Organic Pest Management & Beneficial Insect Controls

Each season, our gardens offer an ever changing variety of fruits and vegetables. Along with this, comes a variety of insecticidal pests. Nothing can take the wind out of your gardening sails faster than damage caused by these silent foes. In response, some gardeners won't hesitate to grab the first full spectrum insecticide they can find.

Then there's the organic approach which has gained in popularity. How can you fight off garden pests without using toxic pesticides or sprays? How can you attract & identify beneficial insects to help as natural controls? The more you rely on natural mechanisms, the less you'll need to personally do as a gardener.

Destructive Insects (Garden Pests) Identification

Our gardens serve as an oasis for life. With each type of crop you plant, you'll soon come to discover an insect or critter that has found a veritable feast. If left unchecked you can kiss your harvest good-bye. So take the time to recognize your enemies & what they're drawn to. Take the cabbage moth larvea, for example. Holes in my kale.... hmm? If you don't spot them fast, your leaves will be denuded.

Garden Insect Pests: Three-lined Potato Beetle (larvae)
Garden Insect Pests: Three-lined Potato Beetle (larvae)
Pin It
Three-lined Potato Beetle (lema daturaphila)
Garden Insect Pests: Three-lined Potato Beetle (lema daturaphila)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Aphids
Garden Insect Pests: Aphids
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Winged Aphid [alate]
Garden Insect Pests: Winged Aphid [alate]
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Leaf Miners
Garden Insect Pests: Leaf Miners
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Cucumber Beetle
Garden Insect Pests: Cucumber Beetle
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Japanese Beetle
Garden Insect Pests: Japanese Beetle
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Black Vine Weevil (otiorhynchus sulcatus)
Garden Insect Pests: Black Vine Weevil (otiorhynchus sulcatus)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Cabbage Moth (larvae)
Garden Insect Pests: Cabbage Moth (larvae)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Cabbage Moth
Garden Insect Pests: Cabbage Moth
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Green Stink Bug (chinavia hilaris)
Garden Insect Pests: Green Stink Bug (chinavia hilaris)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (nymph) & Eggs
Garden Insect Pests: Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (nymph) & Eggs
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Adult
Garden Insect Pests: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Adult
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Cabbage Root Maggots (delia radicum)
Garden Insect Pests: Cabbage Root Maggots (delia radicum)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Slugs
Garden Insect Pests: Slugs
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: False Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa juncta)
Garden Insect Pests: False Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa juncta)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Common Asparagus Beetle (Crioceris asparagi)
Garden Insect Pests: Common Asparagus Beetle (Crioceris asparagi)
Pin It
May-June Beetle, Junebug (Phyllophaga)
Garden Insect Pests: May-June Beetle, Junebug (Phyllophaga)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)
Garden Insect Pests: Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Dogwood Sawfly Larvae (Macremphytus tarsatus)
Garden Insect Pests: Dogwood Sawfly Larvae (Macremphytus tarsatus)
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) Late & Early Stage Nymphs
Garden Insect Pests: Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) Late & Early Stage Nymphs
Pin It
Garden Insect Pests: Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) Adult
Garden Insect Pests: Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) Adult
Pin It

How to Protect Plants From Destructive Insects

Why Healthy Plants Can Resist Pests

HEALTHY PLANTS ARE MORE RESILIENT: Without a doubt, preventing a pest infestation is the best option. Healthy plants are the first place to start. When humans feel sick, they try to get good rest, fluids & nourishment. By doing so, they can often fight off infections on their own. To an extent, the same applies to our plants. Drought stressed plants will wilt and could suffer tissue damage. Poorly fertilized vegetables will show obvious signs of deficiency. A plant that is starved for light will be thin and spindly. It won't have the energy to withstand attacks.

When our garden vegetables are under constant stress, many insects can naturally detect this. They often target and feast upon those weakened plants. Meanwhile, they may completely ignore the healthy ones that are just a few inches away! Aphids, pill bugs and maggots quickly come to mind. So keep your veggies healthy. Make sure they get proper light, moisture & nutrients. You can even select plant cultivars that have natural resistance to certain diseases, giving them a genetic advantage!

Large Healthy Garden Plants Can Withstand Pressure from Insect Pests & Pathogens
Supply plants with enough light, water & nutrients so they grow large & vigorous. Healthy plants can fight off pests & diseases.

How To Protect Plants With Physical Barriers

PHYSICAL BARRIERS TO PROTECT PLANTS: Even the most vigorous of plants can be overcome by the right pests. So you must be prepared to take accountability. They're counting on you! Screens and nettings can be constructed to protect leafy veggies. A physical barrier works great for keeping flies (and leaf mining maggots) off of your spinach and swiss chard. I've used anti-insect greenhouse netting with amazing success when protecting my kale from cabbage moths and their destructive worms.

