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Natural and Harmless Alternatives to Garden Pesticides

This article originally appeared on PETA Prime.

A common discussion topic among gardeners is how to keep out “unwanted” critters. Because I specialize in keeping gardens safe for humans and animals, I come at this challenge from a different perspective.

While I do not want my plants to be eaten by insects and don’t want my yard to become a mouse colony (even though my dog might disagree!), I am adamantly against using any chemicals or methods that might harm any of these beings.

Unfortunately, many people choose to use cruel methods that either injure or kill garden visitors. I think the problem is that most people are not aware that there are other ways to protect your garden that don’t require you to harm any living beings.

The good news is that there are various fragrances and plants that can be used as deterrents against the following critters:

  • Aphids (plant lice): Plant chives, marigolds, mint, basil, or cilantro or place aluminum foil at the base of your plants. The foil reflects light onto the undersides of the leaves, which scares away aphids.
  • Ants:  If ants are coming in through the cracks of doors and windows, pour a line of cream of tartar where they enter the house, and they will not cross over it. A cinnamon stick, coffee grinds, chili pepper, paprika, cloves, or dried peppermint leaves near the openings will repel ants. You can also squeeze the juice of a lemon at the entry spot and leave the peel there. Planting mint around the foundation of the house will also keep ants away. Place cloves of garlic around indoor and outdoor ant pathways.
  • Cockroaches: Create sachets of catnip and place them throughout the infested area (your cat will love you!). Cockroaches like high places, so put a few sachets on top of shelves and other elevated surfaces. Bay leaves, cucumbers, and garlic can also help to keep cockroaches away.
  • Codling moths: Use a cheesecloth square full of lavender, chives and garlic, or cedar chips. Try adding cedar oil, rosemary, dried lemon peels, or rose petals.
  • Deer: Place some soap shavings or used cat litter along the ground to create a boundary between their grazing area and your garden. Also try hanging a salt lick in their path to distract them from your plants.
  • Grasshoppers: Simply spray garlic oil where you don’t want them, or plant calendula, horehound (a bitter herb), or cilantro.
  • Japanese beetles: Try chives, garlic, rue, and catnip.
  • Mice: Use mint plants, especially peppermint plants! Mice really dislike peppermint and will avoid any areas where it grows.
  • Mites (spider and clover): Try planting alder, coriander, or dill, and use rye mulch and wheat mulch.
  • Rabbits: Sprinkle chili pepper around plants (it must be reapplied if it gets wet). Install oven racks around plants. Rabbits tend to dislike their texture and the way that they feel on their feet. Other natural rabbit repellants include bellflowers, astilbes, asters, yarrows, cranesbills, hostas, lavender, sage, and other textured or thorny plants.
  • Slugs: Place mint, lemon balm, human hair (remove excess hair from hairbrushes and place in gardens), pine needles, cosmos, sage, or parsley in your garden.
  • Ticks and fleas: Plant mint, sweet woodruff, rosemary, and lavender. Also try placing cedar chips in your garden. They smell great to you … but not to fleas and ticks!

I find that it’s best to introduce these deterrents by planting them directly in your garden whenever possible. However, if some plants are not available in your area, you can also use essential oils. Marigolds— especially French marigolds— are easy to grow, are available in just about any climate, and attract many beneficial insects who will help protect your garden.

Please remember that you can keep your garden in top shape without harming any of our animal friends.

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  • Angela says:

    What about gophers? They are the biggest problem out here, and gopher traps are even more horrific than mouse traps. I hate setting them, but they kill all the roses. It would be GREAT to hear of any ways that people have harmlessly and organically deterred their gopher neighbors.

  • NC Bill says:

    Mosquitos will vacate the premises for several days if you will spray a solution of 1 T Palmolive (green) dish detergent to 3 Gallons of water in a pressure sprayer. Palmolive is washed off by dew & rain and the plants don’t mind having their stomata cleaned.

    @FORDFX4: slugs need moisture & shelter. Provide both by laying planks flat on top of moist soil. Done … the slugs will show up.

