Natural Pest Control Methods

The Tasteful Garden promotes natural pest control methods such as keeping your garden clean and weeded,using mulches and good compost in the soil, and organically made pesticides only when absolutely necessary.

We believe that healthy, happy, plants will have a naturally immunity to pests and diseases and in the long run can protect our environment from overuse of pesticides. 

In many cases, when you see damage to the leaves of a vegetable plant, the plant is not in danger of dying, only being nibbled on by an occasional insect. Other times, your plants can be literally eaten away overnight by some hungry snails, cut off at the base by a cutworm, or dug out of the ground by a squirrel. This can be heartbreaking when it happens but keep in mind that we share the earth with these creatures and your garden looks like a really great place to hang out! Most of the time, simple methods which have been used for many years by gardeners are the best way to combat the situation.

Below we have listed some of the more common pests for gardeners and the easiest technique to get rid of one or two, as well as a more thorough way to eliminate a full-on assault by these creatures.If you do use any type of commercially bought pesticides, always make sure to read the directions carefully and never use more than is recommended. Even organic pesticides can be dangerous and can kill honeybees and birds if overused. Killing every insect in your garden is not a good idea because many beneficial insects which eat other pests can be killed and this can create a worse problem. There are also many living creatures in the soil which help to break it down and provide nutritious soil for your plants which can be killed such as earthworms and bacteria.

Many diseases are spread by splashing water so water sprinklers and heavy rains can create molds, fungus’, and bacterial diseases which can make your plants very unhappy and sometimes can kill them. Mulching with dried leaves, pine straw, hay straw, grass clippings, newspaper, and even cardboard can make all the difference in keeping diseases under control. They can also help hold in moisture and protect from overheating the soil in the hot summer months. This keeps plants happier and healthier and can prevent stressful conditions which invite infestations of insects.

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening is done in the backyard by understanding that a healthy, happy plant, in good, nutritious, soil helps prevent most diseases and harmful insect damage. It is not necessary to kill every insect in the garden, as many pesticides do, but it is important to keep your garden mulched, watered, weeded and clean of debris to prevent problems.

Tomato Hornworm

The Tomato Hornworm is definitely the scariest pest in the garden, growing up to 5″ long, they resemble something from a bad 70’s movie. They are not dangerous to people but to a tomato plant they are very heavy feeders and can eat quite a lot of leaves. Female moths lay eggs under the leaves of the tomato plant and once they hatch and start feeding they grow quickly. They eventually make their way into the ground and stay until they become adult moths.


Roto-tilling in spring helps prevent worms and moving your tomatoes each year can also help. The best way to get rid of them once you know you have a problem is to look for them at dusk when they are most active. They can be very hard to find because of their coloring. They leave black droppings behind and that can help with tracking them down. Usually picking them off does the trick, just keep checking for new damage through the season.

Many people use an organic product called Bacillus Thuringiensis, or BT Worm Killer Spray, which is a powder that you can spray on the underside of the leaves to kill the eggs. It washes off quickly in rain and must be applied once a week.

Cabbage Worm

The Cabbage Worm and Parsley worms can cause a lot of damage to leafy green plants and their holes are often mistakenly blamed on some type of flying bug.

Cabbage Moth

The Cabbage Moth, the pretty white butterfly we see in our gardens couldn’t possibly be causing any damage. Most of us think that a bug has to be ugly and black or green to be a “bad” bug. This butterfly can lay eggs on a plant and within a few days they are hatched and eating their weight in leaves every day. The eggs of the Cabbage Moth will be found underneath the leaves.

Parsley Worm

Butterflies for the Parsley worm are really beautiful and many people grow parsley for their ability to attract them to the garden. However, if you are growing parsley to eat the parsley, make sure you watch carefully for signs of the butterfly and either cover the plants up with row cover or spray BT to prevent these caterpillars from doing serious damage.


