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Control Pests Without Chemicals Using Integrated Pest Management

Wondering how to kill pests in the lawn and garden without synthetic chemicals? Use this guide to learn alternative pest control methods.

Integrated Pest Management and a Healthy Shasta Daisy.

Introduction to Integrated Pest Management

The debate continues on the pros and cons of pesticide use. Those who seek to find another way often turn to Integrated Pest Management.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a pest control method that places the emphasis on prevention. Most plant injury is caused by poor growing conditions. Weak plants are more susceptible to pests than healthy plants. Observation and early identification of problems is key. Application of pesticides is not excluded from an IPM program, but most often reserved as a "last resort." The basic components can be practiced easily in the home and garden.

First, acknowledge the fact that some pest presence and damage is natural. IPM requires time to maintain an educated eye toward the garden, the ability to correctly identify the nature of pest problems and the self-discipline to decide what threshold of natural pest damage to allow before initiating chemical controls.

You can reduce dependencies on pesticides by changing the environment/culture of your home, adding mechanical traps or changing the biological controls in your area.

Home IPM requires:

  1. The time to maintain an educated eye toward the garden. Observation is the key to prevention.
  2. The ability to correctly identify the nature of pest-related problems. To determine the proper control, you must recognize the cause.
  3. The self-discipline to decide what threshold of natural pest damage to allow before initiating chemical controls. Go ahead and acknowledge the fact that some pest presence and damage is natural.

The use of cultural, mechanical and biological controls can reduce dependence on pesticides.

Cultural Controls

Culturally, you can do a lot to change the balance of animals and insects in your yard. In short — pay attention to your landscape. Here are some of cultural controls that are easy to implement:

  • Rotate crops. Plant cover crops to enrich garden soils.
  • Remove pests from plants with a jet of water or by hand.
  • Plant pest-resistant varieties.
  • Keep weeds and debris out of the garden and flowerbeds. Soil solarization is one way to naturally eliminate weeds and pests.
  • Provide regular irrigation and feeding but avoid overwatering and overfertilizing.
  • Eliminate standing water.
  • Do a soil test and follow the recommendations. Prepare soil well before planting.
  • Keep plants healthy so they are more pest resistant.
  • Mow lawns at the correct height. Grass-cycling and proper fertilization techniques can promote a healthy lawn.
  • Plant flowering, nectar-bearing plants to attract beneficial insects.

Mechanical Controls

Mechanically, you have several options to choose from when reducing your pesticide dependence. They include:

  • Use traps to attract and gather pests.
  • Set up barriers such as row covers and netting.
  • Use electronic repellers.
  • Install fences to keep out deer and rabbits. Extend the fence below ground to deter rodents.

Biological Controls

Biological controls are a way of using nature to balance out the pests in your yard. This is a more advanced procedure and speaking to an expert before experimenting is recommended. We have listed two examples you can implement.

  • Attract beneficial insects and birds.
  • Attract insect-eating critters such as bats, toads and lizards.
  • Use companion plants to increase garden efficiency.

IPM can also be practiced inside your home. Keep the house clean, especially kitchens and baths. Keep an eye out for early detection of pests.


When the time comes that pesticides are required, always read the label and apply according to the instructions on the label. Observe all safety precautions.

Botanical and Organic Alternatives to Synthetic Chemicals

Organic pesticide options are available for those who wish to reduce the use of chemical- based pest solutions. Always check to see if any organic compound will harm other plants or animals. Unlike chemicals, where the bugs fall away after spraying, some organics are slow acting; so don't always expect instant gratification.
Organics can be slightly more expensive and because of the absence of chemicals, may require more frequent applications. Remember, even though a pesticide is considered acceptable to organic gardeners, it isn't necessarily safe for humans. Some organic compounds may be toxic and dangerous to mammals, fish, birds, bees and other beneficial insects.

Here's a brief list of the most common organic pesticides:

Bacillus Thuringiensis
Also called Bt, this bacterium kills insects in their larval stage (such as caterpillars). There are several strains to choose from, depending on the pest you wish to control. It must be ingested by the pest to work. Bt is harmless to virtually all other creatures.

Botanical Extracts
Oils are extracted from spices and fruits and then combined to deal with pests. They pose no danger to people or pets.

Diatomaceous Earth
The crushed exoskeletons of microscopic marine and freshwater organisms are harmless to almost all living creatures. The exceptions are soft-bodied pests. The particles of earth are like microscopic bits of broken glass that scratch, tear and destroy the bodies of the pests. Although this product is very safe, the dust can be hazardous so use a mask when applying.

Horticultural Oil Sprays
These are light petroleum-based oils used to control fungus and pests. The target plant must be soaked for effective treatment. Toxicity is low, but may irritate skin or eyes.

Insecticidal Soap
A virtually nontoxic mixture of soap, oil and water used to deal with soft-bodied insects. Plants must be thoroughly soaked in order for soaps to be effective. Do not use household soaps on plants.

Milky Spore
Bacteria that attack Japanese beetles in their larval stage. Milky spore is nontoxic to other organisms and once established in the soil, it lasts for years.

Oil extracted from the tropical neem tree that has low toxicity rate. However, when mixed with water, neem is used as an insecticide, fungicide and miticide.

Sulfur and Lime-Sulfur
Inorganic, non-chemical elements that are used to control mites and some foliar diseases.

Good to Know

Follow the botanical and organic product manufacturers' application and safety instructions.

Controlling Weeds

Removing weeds plants by hand or with garden tools is a safe and selective way to control weeds. Pulling weeds after a good rain often makes it easier, but anytime will do. As soon as you can, pull the weed close to the base, lifting out as much root as possible.

For larger weeds with extensive roots, like thistles and dandelions, use a garden fork, hand weeder or slim trowel. Keep the hole as small as possible. Place the end close to the weed's base and plunge it deep into the ground. Loosen the surrounding soil. Grab the weed under its crown and pull out the entire root.

Various combinations of hot water, salt and vinegar can be directly applied to kill weeds, but remember that this concoction will kill anything else it reaches.