How to Keep Bugs Off Your Vegetable Plants

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You aren't the only one who finds fresh, homegrown vegetables to be a tasty treat. A variety of insect pests may also target your vegetable garden, turning your carefully tended rows of plants into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Take action to defend the garden, using a wide range of cultural and chemical controls to keep bugs off of plants so you can enjoy a lush, bountiful vegetable harvest.

Attract Beneficial Insects

Not all bugs are created equal. Some insects are actually beneficial in your war against pests. This includes hundreds of different kinds of parasitic wasps. These wasps help to control beetles, flies, caterpillars, aphids and many other common pests. When present in sufficient numbers, beneficial insects can keep pest populations at healthy, low levels.

To attract parasitic wasps, try planting the following annuals. The pollen from these plants are magnets for these helpful insects:

  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana -- typically grown as an annual, but it can survive as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 and 10)
  • Borage (Borago officinalis)
  • Baby's Breath (Gypsophila elegans)

Warning

  • Avoid the use of broad, nonselective pesticides. These pesticides don't just kill pests but also parasitic wasps, honeybees, butterflies and other important insects.

Spray With Water

Before turning to harsher treatments, try plain water. A strong blast of water from a garden hose can knock off and kill many common pests, including aphids and whiteflies. Often, surviving bugs aren't able to return to the host plant once they're dislodged from the plant.

Tip

  • Don't forget to spray the underside of foliage. Bugs often hide in these areas.

Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is made from the crushed remains of diatom fossils. The resulting powder has tiny, sharp edges that repel and kill soft-bodied bugs, such as aphids and thrips. Diatomaceous earth is also useful against bigger pests, such as cockroaches, slugs and snails.

Dust a thin layer of diatomaceous earth on exposed plant surfaces to guard against foliage- and stem-eating bugs. Or, create a circle of diatomaceous earth around the base of a plant to ward off ants, snails and similar pests.

Tip

  • Use natural-grade or food-grade diatomaceous earth.

Warning

  • Wear a face mask and protective goggles when handling diatomaceous earth. The fine powder can irritate eyes, mouth and lungs if ingested.

Mix a Homemade Insecticide

Instead of buying a commercially prepared pesticide from a garden store or nursery, mix a homemade concoction in your kitchen. The following recipe uses soap to kill bugs on contact, while the addition of spicy herbs repels and protects against future insect problems.

Things You'll Need

  • Garlic bulb
  • Onion
  • Blender or food processor
  • Dried, powdered cayenne pepper
  • Measuring cup
  • Cheesecloth or kitchen strainer
  • Spray bottle
  • Measuring spoon
  • Liquid dish soap

Step 1

Place an onion and a garlic bulb into a food processor or blender.

Step 2

Blend the herbs into a fine, liquified pulp.

Step 3

Add 1 teaspoon of dried, powdered cayenne pepper.

Step 4

Pour in 1 quart of tap water.

Step 5

Allow the mixture to soak for at least 60 minutes, but ideally overnight.

Step 6

Pour the mixture through a kitchen strainer or a piece of cheese cloth and into a clean, empty spray bottle.

Step 7

Add 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap. For the best results, use a natural, biodegradable soap to avoid adding unnecessary chemicals to your vegetable garden.

Step 8

Mix thoroughly.

Step 9

Spray the solution onto your vegetable plants, coating any exposed surfaces of the plant.

Tip

  • The spicy, soapy insecticide can be stored for up to seven days in your refrigerator. After that, mix up a new batch if you need to treat your plants again.

For more information on insect control, visit How to Keep Bugs Out of Your Garden Naturally and Cheaply and Flowers to Plant to Keep Bugs Out of Gardens.

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