Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase. Regardless, I only link to products we use on our homestead or believe in.
There comes a time in every gardener’s life when you need to know how to get rid of bugs naturally unless you don’t mind putting in all the work just to feed the bug and slug population. I am more selfish than that, however, and don’t want to share my homegrown veggies. I’ve found some several organic pest control options that work and am sharing them with you.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #266 How to Get Rid of Bugs on Plants Naturally Tips that Work, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
There’s nothing worse than coming out to the garden and seeing a slimy trail all over your decimated vegetable plants. Slugs and snails can strip a plant almost overnight. Plants susceptible to slugs are broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce. They will occasionally go after other plants, but these seem to be the ones hardest hit in my garden.
Contrary to popular advice, eggshells do not deter slugs. Supposedly the crushed eggshells will cut the slug or snail if they crawl on them, but this is false. The edges aren’t sharp enough and this has never worked for me.
Salt will kill slugs but I’m not going to be sprinkling salt all over my soil or on my growing vegetable plants. Salt will ruin your soil, causing a salinity build-up, so if you use it, only sprinkle directly on the slugs.
Personally, I’d rather save my salt and have found other methods to be more effective.
Hand-picking: One of the options that’s a surefire method is one I do early in the morning. You can wear gloves but to be honest, I don’t. I just pick the slugs off and put them in a cup or bucket of soapy water.
You must use soap because slugs won’t drown in just water. You have to have at least a couple squirts of dish soap in there to kill them otherwise they just crawl back out. Trust me on this one.
I have no problem killing slugs. I only kill the ones that are in my garden. I don’t relocate them because they will breed.
You can see this in action in this YouTube video. Many people commented on the size of my slugs. I guess it’s a Pacific Northwest thing. It’s just a normal size for us.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE): When we’re not getting rain I will use Organic Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth Powder. Unlike eggshells, food-grade diatomaceous earth does work, provided it doesn’t get wet. I can’t use it when it’s raining or when we have heavy dew. Sprinkle it on top of the heads of cauliflower and broccoli and around the base of the plant.
Copper Tape: This will work, but if you have very big beds or garden, it’s going to get costly.
Beer: Cheap beer works just as well as expensive beer. You’ll need a shallow dish, like a Frisbee upside down. Pour the beer in the dish. The slugs will crawl in there and die. They’re attracted to the beer and it kills them. Works very well. The only thing is that you have to replace it with fresh beer and empty the dishes out every day or two.
Between the beer traps, DE, and handpicking I get lovely huge heads of cauliflower and broccoli and keep the slugs out of my lettuce.
A lot of people ask about aphids. I like to use companion planting to draw in good predatory insects and to repel insects that would normally be destructive to my crops. Aphids don’t usually completely kill a plant though. If it’s a small plant or start but it can kill it. Otherwise, they just damage the plants by stressing them out.
Natural Predator: Ladybugs will eat aphids but you have to have an environment for the ladybugs. You can purchase them online or from garden center stores but if you let them loose in the garden that doesn’t have plants that ladybugs are attracted to they’re not going to eat your aphids. Ladybugs love dill and carrot tops. I always find ladybugs in my dill and carrots so plant plenty of them.
Natural Spray: You can try hosing them off with a really strong spray from the hose or mix up a drop of soap with water in spray bottle. If it’s dry you could sprinkle a little bit of food-grade DE but that can be harder to do on frilly types of plants.
Another option is an organic homemade pest spray. I have a recipe in my book, The Family Garden Plan, where you basically infuse water with raw garlic, onions, and peppers. Things that they don’t like. Then you strain it out and spray the plant with that. It’s smelly and stinky and it repels them.
Companion Planting: We used to be plagued with cabbage moths, which means we had little lovely green worms all over our broccoli and cabbage and anything else in that family. Soaking them in saltwater will get them out of the heads. You’ll see them crawl out and floating in the water. That kind of grosses people out. If the worms go too far then there will be lots of holes and they’ll eat through the leaves.
It got so bad I took some years off. I didn’t even grow cabbage or broccoli.
Then I started using companion planting using orange nasturtium.
In the research that I did when writing The Family Garden Plan, which includes a whole section dedicated to companion planting, I found that all of the scientific studies and research was specifically on orange nasturtium. Nasturtium comes in lots of lovely different colors but I plant orange specifically.
I plant an orange nasturtium in between about every two plants. Plant a nasturtium, two brussels sprouts, a nasturtium, and repeat.
