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10 Natural, Organic Steps to Control Garden Pests and Diseases

Lady beetle
The lady beetle is a beneficial insect that will eat some pest insects.
The lady beetle is a beneficial insect that will eat some pest insects.

There are natural, organic ways to deal with pest and disease problems in the garden. Many of these ways have proved effective over hundreds and even thousands of years.

Today these techniques are often called integrated pest management (IPM) or organic pest management (OPM).

Fundamental to IPM or OPM is close observation—meaning getting into the garden often. Recognizing early on that a plant is stressed will allow you to take one or several steps to keep pests and disease in check.

Most natural or organic method gardeners are willing to tolerate some level of pest or disease damage in order to avoid using more toxic synthetic controls. The trade-off is a healthier garden and a healthier overall environment

Ten techniques to slow and even halt garden pests and diseases without the use of synthetic, non-organic pest and disease controls:

1. Choose the best site and soil for the plants you are growing. This will reduce plant stress and susceptibility to disease and pests. Too much or too little sun, water, shade, and fertilizer can stress plants. Use aged compost to deliver all essential plant nutrients naturally. As well, compost-rich soil is well draining while holding soil moisture. Apply a 2-inch layer of aged compost to your garden twice a year.

2. Choose resistant plant species or varieties. Check seed packets and plant labels for pest and disease and resistance. Seed grower catalogs and websites will also list pest and disease resistance. In the garden mix plant families together to create diversity. This will help avoid the rapid spread of pests or diseases that attack specific plant groups. Keep a garden notebook; note problems and successes for future reference.

3. Prune or pinch to remove damaged and diseased leaves and branches. Pruning will also increase light and air circulation in the garden. Remove dead and diseased plants from the garden immediately.

4. Trap insects with lures—both visual and olfactory. For example, yellow sticky boards will control cucumber beetles, whiteflies, cabbageworms, and thrips; the yeast in shallow pans filled with beer will attract snails and slugs. Rolled, damp newspaper will attract earwigs.

5. Keep the garden clean of plant debris. Pest insects often hide or shelter in dropped or dead leaves. Turn the soil in the fall or between plantings to expose pests to the elements.

6. Handpick insect pests off plants. Handpick slugs, snails, caterpillars, large adult insects, egg masses; drop these pests into soapy water. Shake very small insects from plant leaves onto a piece of paper and dispose of them.

7. Use pest barriers such as floating row covers or sticky bands or copper strips to exclude pests from plants and planting beds. A “collar” or ring of tar paper or cardboard pushed into the soil around a plant will deter cutworms and slugs.

8. Encourage beneficial insects to take up residence in the garden. Release lady beetles, lacewings, spined soldier beetles, praying mantis, or trichogramma wasps to help control pest insects. Grow plants that will provide nectar and pollen for beneficial insects; many beneficial insects are attracted to the herbs dill, caraway, fennel, spearmint, and lemon balm.

9. Bacteria, fungi, or viruses—infectious microorganisms—can be used to injure or kill some garden insect pests. The most commonly used microbial insecticide is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) a species of bacteria that produces a toxin poisonous to many common insect pests. Check with a local nursery or garden center for microbial insecticides.

10. Most insect pests can be controlled with relatively nontoxic sprays. A forceful spray of water from the garden hose is one of the easiest ways to dislodge pests. Insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, and insecticides made from plant extracts such as neem, pyrethrum, or sabadilla are natural alternatives to synthetic pesticides.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.


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  1. My yellow tomatoes have a brown speckled discolouring on top although red tomatoes in the same greenhouse are ok. The yellow fruits still taste good even with the discolouring. Any ideas?

    • The brown discoloring you describe on your tomato fruits sounds like a bacterial spot, blight, or rot. There is no cure for this although you can quickly add aged compost to the planting bed which may help alleviate the problem in the future and keep it from spreading. Your plants are in a greenhouse–if you suspect that sunlight is being refracted through the glass, then the spots could be simple sunburn. But it sounds bacterial: the symptoms of bacterial canker are”bird’s eye” lesions (tiny black spots with whitish halos) on ripe tomato fruit. This is a serious infection and the plant will die. If the plant begins to fail remove it immediately to avoid spreading the disease to other plants.

  2. You have shared nice informative article. During winter, it becomes really hard to save the garden from pests and rodents. Last winter I was dealing with a brown rat infestation in my garden. I could see tooth marks on veggies. I tried traps also but they were in large number so nothing worked. I called rodent prevention team from California. They helped me a lot to get rid of these monsters. You can read about them at-

    • Thanks for this tip. If the garden is not in production during the winter months, it’s always best to do a thorough cleaning of all organic materials–to prevent overwintering of rodents and insect pests.

    • The most common reason for leaves to dry up and turn white is lack of moisture. Keep the soil evenly moist; add aged compost to the soil to help hold soil moisture around plant roots. Other reasons leaves will dry and turn white are: (1) sunburn–too much direct sun; place a cover over the planting bed so that midday sun does not hit the plants; (2) windburn; keep the plants out of direct wind; wind can suck moisture from leaves; (3) too much nitrogen in the soil causing root burn; (4) herbicide exposure; protect plants from weedkillers; (5) disease, some fungal diseases can cause plants to wither and die; remove diseased plants; (5) insect damage.

  3. Natural pest control is so much better for your plants and the soil than any type of insecticide. Many chemical solutions harm the plant just as much as they harm the pest. I would also recommend attracting birds to your garden, they are great for getting rid of all kinds of worms. Ladybugs eat aphids, fleas and other microscopic pests. Neem oil is also a good solution for keeping pests away from your plants. Just make sure to dilute it generously before applying. Strong concentrations of essential oils can burn your skin and your plants.

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