A Glossary of Natural Garden Pest Control Solutions

Faced with a pest problem? Learn a three-tiered approach to natural garden pest control: attract beneficial insects, employ effective physical pest controls such as handpicking and row covers, and use organic pesticides if needed.

  • Garden Pest Control Illustration
    Place birdhouses and simple water features around your garden to invite in natural predators. Keep chickens near your garden to feed them handpicked pests. They can also work over beds at season’s end. Keep out slugs by laying out copper stripping and use row cover to protect cabbage-family crops.
    Illustration by Linda Cook
  • Combat Corn Earworms Illustration
    Use a squeeze bottle to squirt Bt or olive oil onto the tips of corn to prevent corn earworm damage.
    Illustration by Linda Cook
  • Cucumber Trellis Pest Control
    Snare cucumber beetles by hanging a couple of yellow sticky traps on your cucumber trellis.
    Illustration by Linda Cook
  • Cutworm Collar Illustration
    Toilet paper rolls make excellent collars to protect seedlings from cutworm damage.
    Illustration by Linda Cook

  • Garden Pest Control Illustration
  • Combat Corn Earworms Illustration
  • Cucumber Trellis Pest Control
  • Cutworm Collar Illustration

An abundance of buzzing, hopping, fluttering and crawling insects is a trademark of any healthy organic garden. This diversity means insects that might feed on your crops are likely to be kept in check by their enemies. In small numbers, pests simply provide food for birds and beneficial insects, and if your soil and crops are healthy, plants fend off the pressure easily. Only when pest populations become excessive do gardeners need to step in to restore balance to keep their gardens thriving.

A good overarching mantra to guide you in your natural garden pest control efforts can be summed up in two words: Look closely. Examine your plants regularly, noting what kinds of insects you see. Observe whether you see just a few of a particular kind of insect or whether populations are growing, and look up pictures of what you see so you know which are beneficial and which are detrimental. (For pictures of and detailed information about beneficial and pest insects, see our Organic Pest Control Series.)

Refer to this glossary to preemptively ward off pests and, if problems do crop up, to target each complication with the best organic pest control solutions. We’ve separated this glossary into sections that present a three-pronged system of organic pest control: First, attract a diversity of beneficial insects by interplanting flowers and herbs — especially those that produce nectar from numerous small florets, such as mints and sweet alyssum. Second, put a variety of physical controls in place when pests get out of check or are known to be troublesome in your area (see the Top 15 Worst Garden Pests chart). Last, if needed, bring in organic insecticide reinforcements. The products listed in this glossary all have been approved by the U.S. National Organic Program.

Pest-Eating Beneficial Insects

The following insects feed on other insects, helping prevent pest species from doing more than minor damage to your crops.

Assassin bug. These 1-inch-long predatory bugs have shield-shaped backs and are active pest hunters. Larvae and adults feed on aphids, caterpillars, Colorado potato beetles, insect eggs and more. Assassin bugs are among the few natural predators that help control Mexican bean beetles.

Braconid wasp. North America is home to nearly 2,000 species of these non-stinging wasps. Adults are less than a half-inch long, and they lay eggs inside or on host insects; the maggot-like larvae feed on their prey from inside. Braconids lay eggs on numerous pests, such as aphids, caterpillars (including cabbageworms and tomato hornworms), and leaf miners.

7/2/2014 7:19:28 PM

GREGW, I control deer by using fruit tree netting as a row cover. The deer haven't been back since putting it on. I use stakes and long poles laid on the netting edges to fully protect the crop. It would probably work for rabbits too. I didn't see toads as a slug control method. I have just a couple of small goldfish ponds that keep the toads and tree frog population thriving in my garden. I have not seen a slug in my garden in years. Is there a downside to toads that they aren't listed here?

7/2/2014 11:37:32 AM

GREGW, there is a commercial product available that is supposed to repel deer and rabbits. It is made from rotten eggs and cayenne peppers. There are several homemade variants of it available online and I think I saw an article in Mother Earth a few years back.

6/14/2014 7:48:36 AM

I didn't see anything about rabbit control. Anyone have any ideas on that ? I've read that Irish Spring soap works.Has anyone ever tried that?

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