What is Organic Pest Control? (Plus 7 Examples)


Are you hoping to learn more about what organic pest control is?  If so, you are probably worried about using harsh chemicals in your garden that can hurt you or your pets.

So, what is organic pest control?  Organic pest control means preventing damage to plants by using barriers, traps, and natural repellents to discourage pests.  Organic pest control does not use man-made chemicals, but may use natural pest repellents such as citrus, mint, pepper, or garlic oils.

Of course, there are lots of ways to controls pests organically when you really get down to it.  However, not all of those methods require oils or spraying!

In this article, we’ll look at the many methods of organic pest control and when each one works best.

Let’s get going.

What is Organic Pest Control?

Organic pest control means keeping pests at bay using safe and natural methods.  Organic pest control avoids the use of dangerous chemicals that can harm humans or animals.

Organic pest control includes the use of barriers, traps, and natural repellents (such as essential oils) to discourage insects from feeding on plants.  Organic pest control is one part of a broader approach called integrated pest management (IPM).

tomato hornworm
Organic pest control keeps insects at bay without using dangerous chemicals.

According to Wikipedia, integrated pest management is:

“the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integrated_pest_management

There are many ways to control pests naturally and keep plants healthy.  According to the University of Maryland Extension, some key aspects of integrated pest management include:

  • Choose disease resistant varieties – disease resistance is indicated on the seed packet label.  If plants can resist disease, they will stay stronger and will be better able to defend themselves from pests.
  • Use crop rotation – this reduces nutrient deficiencies, which makes plants stronger and better able to resist pests.  You can learn more about crop rotation in my article here.
  • Proper plant care – pay attention to watering, fertilizing (compost or manure), light, and other factors to ensure that plants grow strong so they can resist pests and diseases.
  • Quarantine plants – remove any plants that are diseased or infested with insects to prevent further spread of these problems to other plants.
  • Encourage an ecosystem – natural predators, such as ladybugs and birds, will help to control pest populations.
  • Opt for natural methods – prevent pests with barriers or natural repellents.

Taking all of these methods together is important to control garden pests in a natural way.  Let’s take a closer look at some of these pest control methods and when to use each one.

Cloches

A cloche is a cover for a plant that protects against cold, wind, and insects.  A cloche is often made of plastic, although you can make a cloche out of glass or out of wire with a cloth covering.

water bottles
You can make a cloche by cutting the bottom out of a clear plastic bottle.

A cloche is usually small, and is most often used to protect transplants after they are moved into the garden.

A cloche warms the air and soil underneath it by the greenhouse effect.  Using a cloche to keep plants warm will allow you to plant outside earlier than normal.

A cloche also protects against insects by providing a barrier that they cannot pass through.  For example, a cloche can work as an alternative to a cutworm collar to protect young tomato plants.

If you keep your plants covered with a cloche early in the season, it will prevent pests from laying eggs on your plants.  This will have benefits throughout the growing season, so it’s worth considering if you have pest problems.

Cloches do not require the use of any chemicals or natural repellents, and you can reuse them for many years.  If you want to learn more, check out my article on garden cloches and how to make them yourself.

Row Covers

Cloches are used to protect individual plants, while row covers can protect an entire row of plants all at once.  A row cover is a fabric material that keeps pests away from plants while still allowing water and sunlight through.

When plants are still small, you can set up stakes, cages, or hoops to support a row cover.  This allows you to protect an entire row of plants with minimal effort.

row cover
You can set up hoops to hold up a row cover for plant protection against pests.

When plants grow larger, you can still use a piece of row cover to wrap and protect an individual plant.

Row covers do not require any harsh chemicals, and in some cases you can reuse them.  You can find a fine mesh row cover at a garden center or online, such as this one from Gardener’s Supply Company.

Sticky Traps

A sticky trap uses glue (adhesive) to trap bugs that land on it.  Some sticky traps look like fruit, but others are simply flat sheets with glue on them.

A sticky trap is a pretty simple concept, but it is effective for controlling crawling garden pests.  It is a bit less effective against flying bugs.

One problem is that a sticky trap will eventually fill up with bugs.  At that point, you will need to either refresh the adhesive or get a new trap.

You can find sticky traps that do not contain any pesticides.  (After all, the bugs will not last long without food and water once they get trapped!)

