Organic Pest Control

Japanese Beetles - Adult Lawn Grubs
Japanese Beetles - Adult Lawn Grubs

Insecticidal Soap

Insecticidal soap: sounds like bad news for bugs, right?

These soaps are used in gardens and landscapes against bugs like aphids, spider mites, and scale crawlers.

Insecticidal soap is very safe and effective; they are basically a more refined version of regular liquid soap.

However, using household soaps can damage plants, so make sure you're using insecticidal soap specially designed for pesticide applications. It's widely available, even online.

Pyrethrum (Insect Powder)

Pyrethrum is made from, of all things, chrysanthemum flowers. It is a mixture of compounds called pyrethrins and cinerins, which are toxic to bugs. How they figured that out is a topic for another article, but it works. Used as a powder, pyrethrum is very safe (except for the bugs) and effective. Used alone or in conjunction with other natural compounds, it works to control a wide variety of garden pests. Pyrethrum powder is also widely available at garden centers, or online

It's important to distinguish between natural pyrethrum powder and Permethrin insecticides. Permethrin is a man-made chemical substance based on pyrhethrum; it is also used for landscape pest control and has a relatively low toxicity, but fatal to cats and other animals. Stick with the natural pyrethrum powders if at all possible.

Neem Oil

Extracted from the nut of the neem tree, this oil is used effectively for controlling aphids, armyworms, root weevils, leafminers, thrips and whiteflies with its active ingredient azadirachtin. Neem oil works by stopping insects from feeding on plants. It can be sprayed directly on vegetable crops, fruit trees and berry bushes, and can be applied right up to the day of harvest. It's very safe for human and animal exposure (it's also used as a traditional medicine in India).

Neem oil is often combined with insecticidal soaps to create a 1-2 punch for pests. An added benefit of neem oil is that is isn't harmful to some beneficial insects. It does break down very quickly, so it may need to be re-applied every few days. Look for it at stores or online with the names 'Neem Oil' or 'BioNeem', among others.

Diatomaceous Earth

A fancy name for the crushed, powderized shells of tiny marine organisms called diatoms. The diatom shell is made mostly of silica sand, and is mined from ancient land-locked deposits. It is effective against crawling insects like cockroaches, ants, earwigs, silverfish, sowbugs and pillbugs.

Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder that must be kept dry to be effective. It works by absorbing and removing the protective waxy covering of insects exposed to it. Bugs dehydrate without this protective coating. It should be applied with a dust mask to avoid inhaling the fine powder, but is otherwise completely safe.


Borax is an example of a perfect "homemade" insecticide. Borax is a common name for sodium borate, which is a salt of boric acid from boron. Boron is a plentiful natural mineral. Borax is an amazing little item; it's used in many ways; laundry boosters, cosmetics, glazes, fire retardants, anti-fungal compounds for fiberglass....even tooth whitening. As an insecticide, borax is fatal when ingested by bugs.

They typically get the borax powder on their bodies and then ingest it during grooming, rapidly becoming dehydrated until there's nothing left of them but a dessicated shell. Borax is used primarily for controlling ants, termites, cockroaches, and powderpost beetles. Borax can be sprinkled around outdoor areas, and is also safe enough for controlling pests inside the home.

Milky Spore Powder

Grubs are a major source of turf damage in grass lawns. The larvae of the Japanese beetle, grubs grow in the ground and feed off the roots of healthy grass, damaging the plants and creating areas of dead turf. Grubs are also a major source of food for moles, which can create turf damage on a much larger scale.

Grubs can also damage fruits, flowers, shrubs, and other garden plants. Milky spore powder is a naturally occurring baterium (Bacillus popillae-Dutky, to be exact) which is lethal to the grub of the Japanese beetle (and ONLY the Japanese beetle grub).

Applications of milky spore powder creates a protective layer on the lawn. The milky spore bacterium grown and thrive in the turf, where it is eaten by grubs, who then die within 7 to 21 days. After the infected grub dies, it releases billions of new milky spores. This process creates long-term grub protection, often for years. Milky spore is safe to humans, insects, birds, bees, and pets. It won't affect groundwater supplies or surface water. An added benefit: without grubs in your lawn, moles will likely go elsewhere to do their damage!


Slugs are slimly little critters that love to eat a variety of plants; hostas, strawberries, leafy vegetables, etc. They also happen to have a peculiar affinity to beer. Slugs are attracted to the yeasty smell of beer, and you can use their frat boy level of love for beer to your advantage. You easily make 'beer traps' to keep slugs under control in your garden or landscaping.

Simply take a clean plastic container like a yogurt cup; bury it so that its lip is about an inch above the surface of the soil in close proximity to the plants you wish to protect. Fill the container to within a 1/2 inch of the top with beer.

Any beer will do, the slugs won't care. The slugs in my own yard seem to have a taste for Pabst Blue Ribbon, but any cheap beer will do. Save the good beer for yourself! Slugs will crawl into the container to get to the beer and will become trapped and drown. Make sure you empty and refill the beer trap every few days before the dead slugs begin to stink. Dead, beer-soaked slugs do not smell good. Also, for a more cosmetic looking slug trap, consider some of these Mushroom Slug Traps for a cool look in the landscape.

Pest Control for Bigger Pests

Insects aren't the only critters looking to do some damage to your gardens and landscaping. Rabbits, deer, even dogs and cats can destroy beautiful plants literally overnight. Luckily there are natural repellants available that will help to keep these larger pests away. One good option is Liquid Fence, an environmentally safe, biodegradable product in spray or granular form, that will safely keep a wide variety of animals away.

Used correctly, natural organic pesticides will work very well to keep damaging pests away from your outdoor spaces while having a lower impact on the environment than manmade chemicals. It's always important to read the directions on these products carefully to ensure safe and proper application. Always wear protective clothing when working with these products; though they are usually safer than chemical pesticides, being careful is always a good idea.

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