As gardeners, we all work hard to plant and nurture everything we grow in our yards. That’s why we go to such great lengths to ensure pests don’t destroy our hard work by damaging our plants or diminishing our harvest. While many folks turn to chemicals and sprays to keep pests away, those who are trying to grow organically or have children and animals running around should consider some of the more natural options out there:


slug on red radish leaves

Slugs often run rampant in gardens, hiding in cool, moist spots during the day and then munching on plant leaves at night. Since they’re midnight diners, you probably won’t notice the damage until the next day. Mulch often provides a comfortable hiding spot for slugs to hang out. However, that doesn’t mean you should stop mulching — you just have to outsmart the slugs. If you notice any slugs in your garden, lay a barrier, such as a piece of cardboard or newspaper, on the soil between your rows of plants. The slugs will then hide under this barrier. Then, later on in the day, simply lift the cardboard and remove the slugs. To kill them, drop them in a container with soapy water.

If you have a small garden, bury a tall cup into the soil, leaving a half-inch lip above the ground. Fill the cup with beer (use the cheap stuff; no point wasting a good brew on these freeloaders) and wait for the slugs to fall in and drown. Replace the beer every two or three days.

To keep slugs away, you have to make sure not to overwater your plants. Use drip irrigation to help you control the amount of water in the garden. Space your plants far enough apart that they all get good airflow. Finally, consider cultivating a few varieties that slugs hate, such as garlic, chives, mint, kale, broccoli, viola, and phlox.

Maggots and Larvae

If you’re growing crops in the cabbage family, you’ll need to watch out for maggots. Several species lay eggs on these leafy crops, and the larvae that come out of them go on to damage and even kill the plants. Maggots will also go after broccoli, radishes, carrots, and Brussels sprouts, but that doesn't mean you should leave your other crops unattended. Larvae have been known to sometimes go after sweet corn, melons, cucumbers, squash, onions, and shallots. Look for small, white, legless maggots early in the spring and small gray flies later in the season. These flies will lay eggs about an eighth of inch long in wet, shady areas around your plants. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow to the root level to feed.

Prevent maggots from inflitrating your garden by using floating row covers. These covers let air, water, and light in while keeping pests out. You should also practice crop rotation to ensure that last year’s pests don’t find their way to this year’s crops.

If you spy a fly, look for eggs in the soil by combing your fingers over the top layer. If you spot any eggs, destroy them immediately. Sticky traps from your local nursery can stop the flies dead in their tracks, and wrapping a cabbage collar around the base of each plant will prevent them from laying eggs. If you have a full-blown infestation on your hands, you might still be able to save your plants by removing them from the soil, carefully laying the roots in cold water, and then replanting them.


cutworm caterpillar eating a purple coneflower

If you notice fat, hairless caterpillars in your garden or the leaves of your plants look like they’ve been snipped, you have a cutworm problem. They come out of the soil at night to snack on seedlings and other small plants (especially pepper plants). Cut rings out of cardboard boxes, and place them around your small plants and transplants as barriers.

Flea Beetles

These small black beetles tend to go after tomato, pepper, eggplant, radish, and turnip leaves. The larvae of these bugs feed on the roots of plants, which can end up impeding their growth. If you notice large bullet-looking holes in the leaves of your plants, you're probably dealing with an infestation.

Create a spray using two parts rubbing alcohol, five parts water, and one tablespoon of liquid hand soap. When you're finished, use it to spray the leaves of the affected plants. If you have talcum powder in your bathroom, dust it on your plants to prevent the beetles and larvae from latching on. You should also head to your local plant nursery to pick up some sticky traps, which will catch the beetles when they jump.

Mites and Moths

red spider mite

Red spider mites are small mites that live under the leaves of your plants. When they suck the sap out of the leaves, they leave them looking rather mottled. If you want to keep them away, simply increase the humidity around the plants by putting them in a greenhouse. If you can’t move them, place a cloche or a small portable greenhouse over them.

Codling moths have maggots that burrow into apples. If you see these maggots, you'll want to spray them with bifenthrin. Alternatively, you can hang up a pheromone trap in the late spring to catch the male moths and nip mating in the bud.

Winter moth caterpillars hide within the leaves of fruit trees. Use sticky traps to catch all the adult moths as they move around.

Larger Pests

rabbit in the garden

Are large, furry pests are wreaking havoc in your garden? Deer, rabbits, and mice may treat your garden like a salad bar, but in may cases, you can keep them away using nothing but a bar of Irish Spring soap. Simply slice the bar into half-inch cubes and drop the pieces into small drawstring bags. Affix the closed bags to wooden stakes around your garden. If you continue to notice damage, add more soap pouches. These animals avoid strong scents and will start to avoid your garden when they get a whiff of the soap. Change the cubes out over time as they disintegrate.