Pesticides are special substances that have a detrimental effect on pests, bacteria, weeds, and fungi. Unfortunately, some of these products are not safe to use, although they effectively save crops. To avoid harming yourself, pets, and wildlife, you should use eco-friendly pesticides.
Such products have proven effective against plant diseases and pests, but they do not have a destructive effect on the environment, and fruits and vegetables grown with them are safe to eat.
Read on to find out what substances you can apply in your eco-friendly gardening, as a safe and sustainable alternatives to conventional pesticides.
Let’s dig in!
Eco-Friendly Pesticide Guide: The Best Way to Protect Your Plants
Modern science offers a huge selection of environmentally friendly pesticides. You can find products that contain pest-attacking microorganisms, beneficial bacteria, insecticidal oils, and herbal extracts. Using eco-friendly pesticides, you take care of nature and save your crops simultaneously.
Let’s take a look at seven of the best options for eco-friendly pest control in your garden:
1. Microbial Insecticides
Microbial products are based on special toxic substances secreted by viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other simple microorganisms.
They infect and gradually kill pest colonies but do not cause any harm to beneficial creatures since they are highly specific (that is, aimed at one particular type of insect only).
These types of insecticides can be viral, fungal, and bacterial. They infect pests and either gradually kill them or shorten their lifespan, preventing them from reaching sexual maturity.
A typical and one of the most effective representatives of this type of insecticide is Spinosad. It is a fermentation product of Saccharopolyspora Spinosa, a natural bacteria found in sugar cane isolates and soil. It has proven effective against many flying insects and especially Hymenopterans, making it the best fire ant killer on the market today. This tool has a nerve-paralytic effect that leads to the death of insects.
Take a look at this video by OklahomaGardening for more on microbial insecticides and how to use them:
2. Insecticidal Soaps
Soap has been used to control various small pests for a very long time. Now, instead of DIY products, you can use ready-made solutions.
The main component of such funds is potassium salts of fatty acids. This substance is also found in ordinary soap, which we use every day, but in insecticides, it is used in a lower concentration for a more delicate effect on plants.
Insecticide soaps and sprays based on them are aimed at controlling pests that do not have thick shells, such as mealybugs or aphids. However, it has been observed that such remedies also damage earwigs, scales, and mites.
Unfortunately, it can also kill beneficial insects, such as ladybug larvae. Therefore, the treatment should be carried out pointwise, trying not to harm other inhabitants of your garden.
Although such soaps are mild, they still carry the risk of chemical burns, so do not completely wash plants in them. It is also recommended to test the products on several leaves. If after 2-3 days they have not turned yellow and curled up, you can safely spray all the flowers.
3. Insecticidal Oils
Oils, like soaps, have long been used in horticulture and agriculture to control diseases and pests. Such products are highly viscous and are usually diluted in water at a certain concentration before use, depending on the plants. Oils can have different origins, including:
Regardless of the type, oils have about the same effect. Due to their high density, they clog pores and airways, disrupting gas exchange and the structure of cell membranes. Such products are effective against aphids, thrips, mealybugs, and other soft-bodied arthropods. However, they can also inhibit the growth of fungi and the spread of plant viruses.
When using such oils, try to treat all hard-to-reach places where pests can hide and accumulate: the reverse sides of leaves, junctions of branches and trunks, etc. For the best effect, direct contact of the insects with the oils is desirable. At the same time, monitor the ambient temperature so as not to damage the plants. Burns can occur if it is over 85°F (30°C) and the humidity is over 90%.
4. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a fine flour-like powder composed of crushed shells of fossil algae (diatoms). Its peculiarity lies in the fact that it has excellent adsorbent properties. There are industrial and household products based on it. The second option is absolutely safe for humans, animals, and pets and is actively used for eco-friendly pest control.
Due to its composition, DE has no chemical but a physical effect on organisms. The powder particles have extremely sharp edges (for insects) that can cut through the chitinous shells and adhere to bugs’ oily surfaces. Upon contact, DE absorbs liquids and fats, killing pests by dehydration. It is effective against any insects with exoskeletons.
At the same time, the absorbent properties can save plants from diseases caused by excessive watering and high humidity. Add it to the ground to improve hydration and aeration. Normalization of the soil condition also indirectly contributes to increased productivity and decreased likelihood of pests.
5. Neem Oil
Neem oil belongs to natural insecticidal oils and affects organisms at the genetic level. It is made from the seeds of the Neem tree and is the active ingredient in many garden products.
It contains Azadirachtin, which has a versatile destructive effect on insects. Firstly, it is an effective repellent. Secondly, it disrupts the feeding and digestive processes in the body of pests. Thirdly, it slows down their growth and development, inhibiting hormonal processes and laying eggs.
The list of insects for which this oil is deadly is quite large and includes:
- Japanese beetles
- Mites, and others
Moreover, despite such a wide impact, Neem oil is considered safe for beneficial insects since they do not gnaw on plant leaves.
Before starting treatment, be sure to test the spray effect on small areas. If you don’t notice any damage after a couple of days, spray liberally on all the flowers and trees in the garden. Repeat the application after a week or in case of heavy rain.
6. Food Leftovers
Some food leftovers can act as effective environmentally friendly pest control and serve as fertilizer for your plants. The following products have repellent properties:
- Cucumber peels repel ants.
