Organic Pest Control Methods for Vegetable Gardens


It’s a fun and rewarding experience to have your own vegetable garden. It’s also a cost-effective way to produce healthy food at home, but this is only true if you can keep the plants alive and healthy until harvest time, and garden pests might not let this happen. If you’re looking for organic ways to control pests without unintended side effects, you’ve come to the right place.

To control pests organically, plant the right vegetables at the right time. To protect your garden against pests, use organic pesticides, DIY traps, and appropriate fencing. Beneficial bugs, poultry, rich soil, and harvesting early are other practical ideas to deter pests organically.

We’ll discuss each of these in more detail throughout the article, but some ways you can deter pests organically from your vegetable garden include:

  • Boosting your plants’ immune systems with rich soil and enough moisture
  • Planting various vegetables rather than only one kind
  • Using pest-repelling vegetables as companion plants
  • Rotating your plants’ spots every year
  • Covering up your vegetables with self-made or ready-made netting
  • Using homemade, organic sprays and traps

12 Organic Pest Control Methods for Your Home Vegetable Garden

Photo by Hannah Babiak

Keep Your Plants Healthy

Sick plants are natural pest attractors, as they produce chemical scents that pests can easily trace. Insects can identify weak plants by their odor and get to work on decomposing them. Their instinct is to remove dying plants and create room for more fresh and lively ones.

So, you should do your best to keep your plants as healthy as possible, not only because that’s what you need to do for healthy vegetables anyway, but also because that naturally helps to prevent pests. Here’s what you can do:

  • Test your soil twice a year to ensure it contains the right nutrients. You should also use a soil testing kit to determine the pH level of your soil because a soil that is too alkaline or too acidic can weaken your plant.
  • Make sure your vegetable plants are getting the right amounts of fertilizer and water. Sunlight and airflow are also important if you want healthy plants.
  • Use seaweed mulch to optimize your soil quality and supply your plants with enough humidity. This way, you’ll lower the chance of having sick plants.

Have a Sacrificial Plant

Now you know that pests are innately attracted to unhealthy plants. So, if you give them what they want, chances are they won’t invade your healthy plants.

The trick is to plant a few sacrificial plants and leave them without care or treatment. The impaired plants will lure insects and distract them from healthy ones. This trick works with aphids, whiteflies, and hornworms.

If you don’t want to give up any plants, you can simply grow more than you need. When you have plenty of fruits, you won’t mind it if a few fall victim to pests.

Grow Varieties of Crops to Diversify Your Risk of Pests

Healthy plants can also send signals for pests when in large quantities.

Pests tend to have favorite plants just the way we have favorite foods. When you grow tons of the same variety of plants and in one bed—also known as monoculture planting—the aroma will add up. The insects will notice that there’s a big batch of food waiting for them.

One solution to this problem is companion planting. In this scenario, you should grow some varieties in companion with others so that they can cover each other’s odors. For example, plant your marigolds next to peppers, your tomatoes next to borages, and your radishes next to cucumbers.

This way, you put the food they love next to the food they hate, instead of offering a full table of their preferred meal. This way, they can’t pick up on the scent, or they may lose their appetite due to the baffling smells of plant they find unappetizing.

Onions, garlic, and herbs are also great examples of companion plants. These vegetables are super odorous, so they blend with other scents and make your plants hard to recognize.

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

Other than that, pests are usually averse to herbs. So, when you grow mints and basils among your vegetable plants, they improve diversity and, at the same time, act as organic pest repellants.

Based on the pests invading your garden, you can pick the right plants to repel them. If you have trouble with leaf-footed bugs, for example, try hyacinth beans as a repellent. If you have vine borers in your garden, different interplant types of squashes, such as pumpkin, crookneck, butternut, or cucurbita mixta, can help prevent these bugs.

Sunflowers can reduce aphids’ activity, and borages can keep moths and hornworms away from your garden.

Check our post to learn about the best and worst companion plants for pepper plants.

Crop Rotation

Another mistake that gardeners tend to make is planting the same species in the same location season after season. Sticking with the same crops every year makes your harvest easy to spot for pests. Besides, once they dwell in that place, they’ll multiply each year, and it will be increasingly difficult to keep them at bay.

The best solution is to rotate your plants every year. If you planted potatoes in the southern edge of your garden last season, switch their position to the eastern side. The year after that, you can shift them back to the northern spot. Keep doing this to make sure the pests can’t get to your crops. This is also a good way to keep your soil and ground nutrient-rich and fertile.

