How to control garden bugs organically


When it comes to insects in your garden, it's a bug eat bug world, so don't panic. Some bugs are good for plants. But how to control the bad ones without chemicals? Here's great advice from Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening magazine.

How to control garden bugs organically

Gardening organically means gardening without pesticides. So, how do you get rid of all the insect pests in your garden? Do you need to get rid of all the insect pests in your garden? Scott Meyer, expert gardener and editor of Organic Gardening magazine helps answer these questions.

Although gardeners get very frustrated by the sight of insects in their garden, the fact is, 80% of garden insects are good bugs – they eat other bugs! The friendly ladybug and the praying mantis are wonderful insects that feed on other pests that would otherwise harm your garden.

Why no pesticides or insecticides?

  • Although a serious insect infestation can ruin a garden, it is best not to overreact. Chemical insecticide kills all of the insects in a garden, the bad and the good.
  • Chemical insecticides have a larger impact on the ecosystem beyond the insects in your garden. If it’s bad for the bugs, it’s bad for the spiders that eat the bugs and the birds that eat the spiders, and so on.

A gardener’s first defense against insects is observation.

  • Observe what damage the insects are really doing in your garden. As an example, Scott Meyer shared a broccoli leaf that was full of holes, but it came from a plant that was producing a beautiful head of broccoli. Overreacting to the potential problem with chemical pesticides could be more harmful than the pest itself.

If you do need to intervene and treat pests in your garden, there are good organic solutions:

Plant Oils

  • Peppermint oil is a good solution for repelling bugs as well as fungus. You can spray this directly on the leaves of the plant.
  • Garlic oil repels pests well. (And some humans, too.)

Insect Soap

  • Insect soap should be sprayed directly at bugs, as opposed to spraying it on the plant. The soap removes a protective coating that insects have and it makes them vulnerable to the conditions outside.

Row Cover

  • You can also use a row cover, which is a special knd of fabric that allows light, air and water to come through, so the plant gets what it needs without the bugs.


  • Invite birds (birds that eat bugs) into your garden by installing a birdbath.


  • Plant flowers around your vegetable garden. They attract beneficial insects and birds that feed on the nectar of the flowers and eat bugs hanging out in your garden.

How about the larger pests that prey upon your garden?

  • The most secure protection against raccoons, rabbits and deer is a fence. Deer can jump an 8-foot fence, so build it tall and at an angle, so the deer cannot figure out where their feet will land. Install an electric fence if you can do it.
  • There are other tactics that deter deer:
  1. Deer hate the smell of pungent soap. Hang deodorant soap in your garden.
  2. Reflective tape or aluminum tins that flutter and clatter in the wind create movement and noise that can make mammals nervous, sending them next door to your neighbor’s garden.



RON: Hi everyone, I'm Ron Corning with and gardening organically means gardening without pesticides. But how do you deal with all the garden pests? Here to answer that question is Scott Meyer. He is the editor of Organic Gardening Magazine. And Scott, the question on everyone's mind is: Can insects ruin your garden?

SCOTT: Lots of gardeners get frustrated about seeing insects in their garden. But the truth is eighty percent of bugs are good bugs, beneficial that eat other bugs. So, yes, insect infestation can ruin your garden, but it's not something to panic about.

RON: So generally speaking, if you use a chemical pesticide, you're going to kill all of the insects - including the good ones.

SCOTT: And you don't want to kill those good bugs. The friendly ladybug for instance, is a great, beneficial insect. It eats lots of other pests; the praying mantis, another one that lots of people are familiar with. It is a great predator of other insects. So chemical pesticide kills everything.

RON: And it can also throw the ecosystem out of balance, right?

SCOTT: That's true. And the basis of organic gardening, really, is to build a healthy, well-balanced ecosystem. Chemical pesticides kill the bugs; also, harmful to birds and all the other things that eat the bugs. So yes, pesticides disrupt the balance.

RON: So, what are the alternatives? Let's assume that you do have, even if in small quantity, harmful insects in your garden. How do you deal with it?

