The need to eject insects and rodents that have moved into your home
or garden can be a problem that makes even the greenest person consider
reaching for a chemical solution. Many pests are often just a nuisance;
however, some can damage food or possessions, or bite and pass along
diseases to people or pets, so you will really want to get rid of them.
But it’s better to use organic pest control solutions rather than
Although governments are slowly banning the most toxic of chemical
pesticides for personal home use, what’s on the market is still
dangerous. Even those touted all-natural insecticides can be
problematic. Pyrethrum, for instance, is a so-called organic pesticide
derived from a species of chrysanthemum. However, it is a broad spectrum
pesticide, which means that it kills not only the thugs you are
targeting, but beneficial insects too. In addition, pyrethrum is harmful
to fish and other aquatic life, so using it near a storm drain, or in
areas where runoff is a problem is not recommended. It is less toxic to
mammals and birds than synthetics, but, of course less toxic is a
relative matter. Children are especially vulnerable to the toxins
contained in household and garden insecticides.
Rather than succumb to the
hardware store shelves of chemicals, there are simple preventive
measures that can stop most problems before they begin. Often, simply
removing insects’ and rodents’ food supply and breeding sites is the
most effective control. Steps like managing garbage so that it is less
attractive, cleaning up spilled food – especially pet food – and
eliminating damp conditions around the house are other simple
deterrents. Manage your compost pile so it doesn’t attract rodents. Put
food away quickly in sealed containers and sweep your kitchen floor
regularly. Make sure garbage is stored inside or at least in a sealed
container until pick-up day. Fix leaking faucets and any standing water
inside or outside your house.
The first defense for bugs in your house is making sure pests don’t
get inside. Seal cracks, including spaces around exterior plumbing and
electrical outlets, attic vents, and under doors. Use window screens and
keep them in good repair. Don’t leave porch lights on all evening, as
they collect insects, which are swept into the house when the door is
opened. (That wastes energy anyway, so install motion-sensitive
In your garden, the best strategy is to cultivate healthy, robust
plants. Built healthy, organic soil and pull out those inevitable sad
looking stragglers that could be a target for bugs. Keep your garden
free of debris and weeds, which can be breeding grounds for pests. Some
pests – such as snails and slugs, potato beetles and cabbage worms – can
be hand-picked. Because insect pests are often specific to individuals
plants, rotate what you plant from year to year. Water early in the day,
or drip irrigate because wet leaves encourage insects and fungal damage.
Beneficial insects are an
excellent organic pest control. You can either attract or purchase
insects that prey on the nasty insects in your garden. You might
consider planting a small garden plot adjacent to your vegetable garden
that contains flowers which attract beneficial insects. For instance,
lady bug beetles eat aphids, mites, whiteflies, and scale; they can be
attracted to your garden by planting daisies, tansy, and yarrow.
Lacewings and their larvae eat aphids and are attracted to composite
flowers, such as yarrow, goldenrod, black-eyed susans, and asters.
You can also use companion
planting. A good example of this is when collards are planted to protect
cabbages from moths. Likewise, nasturtiums are useful as a vegetable
garden trap plant for aphids. Other companion plants assist by
attracting beneficial insects, including pollinators, to the food crops.
And others, like many herbs, are useful in repelling insect pests. And
therein lies the reason why my friend’s grandmother grew garlic among
her rosebushes and raspberries. Garlic repels aphids, spider mites,
fruit tree borers and even Japanese beetles. Mint is useful against ants
and white cabbage moth, rosemary deters carrot flies and bean beetles,
and horseradish helps against potato bugs. Here is
more information about
Here are some organic pest control tips for dealing with specific
pests in your home and garden:
Ants will leave a trail to their food. You
can eradicate these trails by washing with vinegar mixed with water and
peppermint essential oil. To discourage ants in your house, sprinkle
their nest with red pepper/cayenne/paprika, powdered cinnamon,
eggshells, bone meal, talcum powder, wood ash, blood meal, or coffee
grounds. You can prevent an infestation of carpenter ants in your home
by repairing wood damaged by moisture, ventilating damp areas, cleaning
gutters, and storing firewood away from the house. In your garden, as we
noted earlier, try planting mint as a companion plant.
Knock them off your plants with a strong
spray of water from your hose. Or plant nasturtium flowers or garlic as
a trap to attract aphids and keep them away from your veggies.
Bed bugs can be stubborn to eradicate.