    To get rid of slugs (without killing them), spread a thin, even, layer of clinkers. They have lots of sharp edges and dry out quickly after a rain. Alternatively, hire some ducks or chickens for garden patrol.

    AFAIK, Palmolive is biodegradable.

  • Jen says:

    The author didn’t mention copper for repelling snails. If you put copper tape around outside pots or plants, they will not cross the line. Learned after snails decimated our potted plants.

  • FORDFX4 says:

    OH CAMILLA, I WANT SNAILS for my garden and yard! How do I attract them??

  • Monica says:

    I like most of the ideas on here! For the rabbits, you say to use Hostas as a natural repellent, they are eating (I watched them) mine!!! I usually have 7 planted around my deck, this year I have 4, they are all smaller because the rabbit would eat them when they first appeared, then apparently they decided the other 3 tasted better because the only thing where they are supposed to be is little 1″ stems. I also have sage & astilbes so they are no help!

  • Renee says:

    Jone,
    Peppermint, Thyme and citronella (Pelargonium) are all beautiful accents to the garden that naturally repel mosquitos. There is a spray made of the essential oils of these plants which can be applied to the lawn with a hose. I have not used this product myself so I am not sure of it’s effectiveness. I also do not know the impact it will have on any beneficials in the area. Also, the mosquito “Dunks” are a beneficial bacteria (Bacillus Subtilus) who eat mosquito larvae. These can be placed in wet areas to try and get the population back to tolerable amounts. Another option would be to build a bat house. Bats eat 600 mosquitoes per hour. In our area there is a concern because of a fungus that is attacking the bat population. They think the fungus is in caves. The fear is that farmers will have to use more chemicals in order to make up for the decline in the bat population… :(

  • Renee says:

    I too am a life long garden center operator. I thought that the soap and water and hot pepper methods actually worked as a pesticide. Not to mention i don’t think i’d be too happy if someone dumped hot pepper all over my home… That stings! I have had a great deal of luck using “banker plants” and “sacrifice plants.” The banker plants are planted to attract a specific type of insect. For example rye can be purchased already infected with grass feeding aphids. This will attract ladybugs to your garden who will feed on both the grass feeding and the destructive aphids. The banker plant ensures there is sufficient food for the ladybugs in order to keep them in your garden. “Sacrifice plants” are something you plant knowing it will soon be destroyed. This is helpful in keeping insects away from beloved plants. For example my whiteflys LOVE lantana. This fact I found out the hard way. I now plant lantana in my garden in an attempt to lure whiteflys away from my veggies. The lantana becomes a banker plant luring ladybugs into the garden. Using this method i would stay away from the soap and hot pepper (capasin) methods because you may scare off or harm the beneficials (IMO). As a side note, Organic insecticides are broad spectrum, this means they kill or ward off good and ‘bad’ bugs. Just something you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • Sarah says:

    In regards to the slugs category: I thought slugs got tangled in the hair and choke? That’s not a harmless way to keep slugs off your plants. Other than that, I’m gonna try stuff in here. Like the foil idea, that’s interesting. I also heard to keep birds away, you can hang old cds or dvds in your garden, the light reflecting frightens the birds and keeps them away.

  • Emily says:

    For beetles, try putting a small amount of dish soap in a spray bottle and mixing it with water. Then spritz it on the leaves where you’re having beetle problems.

  • Camilla says:

    I am with Donogh F. MacCarthy-Morrogh: Live and let live. If one wants to keep certain animals out of one’s garden – because there are too many of one kind – one should, of course, always use non-cruel methods, so thank you for the tips.

    We have hundreds of Burgundy snails (Helix pomatia) in our garden (I recently saved another 63 from the neighbour’s garden before it was to be covered in concrete to make a terrace) and those amazing little creatures are more than welcome here. I frequently take a little round – especially before cutting the lawn as well as after rain – to be sure that the snails are not where we are going to step on them, cut the grass, etc. – and I put them on their safe ‘playground’ (our compost + the upper parts (‘roofs’) of two old cat trays). I know that unfortunately, most people would consider this too much work so before we are to move out of our house, I know that we’ll have to find a new safe home for our snails – I suppose somewhere in a forest area would be the best place for them (where the vegetation is never cut down). And it must be done in summer because they are underground in winter.

