Organic Pesticides and Herbicides

Organic pesticides and herbicides

We have learned to think carefully about the chemicals we use to protect our property (and family!) from bugs and weeds. Americans are increasingly concerned about the effects of longterm, low-dose exposure to many commercial weed and bug killers. One thing that isn’t changing is our desire to avoid these weedy and multi-legged pests as much as possible. Luckily, natural, effective pesticides and herbicides are available to buy or to make at home.

Try these suggestions for organic pesticides and herbicides. CAVEAT: Remember to keep even natural products away from children and pets.

Organic Pesticides

The EPA classifies 12 of the 26 most-used pesticides in the U.S. as carcinogenic. No wonder people are looking for alternatives! Here are some that are non-toxic to humans:

  • Boric acid gets rid of carpenter ants. One of the commonest ingredients in natural pesticides is boric acid, which helps get rid of carpenter ants, termites and cockroaches. For ant control, mix 1 quart water and 1 tsp. boric acid. Soak cotton balls in the liquid and place them in a small container with holes in the lid (large enough for ants to get in). Set this in an area where ants have been spotted.

  • Use boric acid to kill off a termite colony. Make a bait trap with a piece of unfinished wood treated with boric acid. Dissolve 4 TBSP. boric acid in boiling water, pour in a spray bottle and spray on wood. Bury in the ground near your foundation where you have an infestation.

  • Boric acid can also help to control cockroaches. Since cockroaches like high spots, sprinkle a little powder in places such as the top of the refrigerator and cupboards.

  • Neem Oil. This oil is extracted from the neem tree of India. It contains a compound called sallanin which, when sprayed on leaves, protects plants from chewing insects like weevils.

  • Insecticide Soap. Easily make your own natural pesticide spray by mixing 2 TBSP pure castile soap with 1 quart water. Spray on plants to control aphids, leaf hoppers, whiteflies and mites.

  • Diatomaceous Earth. This is a dust made of marine organism shells that deters and kills creepy-crawlies such as ants, ticks, cockroaches, earwigs, slugs, and silverfish.

Look for organic pesticides in home and garden stores. They feature a number of plant oils and other natural ingredients.

Organic Mosquito Repellents

Repelling insects is vital for comfort and health. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine reported that eucalyptus oil (30 percent concentrate with a 70 percent cineole content) will keep bites at bay for two hours, Bite Blocker (2 percent soybean oil) for an hour and a half, and citronella for 20 minutes. Neem oil is also used to repel mosquitoes. The good news is that these oils also repel other pests, such as gnats and ticks.

To repel mosquitoes with flowers and herbs, plant marigolds, mint, pennyroyal, rosemary or wormwood in your home garden.

In addition, many stores now carry organic mosquito repellents.

Organic Herbicides

Getting rid of weeds naturally can be as easy as pulling them up, root and all. Be sure not to mow or compost them, since doing so would spread the seeds around your yard.

Since the lawn is usually the main component of a yard – and the place where we play with our children and pets – using natural weed controllers makes sense. Instead of typical weed-and-feed products for the lawn, try corn gluten meal. It is a pre-emergent (growth-preventing) product  that controls dandelions, smart weed, crabgrass and more.

To spot-treat weeds, make a homemade vinegar spray. It works by altering a plant’s pH balance. Mix four ounces of lemon juice concentrate with one quart of vinegar and pour the mixture into a spray bottle. You can also pour boiling water on weeds to kill them. Cut off the top of the weed and slowly pour the hot water onto the crown.

Spring mulching is a great way to choke weeds in a flower beds. If you are planting an entire bed this year, incorporate a weed barrier.


You can also prevent bugs naturally with outdoor hardscaping and xeriscaping. To help you get started, find a professional landscaper in your area.

Anne Burkley writes for

Updated December 13, 2018.

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