Less toxic ways to battle bugs in your summer garden

Last Updated: 
March 7, 2003

The saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" holds true with pests in the garden. By taking care of harmful insects and other "beasties" as you see them, you'll help prevent wide-scale pest infestations or damage later on.

Oregon State University Master Gardener Joyce Schillen offers some of her favorite techniques for keeping pest populations in check day by day in the home garden:

  • Learn to identify the creatures you're dealing with. Why waste time and resources controlling an innocuous insect that isn't causing a problem? Buy a good insect book with pictures.
  • Realize that some "bugs" are good. Learn about beneficial insects and how to attract them to your garden. They'll do some of the dirty work of pest control for you. Flowering herbs such as cilantro, dill, fennel and bee balm are attractive to many beneficial insects.
  • Keep plant refuse, litter, and weeds cleaned up around the garden. It provides comfortable breeding spots for many insects.
  • Hand pick pests from your plants. When done early, it's as effective as any other method. Squash them or dump them into a bucket of soapy water. Wear gloves if you don't want bug cooties on your fingers.
  • Blast bugs off plants with a strong stream of water from a garden hose. Sometimes that's all it takes.
  • Cover your rows with floating row covers. If you can't find them at garden centers, check your gardening catalogs. Several brands are available of lightweight spun or woven fabric that can be put directly on top of plants to form a barrier against insects. They let in light, air, and moisture, but must be removed when the temperature reaches into the high 80s, or when flowering plants need insects for pollination.
  • Buy or make sticky trap cards that are coated with products such as Tanglefoot or mineral oil, and place them near vulnerable plants. Yellow traps attract thrips and whiteflies. Red traps lure apple maggot flies. Pheromone lures that drive certain bugs crazy, such as codling moths and apple maggots, will boost your success with some traps.
  • Use trap crops. Flea beetles might leave your eggplants alone if you plant radishes nearby, a plant they are particularly fond of. The bright yellow-orange blossoms of calendula are frequently the first place you'll find cucumber beetles and blister beetles. They make an easy target for hand picking while they are engrossed in these brilliant flowers, especially on cool mornings when beetles are sluggish.
  • Stop sowbugs and pill bugs with diatomaceous earth, which contains the tiny glass exoskeletons of diatoms. The diatom injure sow and pill bugs and many other types of insect larvae.
  • If you use insecticides, even the organic products, check the label to be sure the spray you choose is effective on the pest you are trying to control and be sure to follow all safety precautions.
Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Joyce Schillen