Nylon Fruit Maggot Barrier Tied Around Asian Pear for Organic Gardening Pest Control
This organic nylon fruit maggot barrier can be tied around fruits when they're young to control pests.

ORGANIC POWDER COATINGS: You can even dust your crops with food grade diatomaceous earth to keep away mites and aphids. Diatomaceous earth comes from the fossilized remains of diatoms which act like tiny shards of glass. As long as you don't inhale it, it's not dangerous to humans. But it can kill pests that have an exoskeleton through desiccation. Kaolin clay is another option for organic gardeners. The mineral powder can be suspended in water and sprayed on plants. The remaining residue creates a particle film which can deter pests. It can be applied to fruits like apples and pears. Then after harvesting it is easy to wash off.

Pepper Plants Protected by Aphid-Proof Insect Netting + Baby Praying Mantis
This insect netting is fine enough to even block out aphids, but it also excludes predators like this young praying mantis.

THE DOWNSIDE OF NETTING BARRIERS: Netting barriers are not a silver bullet though. Obviously, there's the upfront cost and installation time. Beyond that though, an insect netting doubles as a shade cloth. This is good in areas that are excessively hot and closer to the equator. But reduced light transmission can reduce yield in areas that already have marginal light exposure. Additionally, netting can keep out bad bugs, but also the good ones. That means you can't count on wasps, ladybugs or mantises to eliminate any pests that sneak through your defenses. You also won't get help from bees or other pollinators. So be sure to weigh the pros and cons when considering pest barriers.

How Companion Planting Protects Plants

COMPANION HERB PLANTING: The inclusion of companion herbs and flowers is a win-win for any gardener. Herbs can be harvested for consumption. Their flowers enhance the beauty of your garden. The fragrances can be delightful. And to top it all off, those very same fragrances that we may love, are HATED by some of our enemies!

Essential oils or volatile oils can be found in thousands of plants across the planet. These oils may contain phenolic compounds which can provide natural defense against harmful insect pests. Exposure to essential oils is often toxic or even lethal. Naturally then susceptible insects tend to stay away.

So why not use that to your advantage? Some gardeners have found garlic to deter Aphids, Cabbage Moth, Japanese Beetles, Tomato Worm or Weevils. Marigolds may help with Asparagus Beetles, Bean Beetles, Nematodes and Whiteflies. You might try lavendar for Fleas, Ticks, Mice or Moths. Basil, Chives, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary and Tansy all help to create a defensive wall that will discourage many pests from even approaching.

What Types of Organic Sprays Are Safe for Gardening?

INSECTICIDAL SOAP: Once insect pests break through plant defenses, quick action may be needed. An application of a safe, organic, insecticidal soap will go a long way. Entire colonies can be wiped out with a single application, thereby turning the tides of war in your favor. Insecticidal soap can quickly wipe out an aphid colony, allowing your plants to recover. Insecticidal soap is completely organic and OMRI listed. It uses potassium salts of fatty acids to kill various soft-bodied insect pests like aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, leafhoppers and mites. The spray is safe enough to be used up until the day of harvest.

Growing Peppers Indoors Infested with Aphids Neem Oil Concentrate used as Chemical Control
Stressed plants brought indoors might harbor pests that require some sort of spray treatment.

NEEM OIL SPRAYS: Neem is also an excellent natural pesticide that works well for organic gardening. You can buy a concentrated form of neem which can be mixed to make a large volume of solution. Neem oil is derived from the seeds of the neem tree. Not only can neem protect against insect pests, but even some pathogen diseases like powdery mildew, rust and black spot. It works well as a dormant spray for perennial garden plants. Neem does have a strong smell after it's first applied. And it leaves a protective shiny coating on plant leaves. For that reason, I don't apply it to greens that I intend to eat like spinach, lettuce, chard, kale, etc.

Video: Praying Mantis Eats Stink Bug

This praying mantis is a natural insect predator for controlling stink bug pests!

Beneficial Insects for Organic Pest Control

"Beneficials" can include insects, arachnids, amphibians and more. Every day they're out there, in your garden -catching stink bugs, munching on aphids and decimating mites. When you come across a new insect you've never seen, you might not know if it's good or bad for the garden. It's true, if you're not careful you might encounter a little friendly fire. But typically, these guys are on YOUR side. So get out there and...