- Coffee grounds create a physical barrier to slugs and snails. If you burn coffee residue, it makes an excellent mosquito, bug, and fruit fly repellent.
- The smell of garlic peelings is disliked by spider mites, aphids, some beetles, and root maggots.
- Banana peels are extremely effective against aphids that live on rose bushes.
- Orange peels repel both slugs and fruit flies as well as large animals that can be pests like stray cats, foxes, or raccoons.
- Salt spray is an excellent remedy for snails and slugs.
These food scraps can be laid out in insect areas or buried in the ground next to infested plants. However, be careful that this method does not harm you. For example, not buried deep enough banana peels may repel aphids but attract raccoons.
Pyrethrin is the active ingredient in many natural insecticides. It is made from flowers (chrysanthemums) and has a nerve-paralytic effect. Upon contact, it quickly absorbs into the body and destroys neural connections, leading to pests’ death.
In low concentrations, it acts as a repellent, deterring unwanted insects. Products based on pyrethrin effectively fight bedbugs, scale insects, aphids, and all flower- and leaf-eating beetles. At the same time, insects with strong chitinous shells can be resistant to their effects.
This short video by Pests, Weeds & Problems gives a quick overview of Pyrethrin as an eco-friendly pesticide:
For horticulture and agriculture, it is good because it oxidizes and weathers quite quickly in the open air and under the action of sunlight. Because of this, it can be safely used right before the harvesting season.
It is safe to use both outdoors and indoors. However, since such products quickly disintegrate after application, they require regular repeated applications.
8. Plant Derived Alkaloids
The foliage of the tomato plant (and other members of the nightshade family, like eggplant and chili peppers) contains alkaloids that are toxic to pests, especially aphids and mites. These built-in defense systems are toxic to aphids but also attract their natural predators, ladybugs. Making this pesticide spray is cheap, easy, and safe.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 4 cups of tomato leaves
- Boiling Water
- Mineral oil
- Bio-degradable dish soap
Simply add 2 cups of tomato leaves to 2 cups of boiling water, and leave to soak overnight. Soaking the leaves in water will only extract a small amount of the alkaloid, so add the remaining 2 cups of leaves to 50 ml of mineral oil and soak overnight.
The alkaloids are only released when the leaves are cut, so chop them before soaking.
Strain both solutions through cheesecloth into a jar and add 5 ml of dish soap to the mix. To make a spray, mix 2 tablespoons with 500 ml of water in a spray bottle and apply!
Before starting treatment, be sure to test the spray effect on small areas. If you see any yellowing or drying of the leaves, add more water to your mix before applying liberally to your garden.
9. Insectary Plant
An effective long-term strategy for truly eco-friendly pest control is attracting their predators with “companion planting.” These flowering plants are grown to attract, feed, and shelter beneficial insects that can help protect your ecosystem from destructive pests.
They are best planted in strips between other plants, creating protective microhabitats.
Here are some good examples of insectary plants:
Choosing which companion plants to place in your garden depends on what you’re growing, and what type of pests you need protection from. Even though this is one of the most eco-friendly ways of controlling pests, it takes more effort than other measures and can take some time to cultivate.
The time and effort pay off in the end, giving you a beautiful and diverse garden that’s vibrant and thriving with life.
Final Thoughts on Eco-Friendly Pesticides for Safe Gardening
When shopping for pesticides, you have a huge selection. To make your gardening safer and more environmentally friendly, use products made from natural ingredients.
Knowing the features and use of each tool, you can effectively fight against insect pests, parasites, and plant diseases. Although eco-friendly products decompose faster in the sun and air than their chemical counterparts, they do not lose effectiveness with regular application.
Please share your garden pest management experience in the comments. What products do you use? What has been the most effective for you?
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you make pesticides eco-friendly?
Nature is full of products whose composition or smell repels and even kills pests and parasites. You can use food scraps like coffee grounds or orange peels, which can be found in any kitchen. You can also get natural products such as diatomaceous earth or neem oil. Or use ready-made options like Spinosad. Check out the full guide to learn more about eco-friendly pest control.
Which pesticides are least toxic to the environment?
The safest are insecticidal soaps, oils, and microbial insecticides. Other eco-friendly products include sprays and liquids containing Pyrethrin or Azadirachtin. Together with food leftovers, they can effectively control the spread of diseases and pests. Read the full guide to learn more about safe, non-toxic pesticides.
What are sustainable alternatives to pesticides?
Sustainable agriculture uses organic matter as an alternative to pesticides. When added to the soil, products such as mustard meal or rice bran decompose, reducing oxygen and creating an environment unsuitable for microorganisms and pests to live. You can use diatomaceous earth and specialized soaps and oils for added protection. Read the full guide to learn more about sustainable pesticide alternatives.
References and Useful Resources
Clemson University: Insecticidal Soaps for Garden Pest Control
National Pesticide Information Centre: Diatomaceous Earth Factsheet
National Pesticide Information Centre: Neem Oil Factsheet
National Pesticide Information Centre: Pyrethrin Factsheet
Science Direct: Saccharopolyspora spinosa
Texas A&M University Agrilife Extension: Using Oils As Pesticides