Limit Garden Pest Damage Organically | Pest Control Without Chemicals | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Controlling Pests in the Organic Garden


Tomato hornworms can seriously damage tomato plants, but allowing parasitic wasps to live in your garden will limit the damage.

Photo Credit
University of Minnesota
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You don't need chemicals to get rid of pesky garden pests: Companion planting, natural remedies, and attracting predators to your garden can save you money and also save your plants.

As gardeners, we often find that various insects can be found eating our crops. This is disturbing and frustrating. Broccoli looks disgusting when it is covered by small worms along with their poop. Cucumber beetles eat holes in the leaves of the plants and spread disease from one to the next. Cutworms strike at night, taking one bite of a plant right where it goes into the ground killing it.


Companion Planting for Pest Control

There are, however, things that we can do to minimize insect destruction in our gardens. The cabbage moth, which produces the small worms in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, can be almost entirely controlled by planting marigolds right in the beds with the plants. It’s best to put them at both ends and in the middle of very large beds. Lemon gem and tangerine gem are lovely scented varieties that can be picked and added to salads.


Natural Remedies to Get Rid of Pests

Cutworms can be deterred in a number of ways. When planting in rows or broadcasting, the addition of crushed eggshells on top of the ground makes it hard for their soft bodies to get around. When transplanting varieties into the garden, place a cutworm collar on the plant. Ideally, you want to put it an inch above the ground and an inch below (see photo). This makes it impossible for the cutworm to bite into the plants.


Japanese beetles are often a big problem. However, they can’t fly when it is cool, so they are easy to knock into a cup of water early in the morning or late in the evening. We bring them down to the chickens, who eat them with glee. If you don’t have chickens, a dab of dishwashing liquid in the water will also kill them.

The cucumber beetle was a problem for me one year. A friend and soil specialist said that it was an indication of a potassium deficiency. I added greensand to the cucumber bed in subsequent years and haven’t seen this beetle since. This same soil specialist also clearly states that if we give our plants everything that they need, the insects won’t be able to eat them because the sugars will be too high for them to digest.

Attracting Predators to Control Pests

Insects are everywhere. Many are feared while some should be encouraged. We sometimes lump all of these creatures into one nasty category that we would rather do without. However, we do so at our peril. Pollinators like bees do vast amounts of work for us, and we would find ourselves in dire circumstances if they were all eliminated.

Some insects are actually quite helpful in the garden. Bees pollinate, and praying mantis eat other bugs. One insect that often gets overlooked is the paper wasp. Wasps absolutely love aphids. We let them nest where they won’t bother us (high on the house, etc.) and we’ve never had an aphid problem. We can tell right away if a nursery plant comes with them as the wasps are all over it right away. Parasitic wasps are also a great help in controlling tomato hornworm populations. Use these tips to prevent a wasp sting from these beneficial insects in your garden.


With the decline in bee and butterfly populations, it would behoove us to look carefully at potential bug problems before dowsing everything with poison. Explore this list of beneficial insects to see which insects you can keep around to help you control pests. 

The chemicals we often use to get rid of pests are not very good for us either. Let’s leave a clean planet to our children and grandchildren instead.