Keep Critters Away the Natural Way: Natural Insect Control for Gardens

Whether it is your first garden, or the latest in a string of many, nothing is more disconcerting than watching creepy crawlers turn your dreams of a verdant paradise into an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Natural insect control for gardens is an option, and this natural way of eliminating garden pests can happily coexist with a busy schedule and a lazy approach to gardening.

Like many other gardeners, I started off by using synthetic fertilizers and harsh insecticides early on in my gardening journey. That all changed when I realized I wanted to see more bug diversity in my garden. So I stopped using sprays and chemicals to kill bad bugs that had the unintended consequence of wiping out beneficial bugs in the garden.

Start a bug war.

Ladybug Larva on a Leaf

Ladybug larva via Wikimedia Commons

Soon after I stopped spraying for aphids, ladybugs starting arriving and taking care of these bugs for me. At the larva stage, ladybugs are voracious eaters of aphids. Learn to identify ladybug larva so you don’t accidentally kill any.

Similarly, lacewing bugs are killers of aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers and whiteflies.

If you’re growing tomatoes, you’re probably all too familiar with hornworms and the damage they can do to your plants in a single weekend. Instead of spraying for hornworms, let parasitic wasps do the dirty work for you.

Here’s a video I shot in my garden. In it I identify the caterpillar as a “tomato hornworm” but it is a tobacco hornworm, but the information still applies. It takes some time, but when you allow for the natural cycle of the parasitic wasp to unfurl, you’ll see that hornworms will be less of an issue on your tomato and ornamental tobacco plants.

Your biggest allies in the war on insects in your garden are other insects. It will take time to create that perfect balance of beneficial insects and garden pests, but it is possible and requires little work.

The power of flowers in natural insect control for gardens.

For years, many gardeners have espoused the natural abilities of certain flowers to repel and combat insects in the garden. How much is old wives’ tale and how much is science is up for debate.

Yellow Nasturtium Flowers

Nasturtiums via Ramon Gonzalez

  • Marigolds (Tagetes sp.) are said to deter whitefly and repel nematodes that damage plants in the brassica family, like broccoli and cabbage, and keep away root nematodes. But there are many varieties and the modern marigolds you pick up at the garden center are usually bred for their looks, and not the scent that is suppose to be such a good repellent. Look for the heirloom varieties of French and Mexican marigolds, if you can’t find them locally, grow them from seed from an heirloom seed source like Seed Savers Exchange.
  • Pyrethrum is an insecticide derived from chrysanthemums. White-flowering chrysanthemums are credited with repelling Japanese beetles.
  • Dill is suppose to ward off aphids and spider mites.
  • Garlic is reported to work against aphids, Japanese beetles, snails and a host of other annoying garden insects.
  • And nasturtiums are given credit for fighting off whiteflies, cucumber beetles and wooly aphids. Although, in my garden I find that they are more of a trap crop. That is to say they are really good at attracting aphids and keeping them off your “good” plants.

Many of the plants you’ll read about online and in garden books that act as a natural insect control for gardens are really insect magnets — and that’s a good thing because a balance of predators and pests is needed to keep your plants growing happy and healthy.

How do you manage insects in your garden in a natural way?

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

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