Watch carefully throughout the season for moths and as soon as you see them fluttering start looking for the eggs and worms. Picking off caterpillars usually keeps them under control, just keep checking for new damage throughout the season. Or, you can spray your plants organically, underneath the leaves, with Bacillus thuringiensis or “BT” to kill the hatching worms. BT can be washed off by rain so it must be applied about once a week. Larger caterpillars can be squashed if you prefer which is more fun.

Slugs & Snails


Slugs and Snails are not really bugs but they can be some of the worst creatures in your garden. They are leaf and stem eaters and there are certain plants they love to eat like Basil and leafy garden vegetables. They can even climb small citrus trees and eat the leaves and suck on the fruit. They can eat their way through a young basil plant literally overnight and leave you blaming the rabbits, squirrels or your dog. They eat all night long and hide in dark, cool, damp places all day long. There are several ways of preventing their damage and I will try to tell you which ones work and why.


The most commonly used prevention is the slug and snail baits that are sold in garden centers. They do work if you follow the directions on the box and replace them when it rains. They contain Metaldehyde and as the snails eat it they will slowly die. Many formulations can be dangerous to use around birds or pets and are not labeled for use around edible plants. Fortunately there has been a new bait developed called “Sluggo” that is safe around pets and will break down into iron in the soil. It is pricey but good and very safe for use around herbs and vegetables

The best way to prevent snails and slugs is to create barriers that they cannot cross over to get to your basil. Any type of copper can be used to make a wall that electrically shocks their body (fun isn’t it) or wood ashes, crushed egg shells (easy and cheap), or diatomaceous earth which cut into their soft flesh.

Another thing that needs to be done is to try to eliminate as many of the snails as you can find. You don’t have to go out into the garden at night with a flashlight. You can place boards out in the area propped up slightly and they will hide there during the day. Go out in the afternoon and remove them from the shady side of the board and destroy them. Follow their slime trails to track down their hiding places. Beer traps work by drowning slugs but hardly ever catch snails as they are not really beer drinkers.

Encourage natural enemies such as birds, toads, and salamanders, also chickens and ducks are efficient snail hunters. Good luck and don’t have too much fun

Mexican Bean Beetle

The Mexican Bean Beetle and the Japanese Beetle attack most varieties of Bean plants as well as roses and many other plants, eating away at the leaves until they look similar to lace.They can be very destructive to bean plants and their pods. They should be watched for during June through August when the adults are most actively feeding. They start out yellow or beige and develop their spots after reaching full adulthood. Check your plants frequently under the leaves for egg sacks and remove them immediately.


If the damage is visible, lay a cloth under the plants and shake the stems until the beetles fall off the plant. Collect them on the cloth and dispose of them. The best pre-treatment for Japanese beetles is Milky Spore which is a bacterial powder that kills only Japanese beetle grubs while they are feeding underground in the Fall. There are also organic sprays that can be used in cases of severe infestation. Always use all pesticides, even organic ones, as directed on the bottle.

Whiteflies & Aphids

Whiteflies and Aphids are a nuisance more than damaging but if left alone, can create a colony very quickly which can cause a lot of damage. Whiteflies are small flying bugs which when disturbed will fly up and around the plant in a frenzy for a few seconds. Aphids are small non-flying bugs which can vary in color depending upon what they are eating. They do not have teeth and if you see holes in the leaves, don’t blame these insects. Their damage is to the soft, tender, new growth and they suck the sweet juices out of the leaves.

Aphids and Whiteflies will usually attack plants that are under stress of some kind. Indoors, herbs are always under some kind of stress, usually one of three things is the case. The first is not enough light (they need about 4 hours a day), second could be that their pots are too small for them (6″ should be the absolute minimum size), third is too much watering (never let your plants sit in a tray of water and don’t water until the soil feels dry to the touch). If you find that one or more of these is the problem, do what you can to correct it first before you spray. If that does not get rid of them, you can spray them with a little soapy water (dish washing soap squirted into a spray bottle filled with water) or insecticidal soap such as this Earth-tone product. Leave it on for only a hour or so and then wash it off. You may need a couple of treatments but it will get rid of them eventually.