You’ll have to carefully and thoroughly vacuum your mattress, box
spring, or futon, as well as any carpets, rugs, and upholstered
furniture. Then, thoroughly vacuum every crack and crevice along the
baseboards, behind light switches and switch plates, as well as the bed
frame and other furniture. When you’re finished, empty the vacuum
canister into a plastic bag, seal, and destroy. Extreme heat and cold
will kill nymphs and eggs, so put furnishings, toys, etc. outside in
those temperatures if possible. Wash clothing, bedding, pillows, area
rugs, and any other fabrics in extremely hot water and dry in a hot
dryer. Delicate clothing can be sealed in plastic bags and put in the
freezer for at least six hours. If all else fails, there are a few
supposedly non-toxic insecticides sold especially for bed bug
If you’re quick enough, you can kill
these multi-legged, fast moving creatures whenever you see them. Failing
that, dry up the moisture that they’re attracted to, and seal off where
they’re getting into your house. And remember that, as disgusting as
they are, centipedes kill and eat a variety of things you’d probably
like to get rid of, like bedbugs, termites, silverfish, spiders, and
Cockroaches thrive in areas with
moisture, food, and darkness. To trap them, place glue board traps in
areas to which they are attracted. Monitor these traps and clean all
areas where their droppings are present with soap, water, and a
disinfectant. To repel roaches, mix up a red pepper solution (two tbsp
of Tabasco in a quart of water works), pour it into a pump spray bottle,
and mist it onto surfaces. The oils of cedar and mint, as well as bay
leaves, also repel roaches.
A large infestation of crickets can be
damaging to fabric items like clothes and furniture, and contaminate
food. Mix molasses and vanilla extract or lemon juice with water to
attract and drown crickets. Caulk the tiny cracks and crevices by which
they can enter your house.
You can use sticky traps or floating
row covers to protect your plants from flea beetles. Another good method
is to plant a trap crop, such as radishes, to protect your tomato
plants. The flea beetles will gravitate toward your trap crop and leave
your tomatoes alone.
Food Moths & Beetles
The older food is, the more
likely it is to develop an infestation of moths and beetles, so buy
small amounts or store in the freezer. If you buy food from open bins,
seal it in plastic bags and freeze for a week before using. Dry and bulk
food should be stored in glass containers with tight lids. Spreading
cloves, eucalyptus, bay leaves, and dried lemon peels near stored foods
is a common food moth repellent practice.
Flies can be repelled with sachets of
mint, clove, or eucalyptus. Or make your own flypaper; mix 1/4 cup of
corn syrup with 2 tbsp of sugar (a mix of grown and white), then soak
kraft paper in the mixture, dry, and hang.
Rodents are omnivorous and usually
inhabit abandoned or unclean areas, inside and outside your house. So
proper waste management is important in controlling the population of
rodents. Never leave garbage uncovered and store it outside or in a shed
or garage in containers with tight lids. Do not leave food uncovered in
your kitchen, including pet food. If you do notice evidence of mice,
clean and disinfectant the area, wearing gloves. Then seal up the small
holes and cracks through which they enter your house. Outdoors,
incorrect composting practices and abandoned wood piles, as well as
bushes and garden shrubs can also provide shelter to rodents. There are
organic pest control strategies for rodents too. Peppermint is an
effective rodent repellent. Soak some rags or cotton balls in peppermint
oil and then place them in the areas where rodents are active.
Sprinkling some pepper, cinnamon, and cayenne in such areas, especially
in rodent holes, can also be helpful. And growing these plants in your
garden – especially near the foundation – will help keep these critters
away from your home.
Silverfish are attracted to damp, warm
conditions like those found around kitchen and bathroom plumbing. Keep
the area clean of particles, insect eggs, and moisture. Dust the area
thoroughly with diatomaceous earth. Silverfish reportedly dislike the
smell of cinnamon, so it helps to keep some open jars or cloth packets
of the spice in your food cupboards and clothes closets (since they like
You can prevent snails and slugs
from eating your outdoor plants by surrounding them with copper tape;
this is, of course, easier if your plants are in raised beds or pots.
They can be also hand-picked and destroyed (not composted) if the
population is small. Drowning them in a half-buried shallow container of
beer also helps. If you live in an area where it’s available, seaweed
mulch repels slugs.
These and other organic pest control strategies should help keep your
home and garden free from the most bothersome intruders, year ’round.
For more ways to keep your
home and garden green and healthy, read our book
Natural Life Magazine’s Green &
Healthy Homes by
Wendy Priesnitz (The
Alternate Press, 2011).