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July 14, 2012

Organic garden pest control

Natural methods can help your plants grow

By Lillian Browne
Contributing Writer

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This is the time of year when garden pests and problems can vex the most enthusiastic backyard horticulturists.

Pesky weeds, drought, blight and slugs are among the problems that vegetable, fruit, herb and flower growers contend with.

Genetically modified seeds and plants have been touted as being pest-resistant and drought-resilient.

However, many growers and consumers appear to be concerned with the use and effects of pesticides in the garden.

Many homesteaders, farmers and backyard growers are turning to natural, organic methods to address gardening problems.


These slimy creatures love delicate lettuces and other greens. One certain method for dealing with slugs is removal by hand. Although effective, it is time-consuming.

Other methods for dealing with slugs are placing crushed egg shells around the base of plants and the use of beer traps and diatomaceous earth.

Adding used coffee grounds atop the soil around planting is said to halt slugs in their tracks.

Another method for dealing with slugs is allowing backyard poultry in your garden. Chickens, ducks and guinea fowl are great additions to the garden for slug control.

Corn worms

These pests can easily be deterred by adding a few drops of oil (olive oil works well) into the tips of corn plants as soon as the silk starts to grow.


Leaf removal and companion planting work well for this little mite. Hoverflies, which will hungrily consume aphids, are drawn into the garden by plants such as sweet alyssum.

Other plants that will entice beneficial bugs _ including lady beetles _ are calendula, borage, zinnias and cosmos.

Tomato blight

The rate of occurrence of this particular problem is alarming to many gardeners. This widespread problem was once seen only sporadically in different sections of the country. It is now occurring annually and has affected production and pricing of tomatoes.

Identifying the disease is key in treating and preventing further spread.

Early blight is identified by the start of small brown or black rotting spots on the lower leaves. Removal of the affected leaves is crucial to delay the spread. The plants will still bear fruit with this type of blight.

Late blight will destroy a plant within a week. It starts out with watery types of lesions on the lower leaves.

One thing that a gardener can do to encourage growth and delay the spread of this disease is removal of the leaves closest to the ground. Blight enjoys damp conditions. Backsplash on lower leaves from rain or watering helps blight to thrive. Watering plants in the morning instead of at night can also help. Removal of weeds from around the base of plants is also helpful. Weeds compete for nutrients and decrease air circulation around tomato plants.

There are many different copper sulfate-based sprays and solutions on the market that are deemed acceptable for use in maintaining organic certification standards in the United States. The solutions must be applied prophylactically. However, copper in humans does have toxicity levels that are detrimental to health. Copper also accumulates in the soil. Use of copper fungicides have been banned in the Netherlands and Denmark.

There are several different precautions that gardeners can take if they have been affected by blight in the past. Spores can survive in the soil around affected plants. Careful uprooting of the plants and storage in black plastic bags in the sun will kill spores. The plants should not be mulched into the soil.

Japanese beetles

These sun-loving bugs favor fruit trees and shrubs, roses, asparagus and corn. They are not fond of sweet potatoes, onions, parsley, carrots or geraniums. Companion planting between rows will discourage these beetles.


Other than pulling weeds by hand, there is no more effective way at controlling weeds than vinegar or boiling water. Boiling water poured on weeds is a certain way to remove them. Care should be taken not to expose vegetable plants to the boiling water. Vinegar can also be used with the same precaution. For maximum effectiveness, vinegar should be used on very hot days.

Natural sprays and companion plantings are methods of pest control that many experienced growers use. Garlic spray and cayenne pepper spray seem to be tried and true methods for discouraging pests. Pepper spray can be made by boiling two tablespoons of cayenne pepper, straining it through a coffee filter and mixing it with a tablespoon of dishwashing solution. Allow the mixture to cool, fill a spray-bottle and spray. Minced garlic can be substituted for the cayenne pepper. Both garlic and cayenne pepper discourage bugs and slugs.

Coffee spray is also said to deter pests. Allow brewed coffee to cool, add to spray bottle and spray plants.

Planting various herbs will attract natural predators to whiteflies, aphids and moths. Scented herbs such as dill, fennel or tansy will attract lady bugs and lacewings which will happily help rid your garden of pests. Marigolds seem to be favored flower for pest control for the natural gardener. Marigolds have long been touted as a deer deterrent.

Fencing cannot be left out of the pest-control equation. In rural areas, deer, raccoons and even wandering goats and cows have been known to help themselves to carefully cultivated gardens.

Finally, wisdom reveals that there is not one method of pest control that will control 100 percent of pesky problems, 100 percent of the time: The expectation that some plants and crops will be lost comes with the territory.

Experienced gardeners always plant more than they expect to harvest.