There is also an organic spray that is called Neem II t that is even better than the soap spray. It is made from Neem oil and is combined with Pyrethrum from the Chrysanthemum plant, which works on many types of insects as a deterrent and a killing spray. Spinosad (or Lawn and Garden spray) is also available as a quick knock down for aphids and is very effective.

Squash Vine Bore

The squash vine borer is a key pest of squash, gourds and pumpkins. Unfortunately, it is usually noticed only after it has done its damage. Symptoms appear in mid summer when a long runner or an entire plant wilts suddenly. Infested vines usually die beyond the point of attack.

Sawdust like frass near the base of the plant is the best evidence of squash vine borer activity. Careful examination will uncover yellow brown excrement pushed out through holes in the side of the stem at the point of wilting. If the stem is split open, one to several borers are usually present. The caterpillars reach a length of 1 inch and have a brown head and a cream colored body.

The adult squash vine borer is a stout dark gray moth with ‘hairy’ red hind legs, opaque front wings, and clear hind wings with dark veins. Unlike most moths, they fly about the plants during the daytime, appearing more like a paper wasp than a moth.

This insect overwinters as a full grown larva or a pupa one to two inches below the soil surface. If it has not already done so, the larva pupates in the spring. Adult moths begin to emerge about the time the plants begin to run, and moth flight continues through mid August.

The small brown eggs, laid individually on leaf stalks and vines, hatch in seven to 10 days. The newly hatched larva immediately bores into the stem. A larva feeds for 14 to 30 days before exiting the stem to pupate in the soil. There are sometimes 1 to 2 generations per year.



Home gardeners may have some success with deworming the vines. At the first signs of the sawdust like frass, vines are slit lengthwise near where the damage is found and the borers removed. The stems should be immediately covered with earth. Sanitation is also important. After harvest is complete, vines should be removed from the garden and composted to prevent the remaining borers from completing larval development. Burying a few nodes along each vine will encourage rooting at these nodes. This will lessen the impact if squash vine borers girdle the base of the vine. Visit our Organic Gardening department in our catalog for more great products.

Honey Bees & Bumble Bees

Honey Bees and Bumble Bees are the primary pollinators of vegetables, fruit trees and flowers. They are very important creatures in the garden. The native bumblebee is a large, black, fuzzy bee with a yellow or reddish stripe on its middle. It is the bee that pollinates your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Along with Honeybees and Orchard Mason bees, they feed on pollen and nectar from the flowers of garden plants and flowering trees. As they go from flower to flower they distribute the pollen and this creates the process which results in fruiting. Without their help the plants are on their own and cannot propagate by themselves.

Pesticides can be very toxic to bees, especially Carbaryl or Sevin dust which is a particularly strong insecticide that may cause cancer. Many bee viruses and certain species of mites, in addition to spraying of pesticides, have killed off large numbers of naturalized honeybees. It is important to create areas in our gardens which allow them to multiply. Plant nectar flowers and flowering lavenders near your vegetable gardens and provide a source of water for them and they will thrive. Never spray any pesticides which are harmful to bees and use organic sprays which evaporate quickly. Watch out for nests and hives so you don’t get stung because once they have used their stingers, they will die.

Ladybugs (Lady Beetles)

Ladybugs (Lady beetles) are a great pleasure to see in your garden because they are so indispensable for fighting aphid problems. It is technically a beetle and grows to about 1/4 inch long. Ladybugs cause no plant damage at all and are sold in garden centers everywhere. They will eat large amounts of aphids and then fly onto another plant to eat more.

Be aware that if you buy a box of ladybugs they may move on to your neighbors house when they can’t find enough to eat at your house. It is a good idea to spray your plants with a diluted sugar-water solution before you release them to give them a drink and make them want to stay home. Many household pesticides (even insecticidal soaps) can kill ladybugs and their larvae so always spray carefully, even if you use organic methods.


Damaging Insects Click to read more about these insects

Beneficial Insects Click to read more about these insects

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