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Alternatives to Herbicides & Pesticides

By Caroline Thompson ; Updated June 13, 2017

Herbicides and pesticides used to control weeds and kill garden pests can be toxic to humans and to the environment. Toxins from chemicals used in the garden seep into the ground and can harm wildlife and beneficial insects. Pesticide and herbicide alternatives are available. A combination of treatments will prove the most successful.

Organic Pesticides

Unfortunately, organic pesticide treatments can also kill off natural pest enemies, good bugs, while ridding you of your problem insects. Consider the effect of the organic pesticide and where it will be used. For instance, mineral oil is sometimes sprayed on plants to get rid of aphids. However, mineral oil also kills ladybugs, which eat the aphids.

Certain plant oils have insecticidal qualities, either killing or repelling pests. For example, jojoba oil kills whiteflies and cinnamon repels ants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Spice-based organic products are currently in use by farmers. These organics have shown success in protecting strawberries, spinach and tomato crops. The spiced-based pesticides are a combination of rosemary, thyme, clove and mint. Other plants that show insect-fighting potential include lavender, basil, bergamot and patchouli oil. They are sprayed on the plants but tend to degrade rapidly and therefore must be reapplied often. Another benefit of the spiced-based oils is they do not kill beneficial bugs.

Insecticidal soap made from coconut oil and bacillus thuringienis, Bt, which is a disease to insects, is another organic option. Insecticidal soap can be toxic to fish, so use caution if you have a pond near your garden.

Predator Insects

Predator insects, such as ladybugs and praying mantises, are a natural solution to controlling garden pests. They reduce the need for pesticides and do not have a negative environmental impact. Beneficial bugs also include the western damsel bug, lady beetle, green lacewing, minute pirate bug, assassin bug, hover fly and tachinid fly, according to the University of Oregon.

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Mechanical Control

Mechanical control is just what it sounds like, hand picking weeds. A 2007 study by the Rodale Institute asked organic farmers what they did about weeds. Hand weeding was the most common method used by farmers to control weeds. Mulching, flame weeding and animal grazing are other mechanical control practices that are effective. Mechanical control eliminates the need for chemical herbicides.

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