12 Ways to Banish Pests Without Chemicals

Use our tips to get rid of pests in your garden. Organic gardening practices like growing companion plants and setting out sticky traps are easy and effective.

Photo By: Courtesy of P. Allen Smith

Photo By: Courtesy of Territorial Seed Co.

Photo By: Courtesy of Johnny's Selected Seeds

Photo By: Courtesy of Territorial Seed Co.

Photo By: Courtesy of P. Allen Smith

Photo By: Courtesy of P. Allen Smith and Donna Evans

Photo By: Courtesy of P. Allen Smith and Jane Colclasure

Photo By: Image courtesy of Blackberry Farm ©2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Courtesy of P. Allen Smith / Jane Colclasure

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo By: Courtesy of P. Allen Smith

Photo By: Image courtesy of Blackberry Farm ©2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Ladybugs aren't just cute. They're also eating machines when it comes to pesky aphids, scale, mites and mealy bugs. Garden and lifestyle expert P. Allen Smith recommends releasing half of your mail order batch when they arrive, and the rest, a few days later.  Keep them cool until you put them on your plants, so they'll stay dormant. Once they're out, don't use chemicals that would kill your new helpers.

Praying Mantis

Praying mantis are fascinating to watch, and they're voracious predators that gobble up garden pests. They'll also eat desirable insects, such as bees and butterflies, so use them where they can feast on unwanted bugs, like beetles in your bean patch. Attach mail-order egg cases to a plant or fence, and they'll hatch and release hundreds of hungry helpers into your garden.

Row Cover

Lightweight row covers made of fabric allow rain, sunlight, and air to reach the plants below, but help keep damaging insects out. Keep the cover loose enough so your plants can raise it as they grow.

Cabbage Collar

Physical barriers, like this cabbage collar, help keep destructive cabbage root flies and slugs away from the roots of brassica crops. Cardboard collars made from paper towel rolls can protect vegetable and flower seedlings from hungry cutworms.

Ducks in the Garden

Not all gardeners are lucky enough to have ducks in the garden, but those who do know these quackers dine on lots of insects and slugs. These brown beauties are Khaki Campbells; owner P. Allen Smith says they're also great layers, with one hen producing about 200 eggs a year.

Leaf Roller on Canna

Leaf roller caterpillars often pupate inside canna leaves, damaging them as they begin to eat. Other leaf rollers attack fruits, ornamentals and shrubs. If the infestation is light, squish the caterpillars inside the leaves, or unroll the leaves, remove the pests and destroy them.

Drop Bugs in Soapy Water

One of the easiest ways to banish pests is to drop them into a jar of soapy water. Wear protective gloves if you're hand-picking bugs that might sting or otherwise harm you, or just hold the plant over the water and tap or shake it to dislodge the pest. These harlequin bugs suck the sap from leafy veggies like cabbage and other plants.

Companion Plants

Pungent-smelling marigolds lure some pests, like Japanese beetles, away from herbs and veggies. Later, you can pick the beetles and destroy them. Interplant garlic with other crops to draw away slugs (you may have to sacrifice the garlic). Nasturtiums attract aphids. Also try aromatic herbs like thyme, rosemary and mint as "trap plants."

Bulbs Under Chicken Wire

Not all garden pests fly or creep. Squirrels jump easily from tree to fence post to tulip patch, and these aerial acrobats are nearly impossible to eliminate. P. Allen Smith fights back by burying his bulbs under chicken wire, which also helps keep rodents and raccoons from digging them up. He cuts a piece of wire one inch larger than the bulb bed on every side and bends the edges into the shape of a box top. Then he sticks the edges into the soil and tops the bed with mulch.

Crushed Eggshells

Slugs, pillbugs and earwigs don't like crossing over the sharp edges of crushed eggshells, so sprinkle some around your seedlings when you plant. Diamoceteaus earth is also effective against many crawling pests. It's a white, talc-like powder made from the fossilized remains of water plants.

Vine Borers

Suspect vine borers if your squash plants are wilting. Once these pests are in the vines (they hatch from eggs laid by a moth), they're difficult to manage. P. Allen Smith uses a sharp knife to slit the affected vines in his garden and remove the borers. Then moist soil can be mounded over the cut vine. With a little luck, and regular waterings, new roots will grow so the plant will survive.

Heirloom Varieties

Thanks to their genetic diversity, many heirloom varieties of edibles and ornamentals have excellent resistance to garden pests. Heirlooms are available at garden centers, nurseries and through mail order companies such as Seed Savers Exchange. Ask your neighbors to trade seeds, too; if they've been growing the same varieties for many years, their plants have probably developed good resistance to local garden pests, diseases and even regional growing conditions like drought. 

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