SCOTT: The first thing you should do is watch and see what they're doing. Gardeners tend to panic when they see a bug, but it's not clear always from the beginning what the problem is. I brought here a leaf from our garden here. It's from a broccoli plant. You can see, this has been pretty well chewed up by insects; but, the broccoli is still producing a beautiful head of broccoli. This isn't harmful. And over, over-reacting to this is more of a problem than the pest itself.

RON: Yeah, for me, being a novice, I would see this and think 'my gardens in trouble.'

SCOTT: I think that's why gardeners want a solution; there are organic solutions. But the first thing to do is just watch and see what's happening.

RON:In fact, you have a number of products here that you use when you garden that can help ward off some of those insects, including Rose Pharm which is peppermint oil.

SCOTT: Oil is a great insect control, and the best thing about using an oil like that, is it's only harmful to the target pest. It doesn't hurt anything else. And peppermint oil helps it to kill pests as well as fungus, which is a common problem on roses.

RON: Ok, I'm actually go to spray here because it actually smells pretty good, as opposed to one hundred percent garlic oil, which, without even opening the bottle, you can smell it.

SCOTT: Pretty pungent stuff, but totally harmless, and to you, and to all the other animals, but not such a good thing for bugs.

RON: Where do you put it; do you spray it on the soil, do you, do you put it on the plants?

SCOTT: No, you spray it on the leaves that are being chewed.

RON: Ah, gotcha.

SCOTT: So that observation, that's what's important, and also where is the bug, and what's it doing.

RON: So this next one is insect soap, and it's not to give them a bath, but it can ward them off in some cases right?

SCOTT: In fact, it is a little bit like giving them a bath. Because what it does is, insects have a protective layer on them; the soap washes that off and makes them vulnerable to the conditions outside. It's great for the killing pests, but it needs to hit them exactly. It's not for spraying on the leaves and then waiting for the bugs to eat it. You have to hit them with it.

RON: There are some other things that you can do that sort of pre-empts this process. And you've got a couple of examples, including something you can lay over your plants. What is that?

SCOTT: That's called a row cover. It's a special kind of fabric that allows light and air and water to come through, so that the plant's getting all the things it needs, but it's a fabric that prevents bugs from getting on the plants.

RON: And if you want to draw more birds to your garden, the birds that eat the insects, how do you do that exactly? What are some of the ways?

SCOTT: Put a birdbath in your garden, and the birds will come. You also plant flowers around your garden, around your vegetable beds, because that attracts more beneficial insects. They eat the nectar, and they also eat bugs while they're there.

RON: Scott, I know a lot of gardeners talk about and worry about grubs. What do you have for that?

SCOTT: There's a very effective, organic solution for grubs that will solve your beetle problem, too. It's called Milky Spore, it is a bacteria, and you spread it on your lawn just the way you would spread lawn fertilizer. And it, the bacteria, preys on the grubs, and kills the grubs. And over time, it reproduces itself. So one or two applications, and you'll never use it again because it spread throughout your lawn and kills grubs year after year after year.

RON: Scott, what about some of the larger critters that can wreak havoc; raccoons, mice, even deer in some cases. Any way to deal with that problem?

SCOTT: There's really one, very, very, secure guaranteed to work way. It's called a fence.

RON: Mmhmm.

SCOTT: An electric fence if you can do it, but a big fence; and with deer, the higher, the better. They can clear an eight-foot fence. In that case you want to angle it so that the deer can't see where their feet are going to land. But you can do some other things that will distract them or deter them, at least momentarily. So, soap; the smell of soap, especially a very pungent deodorant soap will deter deer from coming into your garden. And they're the most common marauders of, of gardens these days. Some reflective tape also can be, be effective in distracting them and making movement, and any kind of motion in your garden will keep mammals, and make them a little nervous, and send them to your neighbor's garden.

RON: All right, Scott. Scott Meyer is the editor of Organic Gardening Magazine, and I'm Ron Corning for

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  • Scott Meyer

    Scott Meyer Organic Gardening Expert, Editor of Organic Gardening Scott Meyer, Editor of Organic Gardening, has been with the magazine for nearly 20 years, serving in a variety of roles including product tester and Website producer. more about this expert »

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