An Earth-Friendly Guide to Pesticides

By Alan Ray
Published: October 27, 2022 | Last updated: October 27, 2022 09:24:07
Key Takeaways

The pests trying to eat your garden haven’t changed, but how we deal with them has. Out are the pesticides that are harmful to the environment and beneficial insects; in are the ones easier on the environment.

If you enjoy the garden and the healthy variety of delicious foods it provides, you are not alone. And if you are, you won’t be for long. Between the cut worms, the hornworms, Japanese beetles, and the aphids you’re going to have company. And while there are countless insects that could eat their way through your garden, the usual suspects generally number a few dozen.


Still, with so many voracious vegetarians on the prowl, keeping a vigilant eye can be a time consuming but very necessary part of keeping your plants healthy. Manual methods like plucking caterpillars and washing bugs off your plants is a good thing and works as a quick fix but not so well as a long-term solution. In a large garden, that would require a lot of hands-on time.

So, when soft cures like gentle rinsing or hand-picking can’t keep up with demand, you may want to consider using a pesticide. An organic pesticide, naturally. With a safe and effective insecticide, you can better protect your garden while reducing the need for constant eyes-on inspection. It may work so well you’ll no longer develop chameleon-vision the instant you enter the garden.


An Icide Note

The Latin word icide means ‘something that kills something.’ Fungicides kill fungi, pesticides kill pests, and so on. And that’s what you want, something that kills something. Not something that kills everything. Organic pesticides can bump off the bad bugs while sparing the good ones from friendly fire.

Reading the Pesticide Label

Admittedly, looking at a wall of pesticides can be head-scratching, but don’t just grab some bottle off the shelf out of frustration because you see your bug on it. Although it may require the use of a magnifying glass, take a minute to read the label when buying pesticides. The label lists the active ingredients, if it’s organic or synthetic, how toxic it is, and how to apply it safely. Moreover, it defines your target(s). Regarding toxicity, here are some key words to look for.

Signal Word — This will be the largest word on the label and describes the relative toxicity of the pesticide and warns of any potential hazards.


Caution — Means it can be slightly toxic. Caution lists the least toxic ingredients.

Warning — States the product is moderately toxic.


Danger/Poison — Warns a poisonous or highly toxic substance is present. The traditional skull and crossbones is often displayed with this designation.

Choose Your Weapon

Today’s environmentally mindful growers are opting for a more controlled approach to defending their gardens over the flame-thrower mindset of yesteryear. They realize synthetic pesticides are comprised of poisonous, manufactured chemicals and can be dangerously toxic. Even when used correctly, a synthetic icide has a wider kill-zone and can leave beneficial insects in its wake and even small mammals, not to mention ground contamination.

Going organic really simplifies things and seriously reduces the risk of harming the birds and bees and the ecosystem. The advantages of applying natural pesticides to your plants are multi-fold. They are effective, break down quickly, and have little negative impact when used in moderation. Control is the goal.

When shopping, choose the product that best targets your issue. Be smart and as problem specific as you can. The least amount of pesticide you can use, the better. Even the natural ones.

Here is a list of some of them to help get you acquainted.


The Magnificent 7

Botanical pesticides can be applied without melting the planet or donning a hazmat suit but still, wearing appropriate gear and washing up afterward is recommended. The following icides target many of the most common troublemakers and generally don’t harm the good guys.

neem oil
Neem oil is also known as margosa oil. Through pressing, this oil is extracted from the seeds and fruit of the Neem tree. Originally from India, this oil is used in organic farming and to make medicines. The beauty of neem oil is its broad range effectiveness and low toxicity level. Insects targeted include whiteflies, thrips, aphids, gypsy moths, tomato hornworms, and a dozen more. Its smell is also a turn-off to ticks and mosquitoes.
spider mites
Citrus oils are just what their name says. Oils derived from citrus fruits. Most citrus oils hold some insecticidal properties. Some more than others. All citrus oils are extracted from the rind of the fruit. These oils are used to control spider mites and aphids on your plants. Non-toxic.
quassia chips
Quassia is a tropical plant with remarkable medicinal and insecticidal properties. Quassia chips are made from its white bark and effectively target caterpillars, aphids, and sawflies. Another perquisite of this natural deterrent is that quassia is one of the safest botanical insecticides available and is non-toxic to ladybugs and bees.
Ryania comes from the South American shrub Ryania speciosa. The extracted and dried stem wood can be mixed with carrier compounds to create a dust or liquid. People, animals, and beneficial insects are not harmed due to its low toxicity. Its hit list includes aphids, Japanese beetles, lepidopterous (moth) larvae and codling moths, sunflower moths, and painted lady butterflies.
bacillus thuringiensis
BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring microbe found in soil and can be purchased online and in home outlet stores. There are numerous types of BT that effectively target very specific insects so do your homework. Once ingested by the larvae, BT produces a certain protein which is toxic to them. They die by infection or starvation and rather quickly, too. Totally harmless, otherwise.
diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a mineral obtained from deposits of fossil diatoms which is a tiny plankton that lived in the world’s oceans some 20 million years ago. It is ground to a powder. When dusted on the plant, DE absorbs the protective oils in the pest’s outer cuticle as they meander through the dust. The insect dies of desiccation (drying up). Works great on mites, moth larvae, snails, and slugs. Only works when the product is dry. Zero toxicity but can be harmful to beneficial insects, including bees. Buy natural and not pool-filter grade DE. Avoid inhaling.
insecticidal soap
Insecticidal soaps, also known as horticultural soaps, are used to combat plant eating and sap sucking, soft-bodied insects such as spider mites, aphids, and their ilk. This remedial home brew contains a mixture of natural ingredients like hot red pepper or chili powder mixed with a little carrier oil or some organic liquid soap to form a binder. Add a little water and apply with a spray bottle. Dried up, rained off? Reapply.

There are many more botanical pesticides available to combat almost any insect issue you may encounter in the garden. Find the one that suits your need and simply follow the directions. Do this and you’ll be well on your way to creating a healthier garden, a cleaner planet, and a lot of dead bugs, naturally.


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Written by Alan Ray

Profile Picture of Alan Ray

Alan Ray has written five books and is a New York Times best-selling author. Additionally, he is an award-winning songwriter with awards from BMI and ASCAP respectively. He lives in rural Tennessee with his wife, teenage son, and two dogs: a South African Boerboel (Bore-Bull) and a Pomeranian/Frankenstein mix.

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