Since organic gardening has changed from a novelty to a commonplace way to grow ornamental plants, manufacturers have responded to gardeners’ demands for effective but natural pest control products. These natural garden remedies are no longer exclusive to specialty nurseries and mail order catalogs; instead, one can purchase a range of nontoxic garden supplies at neighborhood discount or home improvement stores.
However, some organic flower garden treatments come with a premium price tag. This may discourage flower gardeners from using natural pest deterrents; after all, we usually don’t eat our flowers, so why does it matter? There are many reasons to grow flowers organically, including the need to foil recalcitrant pests that seem immune to the ready-to-use products sold on shelves. Even the dyed-in-the-wool organic flower gardener can appreciate the ability to tweak homemade garden remedies for stubborn perennial insect pests. Gardeners can turn to their pantries, gardens, and even the pests themselves to create potent plant remedies and cures for pennies.
Homemade Insect Soap
Insect soaps are available in any organic gardening aisle, but gardeners can make a homemade garden spray that’s just as effective for aphids, caterpillars, and mites. Combine three drops of mild dishwashing liquid in one quart of water.
An added tablespoon of cooking oil helps the mixture cling to leaves. Spray plants to the point of drenching, but don’t use on blossoms or when temperatures are over 80 degrees F to prevent scorching the plants.
Homemade Tobacco Spray
Everyone is familiar with the negative health effects of cigarettes, but the nicotine in tobacco is poisonous to all kinds of insects as well.
Gather enough cigarette butts to harvest ¼ cup of tobacco leaves. Place these in a sock, and soak them in a quart of water overnight. Avoid using this homemade insect spray on members of the nightshade family, like petunias, datura, and nicotiana flowers, as tobacco can harbor the mosaic virus which affects this family of plants.
Hot Pepper Bug Repellent
Even for gardeners without a penchant for spicy foods, it’s worth adding a row of hot chili pepper plants to the garden for their bug repelling effects. Place a handful of dried hot peppers in the food processor, seeds and all, and grind to dust. Take care not to get the dust on the skin or eyes. Sprinkle around garden plants to repel ants and white flies. For more sticking power, add 1/2 cup of ground chili peppers to a quart of fine horitcultural oil, and mist the tops and undersides of flower foliage.
Rubbing Alcohol Bug Spray
Rubbing alcohol quickly desiccates the bodies of soft sucking pests like aphids, mealy bugs, and thrips. However, it can also damage plant tissues, so gardeners should use alcohol sparingly in the garden. The best way to apply is by dabbing a cotton swab soaked with rubbing alcohol directly on the pests, taking care to avoid the plant.
Plants with waxy leaves may tolerate a dilute alcohol spray of one-cup alcohol mixed with a quart of water. This is a favorite way of quickly dispensing of orchid pests.
Bug Juice Spray
Gardeners may be repulsed yet fascinated to learn that one can make a natural bug spray out of the pests themselves. No one is exactly sure why pests are their own worst enemies when applied to plants, but researchers speculate an anti-cannibalism mechanism or the presence of a chemical that inhibits insect feeding. Gather enough of the offending pests to fill at least a teaspoon, and pulverize them with the back of a spoon. Place the mashed bugs in cheesecloth, and soak in two cups of water overnight. For best results, use the bug juice within three days.