Grow Your Plants During the Recommended Time of the Year

Certain types of pests are only active at certain times of the year. For example, slugs, maggots, and cutworms tend to plague gardens in the springtime. On the other hand, fruit flies prey on your fall harvest, and flea beetles feed mostly on summer plants.

The same goes for plants: not all of them grow all year round. If you plant vegetables off-season, they’ll be more vulnerable to pests, and they’ll be easy targets.

So, consider two factors when planting your vegetables: know the best growing season for that specific plant and avoid planting them when pests are most active, if possible.

Harvest Early

Studies show that insects have a stronger preference for ripe fruits. So, all you need is to outpace the invaders and harvest your crops before they’re fully ripe. Then, you can put them in a protected place until they ripen.

There are several ways to ripen fruits and/or vegetables off the plant, after they have been harvested. One of them is to place your vegetables next to apples or bananas. These fruits produce generous amounts of ethylene—a hormone that contributes to the ripening process of fruits and vegetables. Another way is to place your produce in paper bags which will also help to promote their ethylene production. Placing your harvested produce in sunlight and in warm places can also help with the production of ethylene.

You can also sell or eat your fruits while they’re still green. Of course, this approach doesn’t apply to all types of plants, but it is great for bananas, plums, mangos, apples, and grapes. Ensure your crops fall in the category of “safe to eat fruits” when they’re still immature before you consume them raw. Some unripe fruits have toxic properties or release harmful chemicals that may cause serious damage to your gastrointestinal tract.

Some crops are just hard to ripen when they’re off their plants. They’re also dangerous or impossible to eat when they’re still green. In these cases, you might have no choice but to wait until they fully ripen before you harvest them, but you can keep a close eye on them to make sure they are protected from pests.

Check on your produce every morning and harvest them as soon as they mature. If there are any overripe crops on the plant, pull them off and leave them on the ground. This way, you’ll both repel pests and help with composting, which in turn gives your soil a boost of nutrients.

Use Predator Bugs Around Your Home Garden

Photo by Nikhil Gangavane

Sometimes the best organic pest control method is to use nature against nature. And an excellent way to do so is to invite beneficial bugs to your garden.

Beneficial bugs are natural predators that help eradicate pests, the same way a cat catches a mouse. Their presence creates a balanced habitat in your field.

However, they don’t just land on your property by chance. You need to have the right nutrients, including carbohydrates and protein, in the soil before they’ll show up.

The existing pests on your field are a great source of protein. So, in most cases, you don’t have to do much. But to supply carbs, you should plant flowers that release carb-based nectars. A few good examples are sunflowers, lacy phacelia, yarrow, dill, lemon balm, Boltonia, cosmos, sweet alyssum, and angelica.

Of course, this approach takes some time to work. So, if you have an emergency pest problem, you can also buy these kinds of insects from online providers. It may cost you a few extra dollars, they might be a good investment in a pinch.

Also, remember that it’s a long-term investment. Once you release the insects in your garden and supply their nutrients, they’ll stick around for good.

Here’s a list of the insects you can, buy depending on your pest problem:

  • Ladybugs eat aphids, chinch bugs, potato beetles, and whiteflies
  • Braconid wasps prey on hornworms, aphids, and caterpillars
  • Hoverflies kill aphids
  • The parasitic braconid feasts on tomato hornworms and cabbage worms
  • Miniature wasps destroy caterpillars
  • Minute pirate bugs handle spider mites, caterpillars, and thrips

Raise Chickens and Ducks Near Your Garden

Raising chickens, ducks, and quails near your garden is also a great way of fighting off pests. They love to gobble up pests, mostly protein-rich insects such as crickets, termites, grasshoppers, slugs, and ticks.

These birds tend to excavate the ground while wandering around the garden. They can find and eat the existing larvae and unhatched fly eggs before they become destructive, which is handy if you’re dealing with fruit flies because they tend to grow under the soil.

You should use birds in your garden carefully, however. As helpful as they are, they can damage your harvest in different ways. Keep them away from the orchard while the plants are germinating while they are still fragile. The best place to use poultry is in a garden with more trees and fewer shrubs or sprouting seeds.

But if you do have delicate flowers, bushes, and sprouting plants, ducks are better alternatives to hens since they don’t drill under the soil as much, making them less destructive.

Remove Pests by Hand

Manually removing the pests is another way to minimize their access to your vegetable plants. As you walk down the garden, shake the infected plants to remove any sticking pests. Or increase the water pressure while watering the plants so that it washes the pests right off.

