Natural Pest & Weed Control

by Catherine Haug

Today’s savvy gardeners are looking for less toxic ways to control pests in the garden, lawn, and landscaping. Not only are chemical pesticides toxic to humans and pets, but also to our water sources and environment. This post addresses good gardening practices to help your plants fed off insects and diseases, rather than application of substances. [See Tips: Natural Pest Control in the Garden for practical substances]

The cost of industrial chemicals in your garden

Did you realize that the industrial chemical industry, including pesticides and fertilizers,  is the largest consumer of energy production from all sources at 32% — even more than automobiles and the rest of the transportation sector at 29%? (2)  [NOTE:  this industry also includes pharmaceuticals, artificial processed foods, synthetic fibers, paints and finishes, engineered building products, etc.].

We are learning that using fossil fuels for energy production pollutes our atmosphere with carbon dioxide and leads to global climate change. The burning of oil, coal and natural gas provided 80% of all energy sources in 2007.(2)

It’s important to note that the remaining 20% of energy sources is also dependent upon fossil fuels to produce the energy and acquire the materials required to make the energy device.  This includes nuclear plants, windmills and solar panels.(2)

Not to mention all the other toxins released by burning these fuels, including carcinogens, mercury and other toxic heavy metals, which then end up on our soil and water supplies.

The cost of sustainable food production

Remember that agricultural humankind produced (or hunted) ALL foods nearly without the use of industrial chemicals prior to the 20th century, and if we want to sustain the life of our planet, not to mention humans, we must do so again.  We must also accept that this comes with a cost, either in dollars or sweat, because sustainable food production is labor intensive. Sustainably produced foods could cost more at the grocery.

Many families are turning to raising their own fruits and veggies, to offset this higher monetary cost with their own labor.  To do so sustainably requires the use of natural remedies for the health of your garden and landscape.  Fortunately, the list of available treatments is growing.

Now there’s “a fix for everything from poor soil and weeds, to insects and disease. Environmentally friendly materials are being developed from seaweed, soap, sand, gravel, garlic, corn, castor beans, canola oil, marigolds, trees, fish, eggs, expanded slate, landscape waste and other substances.”(1)

Good Gardening Practices: Simple actions to help plants fend off pests and diseases

1. Start with healthy soil

Good drainage, aeration and nutrients are the goals.  Compost is your best friend in the garden, because it provides all of these; other amendments may also be necessary, especially in heavy clay soil.  “Compost will condition the least hospitable clay soils and help them bind nutrients to deliver them to the plants instead of running off into nearby streams.  See Eartheasy: compost for more.”(1)

See also articles on this site: Composting: Kitchen & Yard ScrapsComposting: Yard Waste, and Composting: Author wanted.

2. Choose plants appropriate for your area

Depending on whether you live in a dry, arid area, or have hot, humid summers, you will want to choose different plants for your landscaping and gardening needs. Similarly, the amount of available light  and type of soil should affect your plant choices.  Refer to your local extension service for more information (see below for links).

3. Keep your yard and garden clean

This is very important to avoid disease and insect problems.  Cut or pull diseased plants and don’t put them in your compost!  If your shrubs have black spot or other fungal diseases, keep the ground clear of fallen leaves to avoid contaminating the soil with the fungus.

Get rid of debris in the yard, such as old lumber, which can harbor disease or provide havens for pests such as slugs and rodents.

NOTE:  Don’t be too much of a garden neatnik.  Pollinating bees nest in old plant material, such as dead stalks or dead trees. See On Gardening (from May 2, 2009 DIL), subheading “Home gardeners can help save the bees.”

4. Keep track of your gardening and landscaping experiences

Keep a gardener’s journal, either on paper, or as a blog, logging: plantings, germinations, unusual weather events, harvest dates and yields, diseases and pests, or anything else of note.  You never know when this information will come in handy in a future year.

“Check with your local extension service on diseases and insects that might harm your plants (see below for links).

Don’t use any product universally or haphazardly.  many are effective only at a particular life stage, and some are specific to certain plats or pests.” (1)

5. Practice crop rotation

There are as many different crop rotation systems as there are gardens.

Cabbage Family: some people grow brassica crops only during certain times of the year (i.e. fall only), others grow them almost year round, but make sure that never grow more than one brassica crop in any given garden plot during that year. Almost any rotation system that you can dream up will help keep the populations of cabbage moths lower than they would be if you didn’t practice crop rotation. (4)

Onion Family: Don’t plant members of the onion family (onion, garlic, leek, shallots) in the same bed from which you have just harvested a garlic crop, as they are all subject to the same disease problems.  Allow at least two years before planting in the same spot. Longer rotations help to reduce disease problems.(5)

I’m only beginning to discover these rotation recommendations, so stay tuned…

6. Use natural products

NOTE:  be careful in application of any pesticides, including natural ones, as they can kill or harm our pollinating bees. See On Gardening (from May 2, 2009 DIL), subheading “Home gardeners can help save the bees.”

Many natural products are available at many garden centers or gardening supplies catalogues. Natural products include hot peppers, diatomaceous earth, beer, neem oil, canola oil, casor oil, spinosad and corn gluten.

I moved the tips for slugs; insects, mites and fungi;  moles and voles; weeds. Refer to Tips: Natural Pest Control in the Garden

7. Encourage friendly spiders and insects

Not all bugs are pests!  Many help not only to pollinate, but also to control pests in your home and garden.

Attract bugs that are enemies of caterpillars (worms): ground beetles, various wasps, spiders, lacewings and various other insect. Your job is to help nature take its course by providing an insecticide-free home with a diversity of different plants for these “worm-eaters.”(4)

8. Remove older, “spent” plants from your garden

For example, cabbage family: cabbage worms “can overwinter (as adults or pupae, depending on the species) on the debris left over from previous brassica crops. Therefore, by removing your brassica plants from your garden when they wane, you will be interrupting the cabbage worm’s lifecycle by depriving them of a home. So, move those old plants out of there and compost ’em!” (4)

MSU and County Extension Links


  1. “Giving pests a gentle push out of the family garden,” by Joel M. Lerner, special to Washington Post
  2. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
  3. The Great Conola, by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD
  4. Blue Horizon Farm
  5. Boundary Garlic Farm: Growing Garlic

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