Since I started doing that I’ve not ha done cabbageworm from the cabbage moth. The cabbage moths are little white moths during the day. Look a little like white butterflies flitting around your garden. That’s all I do. I haven’t had to treat for cabbage moths since I started using companion planting. I know some people have mixed results but it’s been amazing for me in this instance.
I say give it a try. Not only are the flowers beautiful they’re edible too! The leaves are edible too. I have a member of The Pioneering Today Academy that pickles the seeds calls them poor man’s capers. So it’s an edible food crop that’s beautiful and also acts as a companion plant.
Borax Paste: I tried this a few years back and haven’t had a problem since. Make a paste of borax, water, and a little bit of sugar.
Put it in a shallow dish. Some people soak a cotton ball in it. I didn’t go that far. Place the saucer where ants are located. You don’t want a dog or a cat or anything like that to get into the borax. Just make sure it’s not where your animals can get it but where the ants can get to it.
The ants will take it back to the nest, feed it to the nest and queen, and then they’ll die. I had to put out fresh every three days and repeat until I did not see any more ants. Sometimes if you do it once you’ll see a decline but they won’t be all gone. Just keep repeating it over a couple of weeks.
String: Another pest that we have is birds, especially in fruit trees and berries. I don’t know about your birds, especially crows, here like to bother my corn and beans. I don’t know if it’s the way they look when they first pop up but the birds like to go through and pull them all out.
They don’t even eat them! They just pull all the baby corn up. Drives me crazy! One of the things that work really well for us, is right after you plant them string a line over the seeds.
You can use jute twine or bailing twine. Put in stakes at the end of each row and then take the string and string it across the top of the row. Right across the top, about one to two inches, of the little baby plants that are sprouting. Now, even though the birds could land and get beneath that string very easily and pull on those sprouts, they don’t.
It’s an effective deterrent. One the corn or bean starts to get about four to six inches tall the birds don’t seem to bother it. By that time you can remove the string. This works incredibly well and I do it every year.
Netting: The birds also like to get into my blueberries. They don’t bother the raspberries or blackberries interestingly but they really get into my blueberries. Place netting over the plants when the berries are green and haven’t started ripening yet. I drape it over and just use a little bit of twine to tighten it at the bottom. You can also use tulle.
I had a bird get trapped in the netting once, but before I could go outside it had already worked its way free. We’ve been using the netting for 12 years and have never had a problem.
Fencing: The deer have not gotten into the vegetable garden which is closest to our house. We do have a fence but it’s only four feet high. The deer could jump in but they don’t. They don’t eat my berries but the fruit tree they really love. They really love tender new leaves and branches. We had planted five or six new fruit trees this spring. The deer damaged quite a few of them overnight.
Overnight they broke off a few of the bottom branches. The trees will be fine once at maturity. Those bottom branches come off after the tree is about seven years old anyway but you don’t want the deer to completely decimate the tree because it really messes with the shape and the scaffolding. If the deer strip it too much then the tree doesn’t have any leaves throughout the rest of summer for it to feed itself.
We have tried urine and human hair but barrier methods seem to work the best. I take netting and wrapping it around the tree so that the deer can’t get to the leaves. That works best, especially on young trees.
Neem Oil: You have to be careful using neem oil. It’s concentrated and must be diluted. A lot of products will say neem oil but when you look at the ingredients they actually have other synthetic pesticides that you don’t want to be spraying on your garden if organic matters to you. You need to make sure it’s 100% cold-pressed oil with no other ingredients.
Neem oil specifically works on cabbage loopers, cabbage moths, diamondback moths, vine borers, as well as fungal things. Neem oil doesn’t kill every fungal disease but it works on some fungus’s and also on some bacteria. Check out the episode on How to Treat Fruit Trees Organically where I go over using neem oil for fruit and berry bushes.
DE and neem oil are my go to’s that I try first whenever I have to do some type of organic treatment for pests. As I said, neem oil can also be used for certain diseases as well. I try to use companion planting to keep the insects away in the first place. That way I don’t even need to treat. That’s the way that I have handled pretty much all of the pests that have plagued us or that we’ve dealt with currently or in the past.
The full chart is included in The Family Garden Plan on pages 112 and 113. It walks you through all the different options, lists out the pest and the organic methods that work.
Neem Oil – This is the brand I use as it doesn’t have any sneaky ingredients, it’s 100% pure cold-pressed neem oil
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.