When insects are on the ground, they’re more likely to be hunted by birds and beneficial bugs.

Handpicking is also an easy, free, and practical way to remove large visible insects. But make sure you have gloves on before you touch the bugs, so that you don’t contaminate your skin or get bitten.

Create Physical Barriers

Photo by Alisonh29

A physical barrier such as netting, mesh covers, bags, and row covers can come in handy in protecting your vegetable plants from pests. They can keep out various pests from microscopic organisms to insects and animals.

Netting

Netting can be a valuable organic pest control method. Depending on the pore diameters, a net can guard against birds, fruit flies, and other smaller pests. You can cover the whole tree or wrap the net around the fruits one by one. There are several ways to make a net for your plants, but here’s a good example.

To net a shrub or plant bed, you will need some irrigation pr PVC tubes, four to six stakes to hold the tubes, and the right-size net made of the right material. A net that is too small might not cover the whole plant, while a net with holes that are too large cannot protect your plant against smaller insects.

Ensure the tubes are tall enough to cover your plants’ height and search for stakes that can easily pass through the hose.

Then, follow these steps:

  1. Cut the tubes to the dimensions you need.
  2. Anchor the stakes to the ground and make sure there’s at least one stake in each corner. If you want to put them on the sides, make sure they’re in parallel with each other. The stakes will serve as stands, so you should try to balance them against each other.
  3. Pick a hose and insert one end in the first stake. Then pass it above the plants and attach the other end to the front stake. Once done, you should end up with a cross-over framework.
  4. Spread the net over the framework and secure it with a few clamps or tapes.

Bag the Fruits

Netting the large fruit trees may be a little challenging and could get expensive. Bagging individual fruits is a good, cheaper alternative. While there are hundreds of ready-to-use options in the market like these Sukaly Mesh Garden Bags, you can also make a custom fruit protection bag.

Depending on the material, a netting bag may show varying results. Paper and cloth bags aren’t as efficient as fiberglass since they’re not strong enough to withstand the sharp teeth of a fruit bat or possum. Pick the right material for our garden based on the types of pests you’re trying to evade.

Fences

Mesh covers and fences can’t guard your harvest against insect infestation. However, they can protect newly sprouted plants and seedlings from larger invaders such as mice, squirrels, and rabbits.

You can also use metal cans or plastic containers as temporary alternatives. Just remember to remove the container’s bottom and top surfaces and use it as a barrier against cutworms and aggressive critters. Also, make sure you fasten the containers securely on the ground. Once your plant is mature enough to hold out the pests, you can take the container off.

Cutworm collars are another alternative. Pick a disposable coffee cup, discard the bottom, and cut the height until you get an ideal collar of two or three inches. Dig a small hole in the soil and around the seedling. Push the cup about one inch to the ground so that the cutworms and crawling pests can’t munch on the plant’s stems.

You can use this same organic pest control method for larger plants such as broccoli, cauliflowers, and the like. The only difference is that you should use larger containers instead of coffee cups and tape the ends together to make a collar-like shape.

Use Pest Traps

Although not very effective on their own, traps are good assistants to other organic pest control methods. They don’t get rid of pests but largely decrease their population by trapping the culprits.

Pheromone Traps

Pheromones are a kind of chemical that insects and animals produce to attract and lure their mates. They also use their pheromones to send signals when they find a new food source or when they’re in danger. As a response, other congeners will quickly show up as soon as they smell the scent.

Manufacturers have successfully replicated these natural chemicals and used them to make traps for these species.

All you need to do s to buy a pheromone dispenser—available in the form of microtubes, capsules, strips, and liquid vials—put it in a plastic container and hang it between trees. Make sure there are two or three holes on the container’s body so the insects can enter. Also, it’s better to attach the dispenser in line with the openings.

Buying the whole package is also an option. Pheromone-based funnel traps and water pan traps are available both in online and physical stores.

Not only does this reduce the number of pests, but it can also serve as a warning, letting you know if insects are settling in your area. As soon as the first critter gets in your trap, you know it’s time to apply other organic pest control methods, such as netting or screening your plants with row covers.

Remember that not all pheromone traps are effective for all insects. Each species releases a different type of pheromone, so you can’t attract all garden pests with one trap.

Sticky Traps

In addition to scents and chemicals, some insects are fond of specific colors. You can exploit this weakness to your advantage.

While there’s always an option to buy sticky traps like these Gideal Yellow Double Sided Sticky Traps, you can also make your own with a simple DIY trick.

First, find out which type of insects are active on your property and see what colors attract them.

