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Organic Pest Control That Really Works

You may be reading this post because you are looking for a quick fix to a pest problem you are facing in the garden. There are organic pest control solutions that really work (I list them below).

It is important to understand the importance of healthy soil and plants as it relates to common pests in the garden. Healthy plants and soil are the best defense against pests. Pests often choose plants that are weakened in some way.

Before you decide which action to take, read through these 8 tips for effective organic pest control and prevention in the garden.

Organic Pest Control That Really Works

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8 Tips for Organic Pest Control and Prevention

Effective organic pest control tip #1: Focus on healthy soil

Organic Pest Control That Really Works

Healthy plants in soil rich in organic matter and nutrients, watered correctly with plenty of sunlight and airflow, are much less susceptible to pests.

In contrast, sickly plants struggling in depleted soil treated with chemical fertilizers are much more likely to have pests. 

It’s important to have your soil tested at least once a year to determine soil fertility and pH. When the nutrient levels and soil pH are correct, this prevents stress which then reduces pest problems. 

A soil test can determine the health of your soil. This is the soil test kit I use. It’s very simple to use.

Effective organic pest control tip #2: Keep your garden clean

Organic Pest Control That Really Works

Remove dead leaves, fallen fruit, and other debris that provide refuge for pests. This will help prevent major infestations. Remove and throw away infested plants; don’t add them to your compost pile.

Effective organic pest control tip #3: Keep plants healthy

Organic Pest Control That Really Works
Powdery mildew on squash leaf

Effective organic pest control tip #4: Enlist Mother Nature’s help

  • Provide shelter for natural predators: lizards, toads, ducks, chickens, birds, batsbirds, ducks. 
  • Let herbs and vegetables go to flower. 
  • Attract and learn to identify beneficial insects such as ladybugs, praying mantis, hoverflies, lacewings, tachinid flies, and dragonflies. 
  • Stop using pesticides; they kill the good and the bad.

Effective organic pest control tip #5: Spend time in your garden each day

Effective organic pest control tip #5: Spend time in your garden each day
Grape-Leaf Skeletonizer eggs on the back of a grape leaf

Notice small problems before they become big problems. Look for pests early in the morning, as pests are less active and easier to hand-pick. If you see an adult pest, look for its eggs on undersides of leaves.

Effective organic pest control tip #6: Use crop placement to your advantage by utilizing different plant methods

Effective organic pest control tip #8: Consider pulling heavily-infected plants
  • Crop rotation – Avoid planting the same plant in the same location two seasons in a row.
  • Companion planting – Plants such as marigold, bee balm, dill, and nasturtium are common companion plants to help prevent pests.
  • Polyculture – Interplanting different types of plants in beds makes it more difficult for pests to find preferred plants.

Read this post, “5 Tips for Successful Companion Planting,” for more detail about these topics.

Effective organic pest control tip #7: Be patient and start with the least invasive methods

Effective organic pest control tip #8: Consider pulling heavily-infected plants
Pill bugs are attracted to citrus

Demonstrate patience and use any method with a light hand. All products, even organic ones, may kill unintended insects. Follow the dilution and application instructions exactly. Organic controls used incorrectly or in too high concentrations can be as dangerous as chemicals.

Effective organic pest control tip #8: Consider pulling heavily-infected plants

Effective organic pest control tip #8: Consider pulling heavily-infected plants
Squash bugs

A plant completely overrun with squash bugs may have reached the end of its life cycle. Remove and dispose of the plant (and its residents) rather than waging a losing battle only to have the bugs spread throughout your garden.

Common garden pests (see chart below for treatments)

Common garden pests and their organic treatments

The chart below lists methods that work for organic pest control in the garden. Begin with the least invasive and be patient. You will probably need to treat more than once. (Directions for the various treatments are found at the bottom of this article.)

