Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Bulb Blog: How to Keep the Pests at Bay Without Chemicals

Garden pests are frustrating for any gardener. General signs of pests include limp leaves and generally stressed-looking plants. Some pests chew, others suck the juice out of plants like a vampire, others have webs, and certain moth pupae even sew themselves into leaves to metamorph.

There are plenty of earth-friendly methods to dealing with pests that don’t require chemicals, such as predatory mites and soapy water! Not all bugs are bad, after all.

Here are some common pests and how to deal with them:

Japanese Beetles

These pesky beetles can be found in most states east of the Mississippi River. They enjoy many types of plants, particularly flowers. They feed and breed in clusters and can get out of hand if not managed well!

The easiest way to manage these beetles is to go beetle-picking in the early morning. Because beetles are responsive to temperature, they won’t fly away in the cool of the early morning but will simply drop if rattled off a plant. Grab a bucket of soapy water and shake the beetles into the bucket—the soap will keep them from escaping! If you have fish, chickens, or bluebirds nearby, they’ll happily take the beetles off your hands for a morning snack.

If you want to tackle these beetles before they become adults, milky spore is a fungus that can be spread throughout your garden. The spore targets the beetle grubs (larval stage) which burrow underground and can damage your lawn. The fungus will take care of them before they become adult beetles!

Spider Mites

Spider mites are difficult to see, but you can find them if you look for tiny little webs. They tend to collect quickly in hidden spaces where the air is still. There are easy ways to deal with spider mites:

  • Give your plants a light spray with dormant oil to suffocate the mites
  • Wash your plants with soap (Safer’s soap works wonders!)
  • Wash off the mites with water
  • Move your plants to an environment with air movement
  • Release a loveliness of ladybugs which will happily snack on the mites and then move on


Lepidoptera moth larvae bury in plant leaves and stitch the leaves shut with a silk-like material. These leaf rollers are particularly interested in Canna plants, which grow back very quickly. The best method here is to just cut off the affected leaf and let the plant grow more to replace it.

If you notice your Dahlia looking limp with a bit of sawdust-like powder on the outside, there’s probably a caterpillar that bore a hole in the stem and is settling in preparation to become a moth. With a thin hooked wire, you can pull the caterpillar out and give a snack to the local bluebirds.

There are many earth-friendly ways to manage pests in your garden! Predatory mites, a good soap, and donations to your local fish food bank can keep your garden’s ecosystem running smoothly. Remember to quarantine your plants if you bring them in for winter and keep an eye on the liveliness of your leaves.

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