The more we discover about synthetic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides the more we learn how unhealthy they are for the environment and the people and animals that live in it. Pesticides can create more problems than they solve.
Spraying garden chemicals to get rid of unwanted pests and weeds not only cause health risks, they often aren't even that effective. Initially, they will kill off a lot of pests, but eventually these pests can develop resistance to the pesticide and come back even stronger. Another problem is the side effects many synthetic pesticides can have on unintended targets (think of DDT and birds).
The best plan is to avoid the need to use pest control in the first place by starting with healthy fertile soil, matching your plants to the soil type, ensuring proper sunlight levels and watering conditions, and using appropriate organic fertilization and pruning, when necessary. But, if that doesn't work there are many alternatives to chemical pesticides that can reduce pests while leaving a healthy environment for your plants, pets and family.
Barriers and repellents help keep pests out of the garden. They can act like a wall preventing crawling insects from accessing your home or vegetables. For example, by planting carrots in toilet paper rolls cutworms can't get to them. Plants can provide a living barrier to insects, too. Peppermint, spearmint and pennyroyal naturally deter aphids and ants, so plant them throughout your garden and these pests will stay away.
Simmering cedar twigs in water and then pouring the (cooled) water over plants will deter cutworms, corn earworms and other pests. Snails won't cross a line of lime, just as ants avoid cayenne pepper or iron phosphate -- a natural inorganic material widely used as a nutritional supplement -- keeps slugs at bay.
In addition to the many "do it yourself" pest remedies, you can purchase organic pest control products that work on just about anything lurking around the garden or home.
Lady beetles, lacewings and preying mantises are but a few of the beneficial insects that will prey on the insect pests you don't want. These "good" bugs can be lured into the garden with attractive habitat (food, shelter and water) or they can be purchased and released into the garden -- you'll still need a healthy habitat for them to survive.
There are many reasons to introduce beneficial bugs into your garden. Over the long term, they are safer and more effective than chemicals, but you'll need to do a little research first to determine what your specific pest problem is and which beneficial insects to enlist to help. Luckily, the Internet provides a wealth of resources, as
does your local extension service.
Biological Pest Control
Based on highly specific, naturally occurring insect diseases caused by protozoa, bacteria, fungi and viruses, biological pest controls are effective against their target insects but are nontoxic to humans, pets, wildlife and beneficial insects. They are also less likely to build pest resistance than chemical pesticides and they break down quickly in the environment.
One of the better-known biological pesticides is Bacillus thuringiensis, which is often used against leaf and needle feeding caterpillars. This bacterium is found naturally in soils around the world and paralyzes the digestive tracts of the insects that eat it.
Spinosad is an insecticide derived from the bacteria Saccharopolyspora spinosa and can be used as an alternative to malathion sprays. Spinosad has been found to kill medflies, but not the predators that eat them, and it is approved for use on food crops. It also helps control thrips, caterpillars, leafminers, fruit flies, borers, and much more.
A third (of many) biological pest controls is milky spore powder which targets the white grubs of Japanese beetles. When the grubs come to the surface of the lawn to feed (usually July or August) they ingest the bacteria. These milky spores germinate and multiply inside the grub, killing it.