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Natural Pest Control for Garden Pests

Organic Pest Control for Garden Bugs

While some of our fellow gardeners are still waiting for the growing season to come around, we here in Zone 7A are full on! Our plants are coming along. We got them out early and nurtured them through some cold snaps and their leaves were so beautifully unblemished–for a time.

Garden Slugs

Like many in the audience, we are keen on organic gardening. Recent rains brought on a rash of garden slugs, ranging in size from that of a pencil lead to nearly three inches. Snails too. Wouldn’t it be great if they just stuck to one leaf. But no, they’re either quite picky eaters or entirely random impulse diners.

Getting in the garden early in the morning and picking off leaves seemed helpful but not entirely effective. So we resorted to spreading slug pellets, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)1) certified kind, in and around the rows. The badly shot-gunned leaves were removed and so we’ll keep checking the lesser damaged leaves for any continued slug feasting.

Flea Beetles

Worse than slugs, our tomato plants are showing signs of flea beetles. The lower leaves are riddled with pinprick holes and a few of the little pinheads have been seen and squished, but mostly they scatter and are hard to combat. Aptly named, because they have strong hind legs that help them jump and quickly scatter.


Flea beetles - image from
Flea beetles – image from

We really want to keep the garden pest free AND pesticide free, using natural gardening methods. So after doing a broad search on treatments, we decided to declare biological warfare and deploy beneficial nematodes.


Microbes for Biological Teamwork

Beneficial nematodes, steinernema-feltiae. Image from
Beneficial nematodes, steinernema-feltiae. Image from

My mother-in-law, who lived in Hawaii for many years, almost freaked out when told we were actually adding nematodes to the garden. She recalled that they were the bane of any in-ground gardener, and if one were to grow anything, the ground had to be fumigated to KILL the nematodes first. Chances are, that would also do damage to beneficial organisms.

The key word is “beneficial”. Indeed, there are “bad” nematodes that do serious damage to plants, but there are good guy nematodes (wonder if they wear white hats?) who attack bugs, and that includes flea beetles. The killing agent is the bacterial flora they have in their gut that invades the target and kills it off in short order. 2)

What do they kill?

Nematodes help to get rid of:

  • Grubs and the larval or grub stage of Japanese Beetles
  • Northern Masked Chafer
  • European Chafer
  • Rose Chafer
  • Fly larvae
  • Oriental Beetles
  • June Beetles
  • Flea beetles
  • Bill-bugs
  • Cut-worms
  • Army worms
  • Black Vine Weevils
  • Strawberry Root Weevils
  • Fungus Gnats, Sciarid larvae
  • Sod Web-worms
  • Girdler
  • Citrus Weevils
  • Maggots and other Dip-tera
  • Mole Crickets
  • Iris Borer
  • Root Maggot
  • Cabbage Root Maggot
  • Carrot Weevils

As you can see, flea beetles are on their hit list.3)

So in search of an organic solution in the form of friendly nematodes, we found a well reviewed product online, enough to treat up to 3000 square feet of surface area. We deployed our nematodes a couple of evenings ago and are very much anticipating a decline in the nefarious insect population. The war is on, and we are adding these biologicals to our arsenal as part of Integrated Pest Management in order to get the most out of our garden in balance with doing the least harm to the ambient environment. 4)

We’ll post updates on how the slug bait and the nematodes are doing to curb the invaders and unwelcome consumers of our food resource.

NEMATODE UPDATE 2018: We did see a reduction in the flea beetle population last year. However,  we also used other products like insecticidal soaps and sprays as well. So we can’t say how much of the positive results are clearly attributable to the nematodes.

Wisdom from Gardeners

Speaking of our Facebook page… here’s a home remedy from within the GardensAll community, (you can click on the blue ‘post’ word to go straight to that original Facebook post and conversation thread):

Japanese Beetle Control

And… from our Planting for Retirement Facebook Group: Missy Mueller, Sage Raven Naturals had this advice for Japanese Beetles and other garden pests:
One part cedar chips (in pet bedding section) and 4 parts hot/boiling water. Steep until cool, strain & pour into a big sprayer. We put the used cedar around the base of the plants and spray the leaves etc with the tea.

We have just a regular family-sized garden, but it works for so many things. Squash beetles, aphids, those huge tomato worms etc. Everything seems to hate it.

It’s all we’ve had to use for the last 2 years. We re-spray the plants after a heavy rain or if it’s been a couple weeks and we see a bug trying to be brave & sneak back in.

Awesome! Thanks for sharing, Missy! We’ve added cedar to our squash beds this year to help with the squash vine borers and that’s helping. We still have them… they went further up the stem, which means they did have to travel through the cedar, but didn’t hang out there. Now we’re definitely going to try the cedar water spray to cover the reset of the plants. We’ll keep you posted.

Here’s another article on toads for garden pest control for organic gardens, you may wish to peruse.

As always, we invite your comments and tips on what and how you’ve kept the intruders at bay. You can send an email or join the conversations on the Gardens All Facebook page.

While some of our fellow gardeners are still waiting for the growing season to come around, we here in Zone 7A are full on! Our plants are coming along. We got them out early and nurtured them through some cold snaps and their leaves were so beautifully unblemished–for a time.

Coleman Alderson

G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson

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