Sunday, November 4, 2012

Home-made Organic Pest Control for Plants

Last year I tried growing mint. I spent many hours picking caterpillars off the fragrant leaves and transferring them to other plants, but in the end I sacrificed the mint to the caterpillars and grew butterflies instead. This year I decided to try my hand at growing strawberries and I realized that I needed an effective way to get rid of pests like aphids and caterpillars if I wanted to eat any of my home grown berries.

Above: Aphid infestation on my strawberry plants. The aphids arrive overnight and cover the under sides of leaves within hours. The top photo isn't great quality, but it shows that aphids aren't particularly scary, just annoying.

I got my strawberry plants from a friend and unfortunately they each have some kind of problem so I'm probably going to have to toss the lot of them away at some stage. This turned out to be kind of a good thing 
because it means I'm a little more willing to experiment on these plants. So, spray bottle in hand I set about making a home brew to get rid of the aphids. This is what I came up with:

I filled a spray bottle with water, put in a drop of liquid soap and added about 5 drops each of lavender and citronella oils. The liquid soap is an emulsifier, which basically means that it will cause the oils to mix with the water. I've since made this home made pest repellent with dish washing liquid with no problems. I'm pretty sure any liquid soap will work for this mixture, but listen to your instincts - glittery liquid bubble bath probably wouldn't be a grand idea.
If you don't have these two essential oils on hand, there are a few other aromatherapy oils that chase off bugs, such as peppermint oil, lemongrass, lemon, eucalyptus and tea tree. The soap in the mixture also helps the oils to adhere to the leaves of the plants, making the insect repellent even more effective.

Above: Liquid soap, water, lavender oil and citronella oil, all mixed in a handy spray bottle.

As far as I can tell this mix hasn't killed the aphids, simply chased them off. I'm okay with that. I have nothing against aphids in general, I just don't particularly want them to destroy my favorite plants. This home made insect repellent is proving to be quite effective not just against aphids, but against caterpillars and beetles too. I'm not sure how bees feel about it - I'll keep an eye out and post if I spot any sickly looking bee ladies around my strawberry plants.

I've also been spraying this mix on my ornamental plants and herbs as a precautionary measure against insect problems. I'm fairly sure that it will help to prevent fungus and rot diseases too. The most effective way to use this spray is to spray liberally to dry plants, coating both the top and under side of the leaves. The plant should be dripping with the bug spray. Allow to dry and avoid washing the solution off during watering - rather water the ground around the plants directly. Apply the mixture every day until the insect problem is solved, and after that, spray about once a week to dissuade the critters from coming back.

You can also use this home made spray to discourage mosquitos and other biting insects by spraying on bare skin. You can also spray around windows and doors as a way to prevent insects from entering the home, or if you have  plants near your doors and windows, turn the plants into bug repellents by spraying with this solution.

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