Pest Prevention Without Pesticides

spray bottle with cut lemon and sprig of mint

The sight of an aphid colony on the tip of a tender tomato plant is enough to send any gardener running for the pesticides. But think twice before you reach for a "quick fix." You can keep pests from your plants without the health and environmental hazards associated with chemicals.

Many people call it "organic gardening," a technique once reserved for a dedicated, passionate few. It takes into account that all life forms are interconnected - even the ones in your backyard. In other words, what is toxic to a bug is likely toxic to a human.

Practice Prevention for Plants

The best way to avoid the need for pesticides is to make pests unwelcome in the first place. A plant seeded at the right depth in the right soil mix with the correct amounts of sunlight, air, and water will resist insects and diseases.

You can roll up your sleeves and invest a little manual labor. For example, fabric row covers can protect low-growing food crops, such as cabbage or squash. Nylon netting draped over your cherry tree, or blueberry bushes will keep birds away. A stroll through the cabbage patch, plucking off offending creatures, and dropping them into a jar of kerosene can also control pest populations.

Home Remedies

Of course, even the best prevention plans can't overcome every fungus or pest assault. But hold your ground: there are organic methods for fighting back.

Place the grated peel of a lemon in a pint of boiling water. Steep it for 24 hours, and you'll have a spray that's handy for the fight against caterpillars, potato beetles, aphids, and mites. Or, try liquefying a handful of hot peppers, a couple cloves of garlic, and a quart of water in your blender. Use as a spray to repel leaf-eating bugs.

You may find a fungus on your beans. The aphids may occasionally overcome a tomato plant. But for many gardeners, a few imperfections are worth reducing the risks from pesticides—especially when it comes to their own backyards.