Growing a vegetable garden at home is a great family project that can provide you with fresh food while reducing your grocery bills, but it can be heartbreaking to see your hard work destroyed by hordes of hungry insects. Yet most gardeners are understandably uncomfortable with spraying toxic and unnatural chemicals on plants they intend to eventually eat. Try these five natural pesticides that are nearly or just as effective as their less-natural alternatives.
Mixtures based on liquid soap are some of the easiest, safest, and most effective pesticides for using in a home garden. Soft-bodied insects are the most susceptible to the effects of soap. The insects most strongly affected by soap sprays include:
- Spider mites
- Japanese beetles
- Immature scales
Soap sprays only work when the insects in question are thoroughly coated, and they don't act as detergents. However, the soap won't damage most common garden plants. Prepare to spray on a daily basis until you've knocked your insect population down again. Soap-based products are a good option for gardens of people with kids and pets that can't be exposed to toxic residues.
The seeds of the lily known as sabadilla is full of natural compounds that cause paralysis and death in insects. It's a good choice for a vegetable garden because it's the least toxic to mammals like humans and household pets out of all the common natural pesticides. The dust also degrades rapidly upon exposure to sunlight, allowing you to let the rest of the family back in the garden after only a day or two without concerns of toxicity. While caterpillars are generally resistant to soap sprays, they can't handle the alkaloids in dust made from heated and ground sabadilla seeds. Sabadilla is also good for getting rid of damaging squash and stink bugs.
There are many essential oils derived from plants used in horticulture, but few are as well known as the oil of the neem tree. While you may choose to start using neem-oil products to control insects like aphids and mealy bugs, you'll also enjoy how these products combat serious fungal infections like powdery mildew. As both an insecticide and fungicide, neem oil pulls double duty in the garden to save you both time and money. It has a very low toxicity to animals and birds and degrades fairly rapidly in sunlight.
The compounds extracted from chrysanthemums that are known as pyrethins are considered the most effective form of naturally derived pesticide. They're also one of the safest insect-killing compounds for use around mammals. In fact, most pet ear mite treatments, many flea treatments, and even lice medications are made with pyrethins. Gardeners primarily apply powders containing a small amount of the extracted compound to plants to kill a wide range of both soft and hard bodied pests. Before ordering a product based on this compound, check the ingredients list carefully. This flower derivative is often blended with synthetic pesticides for increased power against a wider range of insects, so watch out for combinations that aren't as natural as they seem.
Pure mineral sulfur is a semi-effective pesticide on its own, but when it is mixed with horticultural lime, it becomes much more effective at controlling mites that affect fruit trees and shrubs. Lime sulfur breaks down very quickly when exposed to the air and sunlight, and it's also used as a mange treatment for dogs and horses due to its relatively low toxicity in mammals. However, it can be hard to find lime-sulfur products now because of the potential for damage to the plants when it is applied after leaves and flowers start emerging. Lime sulfur is best used as a dormant treatment to kill pests that hide on the trees and shrubs over the winter.
Check out the products of companies like Blacksmith Bioscience for more ideas.