However, according to the Texas A&M University, a sticky trap may contain aromas to attract certain pests.

There are some different ways to use sticky traps.  You can put them on the ground or hang them from branches, stakes, or cages.

One method is to put sticky traps near the plants that you want to protect most.  Another way is to use multiple traps in different spots around the garden to see where they are most effective.

Sticky traps are another way to control some of the pests in your garden without using chemicals or repellents.

Trap Crops

According to the South Dakota State University, a trap crop is used to attract pests and keep them away from more important plants that are more valuable to you.

Let’s look at an example of how this would work.

Let’s say you want to grow Celebrity tomatoes.  To protect your Celebrity Tomatoes, you might also plant fast-maturing tomatoes (such as Fourth of July tomatoes) at the same time.

large tomatoes
Plant more than one variety of tomato to protect against pests.

The faster-maturing Fourth of July tomatoes will produce ripe fruit first.  Any pests that feed on tomatoes will go after the Fourth of July tomatoes, and hopefully leave the Celebrity tomatoes alone (no guarantees though!)

Predators

Keeping predators in and around your garden can help to control pest populations and avoid damage to your crops.

For example, ladybugs will feed on aphids, which are a common garden pest.  You can learn more about how to control aphids in my article here.

ladybug
Ladybugs will feed on aphids to keep their population in check.

If you install a birdbath and bird feeders, you will attract birds (such as cardinals) that eat common garden pests (such as moth larvae).

cardinal
A cardinal will work hard to control moth larvae in your garden.

If you raise chickens, they can do triple duty for you:

  • They will turn weeds and plant scraps into eggs.
  • They will produce manure for your garden.
  • They will eat insects in the yard.

That’s right, chickens will eat insects in your yard.  They will eat any ticks they can find in tall grass, reducing the threat of Lyme disease to you and your family.

chickens
As it turns out, these chickens would be delighted to help you with pest control in your garden.

They will also eat any worms or larvae they can find.  Just keep an eye on them to be sure they don’t start eating the plants you are trying to protect!

Maybe you cannot trust chickens in the garden after your plants are already growing.  Maybe you just don’t have time to monitor them.

In either case, you can still set them loose in the garden before spring planting and then again after harvesting in the fall.

Every insect they find and eat will result in less trouble with pests in later years.  So, build up a bit of an ecosystem in your yard and give those pests something to be scared of!

Repellents, Sprays, Oils, and Powders

Using repellents, sprays, oils, and powders is a last resort, but it is still an option if you are having trouble with pests.  Although a last resort, it is still possible to avoid harsh chemicals with these methods.

  • Boric Acid – this is a powder that will help to get rid of ants and other insect pests.  You can spread it around plants you want to protect to form a barrier against insects.
  • Capsaicin – this is what makes peppers hot and spicy.  As it turns out, some insects don’t like it either.  You can buy a spray, or make your own mix from hot peppers.  Be sure to wash your hands before touching your eyes!
  • Citrus – this scent will repel some insects, and may harm others.  You can crush up orange peels, lemon peels, or lemongrass and mix with water to make a spray, or you can buy a concentrated extract.
  • Diatomaceous Earth – this is a white powder you can find online or at a garden center.  The powder is “sharp”, and when insects walk over it, they get tiny cuts on their bodies.  As they lose water from these cuts, the insects will dehydrate.  Just be careful – don’t breathe it in, and remember that it can hurt bees and other pollinators too!
  • Garlic – this scent will repel some insects, and you don’t even need to grow it – you can just chop up some garlic cloves from the kitchen, mix with water, and spray on plants as a repellent.
  • Mint – it won’t be enough to simply grow mint.  You will need to crush it and boil it to make a sort of “mint tea” and spray it on your plants.  You can also buy peppermint extract or other mint oils in concentrated form.
  • Neem – this oil is often sprayed on plants to repel bugs, but it will also suffocate them if you spray it on them after an infestation has already happened.  Just be careful not to breathe in the spray when you use it – wear a mask to apply it.
diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth will spell the end for ants and other insects, but also for bees, so be careful where you use it.

Conclusion

Now you know exactly what organic pest control is.  You also have plenty of methods to try out to help you control garden pests without waging chemical warfare with dangerous substances.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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