Ramadani/Getty

Sensible organic gardening practices in your vegetable garden allow gardeners to sidestep many insect pests—and avoid the more difficult task of eliminating pests after they’ve settled in.

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First, the basics: Give plants optimal growing conditions to keep them healthy. Plants that are stressed—by drought, for example—give off signals that draw pests to them. Monitoring crops regularly lets you deal with problems before pest populations multiply. Organic sprays are a last resort to be used with caution; some can kill beneficial insects as well as pests. 

Natural pest control methods for aphids in the garden.

Aphids are tiny, sap-sucking insects feed on many kinds of plants throughout the growing season.

Defensive Strategies

Provide food for aphid predators by mixing small-flowered plants like mints or yarrow throughout your garden. Avoid overfertilizing with nitrogen; the resulting lush, juicy shoots are aphid magnets.

Organic Control

Crush aphids with your fingers or knock them from plants with a strong spray of water. Treat persistent infestations with an insecticidal soap spray, such as Safer Insect Killing Soap.

Related: How To Make A DIY Pest Spray That's Safe And Effective 

Natural pest control methods for carrot rust fly.
Carrot Rust Fly

Carrot rust flies are small, metallic green flies. Their larvae eat root hairs and tunnel into roots, stunting growth.

Defensive Strategies

Crop rotation is your best bet, here. Rotate carrots, planting them in a different garden location every year. Delay sowing until June to miss the early-spring egg laying of rust flies. Protect seedbeds with floating row cover.

Organic Controls

Damage is typically unseen until it's too late. Be wary of stunted, sickly topgrowth; pull and destroy infested crops. Remove crop debris at the end of the season.

Related: 14 Insects You Actually Want To Have In Your Garden

Natural pest control methods for colorado potato beetles in the garden.
Antoon Loams / EyeEm/Getty
Colorado Potato Beetle

If you're growing potatoes, keep an eye out for the striped adults and humpbacked orange grubs of the Colorado potato beetle, which feed on potato leaves and stems.

Defensive Strategies

Rotate potatoes. Cultivate beds in fall to expose and destroy overwintering adults. Apply straw mulch 4 to 6 inches deep around plants. Plant early-maturing varieties to avoid peak damage.

Organic Controls

Handpick slow-moving adults and larvae and drop them into soapy water. Seek and destroy orange-yellow eggs on leaf undersides. Spray with spinosad, such as Monterey Garden Insect Spray.

Natural pest control methods for cutworms in the garden.

These gray-brown caterpillars feed nocturnally on seedlings, severing stems at soil level. 

Defensive Strategies

Turn the soil a few days before planting to expose cutworms. Surround the stem of each transplant with a ring of rigid paper or cardboard, 4 inches tall, pressed 2 inches into the soil.

Organic Controls

Prepare a bait of bran moistened with Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (such as Safer Garden Dust) and molasses, and sprinkle it over beds a week before planting. Dig next to cut seedlings to find the perpetrator.

Natural pest control methods for cabbageworm in the garden.
Imported Cabbageworm

The larvae of pieris rapae, imported cabbageworms are green, inch-long caterpillars that riddle the leaves of brassicas with holes.

Defensive Strategies

Put floating row cover—ultra-lightweight, sun- and water-permeable fabric—over cole crop transplants immediately after planting and keep it in place until harvest.

Organic Controls

Destroy eggs on leaf undersides. Handpick caterpillars. Remove severely infested plants. Spray with Bacillus thuringiensis (var. kurstaki or aizawai), such as DiPel DF; or spinosad.

Natural pest control methods for Mexican bean beetles in the garden.
Mexican Bean Beetle

Both the adults and spiny yellow grubs of Mexican bean beetles (Epilachna varivestis) munch bean pods and skeletonize leaves.

Defensive Strategies

Plant early bush bean varieties. Interplant beans with flowers and herbs to support native predators. Use floating row cover over young plants to exclude egg-laying adults.

Organic Controls

Sow an early patch of soybeans as a trap crop to lure the pests. Destroy yellow eggs on leaf undersides. Handpick adults and larvae. Spray with neem, such as Biosafe Insect Control.

Natural pest control methods for squash bugs.
Bill Johnson
Squash Bug

Adults and nymphs of squash bugs suck juices of vine crops, especially winter squash.

Defensive Strategies

Choose varieties that are tolerant of squash bugs. Shield young plants with floating row cover; uncover when blossoms open. Raise vines on trellises.

Organic Controls

Place boards on the ground near squash plants; in the morning, destroy pests underneath them. Handpick adults and nymphs. Crush eggs on leaf undersides.

Related: The Best Way To Protect Your Squash From Bugs