Controlling Pests: An Organic and Holistic Approach

Knowing your garden and the food you produce is free of harmful pesticides is one of the GardenersGuide_Ladybugmain motivations for gardeners. But what if you have pests? There are natural, organic, and non-intensive ways to control unwanted organisms from your garden. In fact, you don’t even do any of the controlling, the garden itself does. It’s important for garden to mimic natural ecosystems as much as possible. And this is the prevention you need to not worry about pests. Using pesticides are responsive and reactionary, and they may not be getting to the root of the problem (pun intended, because the problem is often in the soil).

Pest control starts with a healthy garden. Take a look at the following ecosystem based pest control strategies:

  1. Soil Health: To start, if you have pests in your garden, it could mean your plants are lacking nutrients. Pests can get at weaker plants easier than healthy strong plants. Plants are resilient and have natural strategies to mitigate pest damage. A healthy soil ecosystem that is full of beneficial microbes will provide plants with the nutrients and chemicals they need to fight off pests naturally. Check out the Gardeners' Guide to learn more.
  2. Seaweed Mulch: One specific way to ensure soil health is to use seaweed mulch which contains trace elements like iron, zinc, calcium, sulfur and magnesium. These elements help grow sturdier plants. Seaweed mulch also repels slugs. But any clean mulch will be beneficial for preventing weeds, which can often be a habitat for insect pests. Mulch also keeps the soil ecosystem healthy by retaining moisture, and by providing food for soil organisms.
  3. Coffee grinds: Coffee is more than just an energizing drink. Coffee grinds are everywhere and can be easily used to keep pests away. Their odor is quite strong and repels rodents, slugs, and ants. You can add small amounts directly to the soil around your plants, but just don’t put them by your tomatoes. The coffee grinds will decompose over time and add nutrients to your soil as well. Plus, you’re making use of a waste!
  4. Moisture: You might think that no one can mess up watering plants. It seems pretty basic. But watering your plants in the morning, instead of at night can prevent unwanted fungus growth. The sun will dry out the leaves throughout the day which is important because wet leaves can attract insects and fungus.
  5. Biodiversity: A diversity of plants will attract a diversity of beneficial bugs. Insect predators can be extremely beneficial for natural pest control. The classic examples are ladybugs and aphids. Ladybugs are attracted to a habitat with flowers from the daisy family, tansy, or yarrow. Ladybugs eat aphids which tend to be an issue for leafy greens like lettuce and spinach. A side benefit is that flowers will attract more pollinators throughout the growing season that will pollinate your vegetable plants. A diverse ecosystem is your best bet for preventing pests.

Plants are resilient, but pests are resilient too. Pests can still find ways to infest even if you use all of the above strategies. When this happens, intervention with organic sprays might be the best option. Certain natural pesticides are effective against certain pests like spider mites, ants, roaches, slugs, flies, wasps, caterpillars, and aphids. Organic sprays contain chemicals that break down easier than pesticides. Some of the chemicals in organic sprays may be toxic to some beneficial garden critters, but this should not be a problem in the diluted solutions found in the following recipes. 

So what are these organic sprays?

There is a very simple do-it-yourself (DIY) pesticide for mites and aphids.

What you need:

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • a few drops of non-toxic, non-caustic dish soap
  • 1 litre of water
  • spray bottle


  1. mix one tablespoon of olive oil and a few drops of a non-toxic dish soap into a litre of water into a spray bottle
  2. Shake it up and spray the plant from the top and bottom to get the top and underside of the leaves. The oils in the mix will smother the insects.

A more effective, but slightly more complicated DIY recipe is garlic pepper insect spray. It can be stored for up to a week as well.

What you need:

  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 1 small onion
  • cheesecloth
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Spray bottle

1)      Chop or puree a one garlic bulb and one small onion

2)      Mix with one teaspoon of cayenne pepper and one litre of water

3)      Let the mixture sit for one hour so the water can absorb the ingredients

4)      Strain the mixture with a cheesecloth into a spray bottle

5)      Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and shake

6)      Spray all over the plants ensuring you cover the top and bottom of leaves

If your garden is being affected by mildew, rust, stem rot, brown spot, brown rot, leaf spot, or other fungal diseases, you can also make some chamomile tea, cool it off, and spray it on the affected areas every few. Chamomile tea acts as a mild and organic fungicide.

For more recipes on specific natural pesticides for specific pests, check out the following links:

Global Healing Center: 10 Homemade Organic Pesticides

Tipnut: Natural Homemade Pesticides

Pests can be a real pain. If you treat your garden like an ecosystem and provide nutrients and moisture and a habitat and food for pollinators, you can help to prevent pests from invading your garden.

You can learn more about organic pest controls at these websites:

Eartheasy: Natural Garden Pest Control

EcoSnippets: DIY Garden Pest Control

Government of South Australia: Organic Pest Control in the Garden  

Rodale’s Organic Life: 14 Nontoxic Ways to Keep Pests Out

Rodale's Organic Life: Organic Pest-Control Techniques

By Nate Van Beilen