Pest control is an important aspect of vegetable gardening, especially in Florida. Our warm temperatures and long growing seasons make gardening possible year-round. Unfortunately, the same climate also provides the ideal conditions for insects to continually thrive. To combat plant pests, every gardener needs an arsenal of knowledge and a few trusty products.
Pesticides used in commercial farming contain harsh toxins that leave chemical residue on your vegetables and cause harm to our bodies and the environment. Luckily, there are several organic pest control methods that are equally effective against the hungry insects feasting on your plants. Not only are these homemade applications a safer choice, they’re also more affordable.
One of the simplest organic pest controls is an insecticidal soap solution. To make this at home, just add 5 tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap or dish soap to 1 gallon of water, and add to a spray bottle. Spray on top and bottom of foliage.
This mixture works well on soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, lacebugs, mealybugs, mites, leaf hoppers, spider mites, and whiteflies. Insecticidal soap can be used in the garden over time without concern that pests will adapt to it.
Neem oil is a broad-spectrum insecticide made from the seed of the neem tree. The tree itself, which is native to India, has a natural defense against many insects. The seeds of this tree are crushed and the oil is extracted to be used on other plants. It is used worldwide to repel insects, such as ants, aphids, beetles, caterpillars, cockroaches, houseflies, leafminers, mealy bugs, nematodes, snails, termites. It is also effective against fungus and powdery mildew, which is a year-round threat due to Florida’s high humidity.
Out of all the organic pest controls I mention, this is the one I use the most, because it is effective against so many pests. Aphids and whiteflies are the two biggest pests in my garden, and neem oil works wonders to eradicate them without harming the plant or beneficial insects. Neem oil is very strong, so it’s important to dilute it with water before application.
Create a homemade neem oil spray using 1 tablespoon of neem oil per gallon of water. Pour mixture into spray bottle, and apply to all foliage. Whiteflies and aphids are usually found in thick crowds on the undersides of leaves, so make sure to spray the top and bottom of each leaf.
To avoid buring the foliage, apply neem oil in the morning or evening. Repeat application at least every 5 days for prevention. If your plant is infested with aphids or whiteflies, apply mixture every other day until the infestation is under control.
Baking soda can be used to prevent powdery mildew, a fungal disease that coats plant leaves and stems with a with powder-like substance. This is one of the most common plant problems, because it thrives in areas of high humidity aka Florida! Cucumbers, all types of squash, lilacs and roses are particularly susceptible.
The white coating stresses and weakens the plant as it spreads, making it hard for photosynthesis to occur. Baking soda is highly effective as a preventative measure against powdery mildew. However, it offers minimal benefits after your plants become infected. Regardless of the treatment, it is difficult for any plant to recover from powdery mildew once they become infected, so preventative measures are key. Spraying plants weekly with the baking soda mixture below can greatly reduce the occurrence of powdery mildew in your garden.
Mix together the following ingredients and apply to foliage. Do not store unused mixture.
- 1 tablespoon of baking soda
- ½ teaspoon of liquid soap
- 1 gallon of water
Got Milk? Yep, milk. I know it sounds nutty, but milk has been used as an anti-fungal spray for many years, specifically against powdery mildew. Despite taking the proper preventative measures, a host of fungal diseases can move in when weather conditions are humid. Milk doesn’t kill the mildew, but it does slow the spread of it. The reasoning behind milk’s effectiveness against powdery mildew is kind of a mystery. It is believed that the proteins in milk have antiseptic-like qualities when exposed to sunlight. Almost all pest control applications should be applied in the early morning or late evening to prevent the foliage from burning. However, in order for the milk solution to be effective, it should be applied in the bright sun.
To make the milk solution, simply dilute 1 part milk with 9 parts water and a squirt of dish soap. Spray the mixture on both sides of the leaves until the solution is dripping and repeat application every 7-10 days. It does not matter if the milk you use is skim or whole because it is the protein rather than the fat content that is working on your behalf. For plants that are really struggling, increase the milk to water ratio to half and half. If a plant becomes too far gone, it’s best to pull it out before the disease spreads to other plants in your garden.
FOOD GRADE (DE) DIATOMACEOUS EARTH
DIY GARLIC & PEPPER SPRAY
A couple of other remedies commonly used are garlic spray and hot pepper spray. I found a recipe that combines the 2 into one lethal mixture. The natural chemicals within the garlic and pepper plants act as a guard against many pests. The uses for this natural pest control are endless. It will kill ants, aphids, caterpillars and other bugs. With that in mind, you have to be careful to avoid spraying beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, bees and other garden friends.
- 2-3 Garlic Bulbs (6-10 cloves per bulb)
- 6 large or 12 smaller hot chilli peppers, any variety will do.
- 1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
- 3 squirts of Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap
- 7 cups Water (2-3 cups in blender, and add rest to mixture after blending.)
- Put all ingredients into a blender and blend on high.
- Strain through cheese cloth or coffee filter.
- Pour what you need into a spray bottle for use and store the rest in well labelled jars with lids on.
- Experiment with it if necessary and check for results or any damage to young plants.This mixture needs to be re-sprayed frequently, such as after rain and dew.
- It’s best to spray every few days until there’s no sign of pests, then about every week to 10 days for prevention.
Baicllus Thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil-borne bacterium that acts as a natural pesticide. It produces a crystal protein, which is toxic to caterpillars, such as the pesky tomato hornworm or corn earworm. When sprayed on the undersides of leaves, the protein is ingested by the caterpillar larvae as they continue to munch on the plant’s leaves. The digestive system of the caterpillar shuts down after eating the sprayed leaves and the insect will die. This form of organic pest control is only used to target caterpillars. It can affect beneficial caterpillars, such as butterflies, so it is really a worse case scenario product. The good news is that bees, adult butterflies and other beneficial bugs are safe.
YELLOW STICKY TRAPS
Hang Sticky Traps nearby plants to kill whiteflies and aphids. The bright yellow attracts these insects and they get stuck on the sticky surface. Made of environmentally friendly materials, this form of pest control is non-toxic and reduces the use of all chemical applications.
These methods are effective and environmentally friendly ways to control the pests in your garden. Natural pest control is less expensive than buying and applying pesticides, and it’s safer for your garden, your health, our wildlife and our planet. Put down the Round Up and back away from the Sevin. Those pesticides kill beneficial bacteria and deplete the soil of nutrients, creating an unhealthy environment. Plants become vulnerable to disease without any biological means of protecting themselves. Contact with these chemicals has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, fertility issues and much more. Another important reason to use organic pest controls is to protect beneficial insects. A healthy garden is a diverse place, filled with bees, butterflies, insects, flowers, and, of course, yummy vegetables. Knowing about the pests in your garden and how to best control them is the key to success.