It’s often easy to tell that something is eating up your organic garden, but identifying and eliminating the trouble-maker without using dangerous chemicals can be a more complicated, and often frustrating, process. Below are some of the most common pests along with an eco-friendly way to eliminate them.
Slugs & Snails
If you have slugs or snails in your garden your best chance to catch them at work is in the early morning. If these little creepy-crawlers are the problem, you’ll definitely see some holes in the leaves of your plants.
You can build a homemade trap using a glass jar with a few tablespoons of cornmeal inside it. In the evening, lay the jar sideways inside the infested garden bed. Come back in the morning and you will find lots of dead slugs or snails lying in and around the jar. Repeat this process regularly until you stop finding them.
Aphids & Whiteflies
Aphids (aka plant lice or green flies) and Whiteflies are tiny little bugs which you may or may not notice right away. They multiply rapidly, so a small infestation can get out of control quickly if not properly managed. Both bugs leave a sticky substance, called honeydew, on plants they are feeding on, which leaves the plants susceptible to fungus and viral diseases.
It’s often hard to tell the difference between an aphid and whitefly infestation; plants will often stop growing or their leaves will turn yellow. They can both be particularly damaging to young plants or new growth.
You can control both creatures by introducing a natural predator like ladybugs into the environment. You can usually find ladybugs at your local garden center or you can even order them online – and don’t worry, ladybugs are actually carnivores, so they have no interest in eating your plants. If the bugs don’t seem to be doing the trick, try spraying your plants with an organic, insecticidal soap.
Gophers aren’t usually included in lists of garden pests (because they’re not bugs), but they can definitely be one of the most annoying invaders. Gophers will chew on the roots of plants, which will either be pulled into the ground or shrivel up and die due to their poor root structure. A gopher problem is usually pretty easy to identify, as you can see their holes in and around your garden beds.
The best way to get rid of gophers is by planting in raised beds with a secure layer of gopher wire (also called hardware cloth) on the bottom. Though it looks similar, do not use chicken wire – gophers can easily chew through it.
Spider Mites are another tiny little pest, that you may not be able to see right away (you may, however, see tiny little webs on your plants – a sure sign of spider mites). They live on the undersides of the leaves, sucking the sap out, eventually causing them to look very sickly with curled, yellow leaves.
To get rid of them, mix one part rubbing alcohol with two parts water and mist it on infested plants – this will kill them on contact. Make sure to spray in the evening so that the alcohol can evaporate before the sun comes up.
There are so many kinds of beetles to attack your garden that it can be overwhelming. Some common troublemakers include: vine weevils, Mexican bean beetles, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, asparagus beetles and Japanese beetles. For some, you can tell by the name where they are most likely to strike, but several types of beetles are willing to go after any edible crop. The good thing about beetles is you’ll be able to see them going after your plants, and hopefully put a stop to it quickly.
To eliminate most beetles, all you need is a bucket filled with water and a tiny bit of soap. You can either hand-pick the beetles from your garden and drop them into the water, or pour the soapy water over infested plants. Either way the soap will kill the beetles and make it harder for future invaders to crawl onto your veggies. If the soap and water method isn’t getting rid of all of them, spraying plants with an All-Natural, Neem oil based spray will get rid of the rest.
Grasshoppers will take big bites out of the leaves of almost any edible plant. They can quickly and easily travel around your yard using their powerful legs and wings, so they’re one of the toughest pests to get rid of completely.
One of the only ways to eliminate Grasshoppers without using nasty poisons is to use a Hot Pepper Wax Spray, which can also be effective for aphids, whiteflies, spider mites and scale. Hot Pepper Wax Spray is generally made from cayenne peppers, and it works by making the leaves of your plants so spicy that the bugs won’t want anything to do with them. Just make sure not to use it too close to harvest or you’ll experience a bit of the spiciness yourself!
As the name implies, this is a critter than can do some pretty serious damage to your tomato crop, but they also attack eggplants, peppers and potatoes. Due to their light green color, you’ll likely notice the damage before you notice the pest. Hornworms can eat up all the leaves, and sometimes immature fruit, on a plant in a matter of days if left unchecked.
Hornworms are fairly large (3-4”), so once you know what you’re looking for they’re easy to spot. You can pick them off your plants by hand and dump them into a bucket of soapy water; it’s best not to dump soapy water over the plant (as you would with beetles) as tomatoes don’t like getting their leaves wet. If you notice that some of the worms have white egg sacks attached to them, leave them be. Parasitic wasps lay eggs on the hornworm; when they hatch they will attack the host worm and any others that happen to be hanging around.
To the untrained eye, scale bugs looks more like a disease than a pest. They are those tiny little rust-colored bumps that often appear on houseplants and gardens in warm, dry climates. Some varieties excrete honeydew (like aphids and whiteflies) and make plants more vulnerable to fungus and disease. They all cause the plants leaves to yellow and fall of, inhibit new growth, and can cause plant death if left untreated.
For houseplants infected with scale, dip an exfoliating facial sponge into rubbing alcohol and gently wipe the scale off of them. Test this method on a small area of the infested plant first, as some houseplants may be too sensitive for this method.
For outdoor plants, if you catch the infestation early, the best method of removal is to simply prune away the affected parts of the plant. Scale cannot fly, so this will get rid of them for good. As with aphids and whiteflies, ladybugs are a natural predator and will eat up the scale on your leaves. If all else fails, try spraying plants with an insecticidal soap. or a Neem oil based spray. These last two methods will kill, but not remove the scale, so afterwards you’ll have to go through and scape off any of those remaining rust-colored spots.
Once indoor or outdoor plants are scale free, you can spray them with a Hot Pepper Wax Spray to keep the parasites from coming back.