Most insects—including aphids, whiteflies, leaf miner flies, thrips, winged mealybugs, fungus gnats, and psyllids—have a soft spot for yellow. But some species favor white or blue. Plant bugs, flea beetles, and cucumber beetles are among the first group, while red spheres and flower thrips are among the second.

Pick any stiff material with a flat surface, such as cardboard. Use some spray paint or regular paint to cover the cardboard. Once dried, cut the boards into smaller squares and cover them with a clingy wrap or plastic bags. Apply a layer of any sticky substance to the plastic to trap the insects.

Once you collect a few bugs with the trap, it’s time to remove the old plastic and replace it with a new one. This way, you won’t have to make a new trap from scratch as you can re-use the cardboards, and all you need is to renew the wrapping and adhesive substance.

Research has shown that sticky traps are less effective than pheromone traps, for the most part because it’s hard to keep the sheets clean and free of dust. When exposed to wind, rain, and dirt, these pieces can lose their adhesiveness and become less potent.

An excellent way to make sticky traps more effective is to use this method with the pheromone one.

Beer Traps

While previous traps capture flying creatures, this method helps entice and kill snails and slugs.

Put shallow buckets of beer between your plants, especially next to those with succulent foliage, such as lettuce, marigolds, strawberries, basil, dahlia, and cabbage. The smell of the beer will attract these creatures in to the buckets where they will get stuck and drown.

Organic Pest Sprays

Chemical pesticides are sometimes too strong and can harm your healthy greens as well as the pests. They can also kill off the beneficial bugs in addition to the invading ones.

They can markedly reduce earthworm activity, for example, and, therefore, weaken your soil. As a result, your plants are even more vulnerable to disease, and their upcoming seeds are less likely to grow well.

On the other hand, organic pesticides are nontoxic substances that won’t harm you, your plants, or the environment. They’re safe to use around pets and children and usually cause no trouble if they come into contact with your skin or respiratory system.

You can either buy or make your organic insecticide. Most of these sprays include natural elements such as salt, pepper, garlic, or mineral oils.

If applied directly to the insects, these solutions can have a considerable effect. Just remember that they won’t work as effectively in harsh weather conditions, because any sort of natural flow, like a mild rain or a spring wind, can easily wash them away. So, you have to apply them more frequently than chemical pesticides.

Most importantly, only use this organic pest control method as a last resort. Although organic options are less harmful than artificial pesticides, they may still kill some beneficial bugs.

More often than not, planting techniques and manual methods work just fine to get rid of the pests, but if you still find them out of control, you can consider using an organic DIY pesticide.

How to Make DIY Oil Sprays

Oil sprays can be both preventative and corrective solutions to fight off your garden’s pests. Mix two cups of neem oil or any essential oil with a half cup of dish soap and shake them well in a bottle until they’re fully mixed.

Use one tablespoon of this solution per liter of water, and spray all over the affected plants using a spray bottle or spray hose.

This solution can be effective for pests like potato beetles, aphids, mites, whiteflies, thrips, caterpillars, and leaf miners. However, depending on the oil you use, you’ll get different results for each species.

Rosemary, lavender, and lemongrass oils make a massive difference in repelling flies, fleas, mosquitoes, and insect larvae. Hyssop, cedarwood, pine, and orange oils do an excellent job with snails and slugs.

If you have pests like mice, squirrels, or fungus, go for peppermint or clove oils. These essential oils have a strong fragrance and can deter such pests.

Here are a few tips to consider when you use organic pesticides on your plants:

  • Test the spray on a small area of one plant to ensure it’s not allergic. Wait about two days and if you don’t see any sign of discoloration, apply to the rest of the leaves.
  • Only apply the spray to areas with substantial damage or active pests and leave the unaffected areas untouched.
  • Start spraying early in the morning while the pests aren’t around.
  • To prevent burning the leaves, don’t spray plants that have signs of water deficiency.

Closing Thoughts

Pest damage is a serious concern with home gardeners. If left unattended, these seemingly negligible creatures can ruin a whole heap of produce before you even know it. But there are many organic pest control methods to overcome this problem.

Here’s a quick recap of organic ways to protect your home vegetable garden from pests:

  • Avoid monocultures
  • Plant herbs, onions, and garlic in your garden
  • Enrich your soil to address plant deficiencies
  • Create a physical shield around your plants or individual fruits
  • Remove pests by shaking the tree or using water pressure.
  • Kill or trap pests with traps or organic pesticides
  • Use predator animals such as bugs and birds

Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.

Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.

Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.

Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.

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Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

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