AphidsDo nothing; attract beneficials; water spray; garlic spray; prune severely infected leaves and plants; horticultural oilinsecticidal soapBeneficial insects to look for: green lacewings, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, minute pirate bugs, Aphidius wasp.
Cabbage Worms/ Cabbage LoopersRow covers; attract beneficials (lacewings, lady bugs, wasps); handpick; Bt.
Corn EarwormsAttract beneficials (praying mantis); wasps; Btbeneficial nematodes; horticultural oil; garlic spray.
Cutworms Rigid collars; diatomaceous earth; Bt
Flea BeetlesRow covers; plant radishes as a trap crop; insecticidal soap
Leaf-footed BugsHandpick; check undersides of leaves for eggs. 
Mites (Spider)Attract beneficials; spray with water; cut off and dispose of infested leaves; insecticidal soaphorticultural oil. Heavily infected leaves are stippled with yellow. The mites thrive in dry, dusty conditions. Keep plants clean; spray with water every few days to keep numbers in check. Clean up fallen infected leaves. Quarantine new plants to prevent accidental infestation. Beneficials to look for: predatory mites. 
Pill Bugs (harmful if found in large numbers)Good garden sanitation; handpick; beer traps; citrus traps; board traps; diatomaceous earth.
Slugs, SnailsEncourage natural predators; handpick (easiest at night); chickens; ducks; beer traps; citrus traps; board traps; diatomaceous earth. Natural predators to look for: beetles, fireflies, toads.
Squash BugsGrow resistant varieties; garlic spray (early and often); beneficial nematodes; crop rotation; row covers.
Squash Vine BorersAttract beneficials (lacewings, lady bugs, praying mantis); water spray; yellow sticky trapsdiatomaceous earthgarlic sprayinsecticidal soap.
ThripsEncourage beneficial (wasps); handpick; (use a UV flashlight to find them at night; row coversBt (must apply when they are small).
Tomato HornwormsEncourage beneficials (wasps); handpick; (use a UV flashlight to find them at night; row coversBt (must apply when they are small).
WhitefliesAttract beneficials (lacewings, ladybugs, praying mantis); water spray; yellow sticky trapgarlic sprayinsecticidal soaphorticultural oil.

Organic pest control methods

How to use each organic pest control method (listed from least invasive to most invasive)

Organic Pest Control Methods Directions for Use
Do nothing
  • Observe plants each day; healthy plants can often tolerate a little damage with no ill effects.
Row covers
  • Apply right after planting. 
  • Remove covers each morning for 2-3 hours when blossoms appear to allow for pollination. 
  • Leave on plants for the season or remove once the plant is large enough to tolerate a little damage, or pests are not an issue. 
Rigid collars
  • Place around the stem of young seedlings to protect from cutworms and other pests. 
  • Use an empty paper towel roll and cut desired length.
  • Bury collar 2 inches below the soil, and stand up around the stem 3-4 inches above the soil. 
Remove affected leaves
  • Cut off and dispose of the worst infected leaves. 
  • Do not compost.
Beneficial nematodes
  • Biological control. 
  • Sprayed into the soil.
  • The nematodes feed on soft-bodied soil-borne pests, but do not affect earthworms. 
Yellow sticky traps
  • Attach the trap near infected plants. 
  • Replace often if needed. 
  • This method is often enough to disrupt the life cycle of white flies without further methods. 
Beer traps, citrus traps, board traps
  • Set a shallow container (such as a pie plate) with rim flush to ground; fill with beer. 
  • Cut fruit/citrus in half and place on soil. 
  • Place boards around the garden. 
  • Check traps each day and collect the hiding pests. 
  • Hunt early in the morning as pests are less active. 
  • If an adult is spotted, check undersides of leaves for eggs and larvae, and remove.
Garlic spray
  • Foliar spray. Repels pests rather than killing. 
  • Spray on plants before pests arrive for best effect.
Water spray
  • Spray off affected parts of the plant with a stream of water. 
  • Do this early in the morning, so plant leaves have time to dry. Wet leaves encourage disease.

Diatomaceous Earth

  • Rough texture injures skin of soft-bodied insects. 
  • Apply 2 inch barriers around plants or groups of plants. 
  • Reapply after rain.
Horticultural oil
  • Foliar spray. Not toxic on its own; relies on suffocation to kill insects. 
  • Often applied when trees and shrubs are dormant (without leaves). 
  • Apply when temperatures are below 80℉.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
  • Foliar spray. Biological control. 
  • When ingested by caterpillars, it paralyzes the stomach, causing death. 
  • Does not discriminate between pests and other caterpillars. 
  • Use only as needed on affected plants. 
Insecticidal soap
  • Foliar spray. Biodegradable soap that damages cell membranes is most effective on soft-bodied pests. 
  • Apply early in the morning. 
  • Needs contact with insects to kill them. 
  • Once soap dries, rinse off leaves to prevent sunburn in plants. 
  • Not harmful to most beneficial insects. 
Neem oil  (I have not found this to be an effective solution)
  • Foliar spray or soil drench. 
  • Derived from seeds of neem trees. Cold pressed 100% neem oil will contain higher levels of azadirachtin (the component that is harmful to insects). 
  • Blocks progression of life cycle of pest; loss of appetite. 
  • It may harm bees; do not spray on flowers. Use only where needed

If this post about organic pest control methods that really work was helpful, please share it:

Cindy Handrick

Sunday 3rd of July 2022

What would you suggest I use for ants?

Yvette Smith

Tuesday 5th of April 2022

I have only one bed that something is eating my flower seedlings. How and what should I do?