Whether you garden on a large or small scale, what you do has consequences. Sometimes there is something obvious like baby birds drowning in a backyard pond after mosquito spraying, but usually the effects are slow and largely invisible unless we know what to look for. The truth is that any action we take, whether it is planting native or non-native plants, spraying natural or synthetic pesticides, or introducing a new species of animal or plant has an effect on the ecology of the garden and the wildlife that comes into contact with it. These effects may be acute or chronic and wildlife need not come in contact with pesticides directly to be harmed. Often times, their food sources may become contaminated or disappear altogether.
While there is not a lot we can do about the large scale use of pesticides by the agriculture industry, which the latest report from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–from 2007–estimates at 1 billion tons per year, we do have a choice about how we choose to take care of our own gardens and the wildlife neighbors that live close by.
Alternative Methods of Pest Control
Attract Beneficial Insects To Your Garden
There are many ways to protect your garden from pests without harming wildlife. The best and most effective way, is to fill your garden with a variety of different native flowers, grasses, and shrubs that attract beneficial insects to your yard and encourage biodiversity in your small garden ecosystem.
Beneficial insects–such as many types of bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles–prey on harmful insects or their larvae. They protect plants from becoming overwhelmed by pests and aid in the fertilization of flowers and the growth of new plants.
When there are too few beneficial insects, pest populations grow out of control and the fragile ecological balance is disrupted. Similarly, if the entire pest population is killed by pesticides, the beneficial insects will die (from the pesticides or from lack of food) or leave and they will not be available to perform their other vital functions.
For a comprehensive list of plants that attract beneficial insects, take a look at this article by Mother Earth News: Organic Pest Control: The Best Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects and Bees
Use Home Remedies to Treat Infected Plants
There are also a variety of home remedies that involve non-toxic ingredients such as garlic, cayenne, stinging nettles or horsetail which you can use to ward off pests. You will want to use these remedies selectively and only apply to infected plants because they will harm beneficial insects.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) provides a lot of information about how to deter garden pests humanely on their website. The list below is from their article Natural and Harmless Alternatives to Pest Control.
- 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 repellents 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 hair brushes 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!
Interested in learning more about creating and cultivating healthy ecosystems? Take a look at these books: Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy and The Xerces Society Guide to Attracting Native Pollinators by Marla Spivak.