It's good to know that you're not alone in this battle. ENTER PREDATOR! That's right. Not every creepy-crawly is out to get you. Do you know what the larval form of a lady bug looks like? Well you should!!! Those little guys can do a lot to help you with your aphid problem. So when you spot one, please resist the urge to squish.

Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Yellow Jacket
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Yellow Jacket
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Brown Wasp
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Brown Wasp
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Four-toothed Mason Wasp (Monobia quadridens)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Four-toothed Mason Wasp (Monobia quadridens)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Mud Dauber Wasp
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Mud Dauber Wasp
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Great Black Wasp (sphex pensylvanicus)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Great Black Wasp (sphex pensylvanicus)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Lady Bugs (larvae)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Lady Bugs (larvae)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Lady Bug (pupae)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Lady Bug (pupae)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Seven Spotted Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Seven Spotted Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Fourteen Spotted Ladybug (propylea 14-punctata)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Fourteen Spotted Ladybug (propylea 14-punctata)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Jumping Spider (phidippus audax)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Jumping Spider (phidippus audax)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) [Arachnid]
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) [Arachnid]
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Zebra Jumping Spider (salticus scenicus)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Zebra Jumping Spider (salticus scenicus)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Green Lacewing Larvae (chrysoperla carnea)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Green Lacewing Larvae (chrysoperla carnea)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Green Lacewing (chrysoperla carnea)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Green Lacewing (chrysoperla carnea)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Chinese Praying Mantis
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Chinese Praying Mantis
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Wheel Bug (arilus cristatus) [Assassin Bug]
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Wheel Bug (arilus cristatus) [Assassin Bug]
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Bumblebee (Bombus)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Bumblebee (Bombus)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Carpenter Bee
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Carpenter Bee
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Honey Bee (Apis)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: Honey Bee (Apis)
Pin It
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: American Toad (anaxyrus americanus)
Organic Garden Beneficial Insect: American Toad (anaxyrus americanus)
Pin It

How to Attract Beneficial Insects to the Garden

How Pesticides Damage Beneficial Insects

PESTICIDES: ARE YOU KILLING YOUR FRIENDS? Broad spectrum insecticides, whether organic or not, can indiscriminately kill the good along with the bad. For example, neonic insecticides work systemically, penetrating all of a plant's tissues. Not only will these neurotoxins kill insects that feed on them, but even pollinators that consume the pollen and nectar of host plants.

In trying to thwart some unrelenting garden pest, we may be stamping out the biologic controls that would gladly do the work for us. So limit the use of pesticides and instead, focus on attracting the good bugs. Insecticidal soaps and neem oils are less destructive options, when push comes to shove.

ARE YOU KILLING OFF A FOOD SUPPLY? There's a second, less obvious, way that pesticides can negatively impact beneficial insects. Predatory insects like praying mantises or ladybugs actually require insect pests as a food source. Any time I've seen a runaway population of aphids, the lady bug nymphs were soon to follow. It takes a little patience, but nature tends to catch up and balance things out. By wiping out all insect pests with a spray, you might be careful not to directly damage beneficials. But you're still removing a vital food source which would have bolstered the ranks of those coveted predators. So just keep that in mind when determining whether a pesticide is really called for.

How To Create Habitat For Beneficial Insects

Beneficial Insect Habitat Perennial Flower & Herb Garden
By cultivating a broad range of perennial flowers & herbs, beneficial insects have habitat to live, feed & reproduce.

VACANCY: CREATING AN INVITING HABITAT. In an urban setting, our yards may consist of grass, concrete, grass, asphalt and... grass. Where are the ladybugs expected to hang out all day? What cover is available for their developing larvae? Do you want to attract pollinators? Do you want predators like preying mantids to make camp for the summer? Then step outside of your garden and spend time looking at your landscape too. Select some bee friendly perennial flowers. Put in some herbs that will beautify your property while providing a home for beneficial insects. Lush, high density plantings of perennials paired alongside your traditional garden annuals will support a robust, healthy community. Year after year you will notice the ranks growing as balance is achieved in your little backyard ecosystem.

Buying Insects For Organic Pest Control

IMMIGRATION: BOLSTERING THE RANKS. Impatience can sometimes get the better of us. We may want to see predators NOW, rather than waiting five years to see our first resident green lacewing. If you don't mind spending a few bucks, there is always the option of ordering beneficial bugs online. Lady bugs, preying mantids, parasitic wasps and predatory mites can all be introduced to try to restore order in your garden. Some feel this is a waste. After all, many of these guys will just fly away, abandoning your prized tomato plant. Perhaps they will colonize your neighbors' gardens instead. Really now, is that such a bad thing? Meanwhile, if you've built up a habitat, at least a few will stick around on your property.


Carpenter Bees →