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Gardening is easy to start, but it comes with a lifetime of learning opportunities. From climate to unpredictable weather conditions and soil conditioning to insects, a gardener can expect many years of success peppered with failure. Sometimes, failure is out of our control: Tomatoes can’t make friends with a cool summer, and lettuce will bolt at the first sign of heat. Even in ideal weather conditions, an out-of-control pest infestation can destroy the garden.
Homemade pest control recipes can be found in many places, but some of them are so complicated they’ll send you shopping with a list of items you never have around house. This doesn’t have to be the case, though. Pest-control solutions for spot-treating a serious infestation can be quite simple: Soap is a natural pesticide, for example. You can use soap without any other special ingredients, and it’s probably under your kitchen sink right now.
A Simple Pest Control Solution
- 1 large spray bottle, new or upcycled and cleaned
- 1 T. dish soap, preferably fragrance-free (Fragrances can attract pollinators and expose them to the pesticide.)
Fill the spray bottle with water, and then add the soap. (Adding the soap first will fill the bottle with suds.) Secure the spray nozzle onto the bottle, and turn the bottle side to side to mix. Now, it’s ready to use!
How to Use the Spray
When the garden isn’t attracting natural enemies and a pest population is increasing beyond your comfort level, take temporary action by spot-treating infestations with your homemade dish-soap solution. Spray the mixture onto heavily infested areas only.
Just because a soap-based pesticide doesn’t contain harmful chemicals doesn’t mean it’s safe to use in large amounts. While gentle, soap is toxic to small, living organisms, this also includes beneficial insects you want to keep around. This is why it’s important to use any pesticide for spot-treatment only.
Know Your Pests Before Spraying
Not all bugs and insects are enemies to the garden. In fact, if your garden grows a variety of flowers to attract and support beneficial insects, they will help control the pest population for you. These natural enemies arrive to feed on or parasitize pests when the pest population increases enough to support them. Eliminating beneficial insects in any stage of life—from eggs to larvae to adults—because they haven’t been identified properly can send the actual pest population soaring.
Other Natural Methods
A soap solution isn’t the only method for keeping unwanted pests under control. Here are some alternative methods.
Water Spray: Spray small pests off with the garden hose. The pressure will kill some, and leave others alive for ground predators to eat. Survivors will help lure natural enemies. If you must, spot treat with the dish soap solution to conquer the rest.
Picking: The dish soap remedy isn’t as effective on larger pests, like caterpillars or beetles. Larger organisms can be picked off the plants and drowned. However, leave the ones with eggs on their backs. It’s a sure sign a parasitizing predator has already found him, and his days are numbered.
Donation: Cut down a heavily infested plant and donate it to the ground predators. The pests will continue to feed on the plant while they become unwitting prey.
About the Author: Rachel Hurd Anger is a freelance writer living in Louisville, Ky., where a colorful flock of hens charms her small yard and eliminates pests from her garden space.