Find Garden Remedies in the Kitchen
Gardening expert Marianne Binetti shares solutions for common pest-control problems that can be found in your kitchen cupboard.
- Get rid of mites (you can see what they look like by turning over a yellowing leaf; they are the tiny dark specks) with a combination of 1 part rubbing alcohol and 4 parts water. Decant into a trigger spray bottle and spray the backs of the leaves. To help the alcohol mixture stick to the leaves, add just a little squirt of mild dishwashing liquid to the spray bottle. Use this spray on a cloudy day, if possible, to prevent the intensity of the sun from damaging the foliage.
- For weeds in the cracks of sidewalks or patios, simply pour on plain old vinegar, which contains an acid that will kill the weeds quickly. Don't use straight vinegar on lawn weeds because it will damage the grass leaves.
- Combat black spots on roses by using skim milk diluted with water in a half-and-half solution. Spray or dab the solution on the affected leaves with a paintbrush. This mixture prevents future black spots, but it won't eliminate those already there.
- If you have worms on your organic produce such as kale, cabbage or lettuce, try using self-rising flour to get rid of them. Just scoop some flour into a small paper bag and punch some holes in the bottom with a nail head or ice pick. Shake over the affected plants. When the worms feed on the plants, they will also eat the flour, which will destroy their digestive systems.
- If you have slugs on daylilies or hostas, use an ammonia mixture. Dilute the ammonia; use about 1/3 ammonia to 2/3 water and pour into a spray bottle. Spray into the crowns of the hostas. This will kill even the youngest slugs, and the ammonia converts into nitrogen and feeds the plants at the same time.
- White flies are difficult to banish without a harsh chemical. Cover a tin can with yellow paper, which is very attractive to white flies. Cover the yellow can with a piece of plastic and smear with petroleum jelly. Stuff the can with newspaper and put it on a stake. Place it in the area where the plants are affected. Replace the plastic every few days with more smeared plastic. The flies will get stuck in the petroleum jelly when they try to reach the yellow can.
Fire ants won't really eat dry grits, consume water, and then explode, says Dr. Ron Harrison, entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Advisor. To control them organically, remove outdoor food and moisture sources that may attract them, such as pet bowls or spills. Seal gaps around doors and windows to help keep them out of your home.
Dryer sheets get credit for doing a lot more than softening clothes. There's no proof that they repel spiders. Dr. Harrison, an entomologist with Orkin, instead suggests installing screens and tightening window and door seals to keep them out of your home. You can also remove webs and other insects that spiders eat. But most spiders, like this one, don't damage plants and are very beneficial, because they eat other pests. If you can identify them as harmless, it's best to leave those kinds of spiders alone.
If you're battling mice, use chocolate or peanut butter in traps instead of cheese; Dr. Harrison says mice prefer foods higher in carbohydrates. If squirrels are the problem, catch them in humane traps, or bury your bulbs under chicken wire so they can't be dug up. Protect your home from rodents by using a waterproof sealant to close inside and outside cracks and crevices. Remember: mice can squeeze through dime-sized openings.
Bumpy, green Osage orange peels, placed on your countertops, really will deter roaches, says Dr. Harrison, thanks to a chemical compound they contain. But it won't prevent them from infesting the rest of your home. To discourage them entering in the first place, clean up all food and water spills and seal cracks and crevices indoors and out. According to Orkin, roaches can slip through a space as thin as a quarter.
Fact and Fiction
There's both truth and myth in the notion that certain plants or oils repel mosquitoes. While these flying pests may avoid direct contact with citronella, mint or laurel growing around your home, botanicals and oils don't work at a distance or last long enough to keep them away. Because mosquitoes can spread life-threatening diseases, Orkin recommends using an EPA-registered insect repellent on exposed skin when you're outdoors.
Orkin expert Dr. Ron Harrison says there's no evidence that commercially sold sonic or ultrasonic sound machines effectively control rodents or roaches. If you live in a wooded area, natural predators like hawks and owls may help, but these pests can reproduce rapidly. Since they can damage your house, garden and even your personal health, you'll probably need professional help to combat them.