  • Jone says:

    …But what about mosquitoes ? Even though some products state “safe for animals” I don’t believe it. We’re looking for something to sprinkle in our yard.

  • organicwench says:

    I don’t have moles, but I have gophers. What I found that works great is chili pepper flakes. I get a PVC pipe and stick it down the hole and pour the chili flakes into the pipe, I jiggle the pipe so that the flakes go down into the hole, and then I and pull the pipe out. The gophers have never returned.

    I have a black bamboo plant that started to die because the sprinkler was not reaching far enough. I cut it back and it has started to grow again, but the snails have also decided it is very tasty. So, I surrounded the pot with pistachio nut shells, sort of like a moat. The snails do not like to crawl on the shells, and my bamboo is now thriving.

  • Mike L. says:

    Although I am not 100% sure, my problem is probably with a raccoon. Critter, as I have fondly named him/her, likes to take tomatoes, ripe or not, and pepper blossoms. This year the extremities of the plants with the blossoms and any tomatoes have been eaten. Critter has left the broccoli, spinach, and lettuce alone. I do not know what Critter is going to do when the watermelon plant blossoms. Last year Critter ate almost all of the tomatoes, but did leave me a few. There is a high fence around the small backyard with neighbors’ houses on all sides. Does anyone know what I can do to keep Critter from taking what remains of the 3 tomato plants and 1 red pepper plant? Thanks in advance for any help with Critter.

  • marisa says:

    For ants, I like to use chalk. For some reason they don’t like chalk!

  • Lindalu says:

    For plant pests try polverized lime. I sprinkle it over all my plants. Even helps with june bugs.

  • Mary Lytle says:

    Does anyone know what will work for black spot on roses – also the roses have yellow leaves and beetles. Thanks.

  • Donogh F. MacCarthy-Morrogh says:

    As a life long garden centre operator (55 to date) I abhor the them and us approach to gardening. Live and let live. PS We have no moles on Ireland. You lucky thing!

  • fremo says:

    I have aphids on my mint :( going to try the foil. if that doesnt help i’m afraid i will have to soap them away.

  • Givonne says:

    Can anyone advise me as to the merits of the NEEM plant in the context of pest control? Does it possess natural repellant properties that may even extend to “weeds”?

  • Deepa Mathuo says:

    It is very kind of you to share such great stuff. I too used to wait for long before I try to dispose of pests but most of the time I’d have to use some sort of spray finally. Do you have any suggestions for rats? and large black ants?

  • Andrea says:

    I planted marigolds all over the place, thinking they would discourage bugs from coming into my yard, but something ate ALL the leaves of my marigolds :( Any idea which bug would do that and a natural solution to get rid of them?
    Thanks!

  • AllCreatures says:

    @marybeth Try Havahart live traps. You can get tons of them from either home depot, a hardware store, your local Farmer’s Elevator, or(my favorite) you can get them on CraigsList for SUPER cheap. Just remember to check them daily or they aren’t LIVE traps anymore!

  • michelle says:

    My problem critters are squirrels and pheasants. I put out 6 broccolli and 6 cabbage and they were totally gone after….only 24 hours!

  • Sandra says:

    how about moles? we just planted some pepper plants 2 days ago and yesterday one was pushed out and there are 5 or so mounds of dirt pushed up in and around the garden. the best thing we could think of at the time was we shoved some dog fur in the holes and covered them up, hoping that it will discourage them from coming back up in the same spot, they’ll hopefully move to the lawn, but I think the soft earth is too tempting, I fully expect to see half my garden pushed up when I go check on it this afternoon. Hubby suggested running water into one of the holes with a hose so they’ll move their den but if they have babies in there they may not get them out in time, I’d rather not do it. Any ideas??

  • tony says:

    Riffle

  • Mavis says:

    Marybeth: Remove the tops from a few glass bottles and bury them up to their necks around your garden. The airflow over them will create a sound the moles dislike and they will move away.

  • marybeth says:

    Anyone have any ideas for moles? Just found them yesterday in my flower garden. ugh

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