Some friends have asked that I write a column about pest control using common household products or so called “Home Remedies”. I have resisted doing this as we are taught in “Master Gardener” classes to only recommend garden solutions using “research based information”. Many of the “home remedies” that use materials found around the house have not been tested. Some do work but nobody has taken the time to research them to see if they are safe. The federal pesticide act requires that any product that claims to be a pesticide must undergo extensive testing and periodic retesting. It also requires that the active ingredient be listed on the label along with the plants it can be used on, what insect or disease it will control, and if used in the vegetable garden, how long between application and harvest. The testing does not guarantee that the product works as claimed, only that it is safe when used as directed. A home remedy does not have that testing. So how long do you wait before you can eat the produce? Or how often do you apply it and at what intervals? Remember that a “home remedy” control may be toxic to you, your plants and/or your soil. Use with caution.

          Part I will deal with “Creepy Crawlies” (Insect and Animal Control) and Part II with “Rots and Spots” (Diseases) and “Fertilizers”. Part III will cover “Weed Control”.

INSECT AND ANIMAL CONTROL: No one likes “Creepy Crawlies” and rabbits in their yard or on their plants. Insecticidal soap is a good organic insecticide that works on many insects. Unscented dishwashing liquid does work as insecticidal soap. Two tablespoons to a quart of water works fine for aphids, and to control many other insects. Be aware that “scented” dishwashing liquid can be toxic to some plants, especially houseplants. If you are concerned about cost, check the price. Commercial insecticidal soap in concentrated form usually is only slightly more expensive than home made, works better, and does not suds up and clog your sprayer.

Dishwashing liquid is not effective as a surfactant. (A substance that lowers the surface tension of a liquid so it can stick to a leaf or stem better.) Every dishwashing liquid has a rinsing agent that helps to rinse the soap scum off your glasses, plates and silverware. When you add dishwashing liquid to your pesticide it does the same thing on your plant. Thus, its value as a surfactant is compromised or limited as it does not help the pest control stick to the plant, but washes off with the first rain or watering. A sticker-spreader such as Turbo works better as it has an ingredient that helps the pesticide you are using stick to the plant as well as acting as a surfactant, and it does not foam like soap,

          A radio personality likes to recommend tobacco juice as a home remedy insecticide. (He also uses ammonia which is another no, no story.) Nicotine was used for years as an insecticide but has been removed from the market because of its toxicity. Your home brew may be weak one day and then toxic the next so be careful. Also, as I have said before, some home remedies may not be safe to use on your plant and some may not only damage your plant but also damage your soil.

          Beer poured into a tuna can or any shallow metal or plastic container works as a trap for slugs.  Place the lip of the container at ground level and pour in the beer. The slugs are attracted to the beer and fall into the container and drown. Be sure and clean out the slugs on a regular basis. You can also trap slugs by placing a board or burlap on the ground close to your plants. Every morning, turn the board or burlap over and look for slugs. Remove and destroy. Crushed egg shells (use a rolling pin) placed around plants will also help control slugs. The sharp edges cut the slugs as they crawl around. Last year a national Hosta newsletter recommended the use of coffee grounds as a deterrent for slugs.

          Slugs also do not like pine needles as mulch. Pine needle mulch is available at some garden centers. Rabbits will also avoid pine needle mulch and pine cones that have been shredded with a mower. Almost all animal repellants contain either garlic, capsaicin (hot pepper), coyote or fox urine, rotten egg solids, or moth balls (naphthalene), It is best to use one kind of repellant and then rotate about every two or three weeks as the animal you are trying to repel learns that they aren’t going to get hurt by the smell or taste so returns to feast on your plants. Some of these repellants you can make yourself. The best “home remedy for larger pests like rabbits, squirrels, and deer is fencing.        

reminder: Some “home remedies” passed on from your grandparents may work, but be careful. Remember, they have not been tested. As a result you do not know if the product is safe to use on the plant you are trying to treat, or what the long term effect will be on the environment. Whether you use a home remedy or a commercial product, use it correctly and follow the directions on the label. If the recipe calls for two ounces per gallon of water, four ounces is not better. Misuse of any pesticide can be unhealthy for you and your family, whether it be one you purchased or a “home remedy”. Read the label before using a product, not after!!! Then be sure and follow the instructions on the label as to what plant the product can be used on, how to prepare the product, and how much to use on the plant, shrub, flower, or tree you need to treat. Do not over medicate your plants or your soil!!!!! 

          If in doubt, contact your local County Cooperative Extension Educator for information or check the internet at “http://ianrhome.unl.edu/search”. In the top box scroll down to Extension publications. In the bottom box type in the name of the plant, shrub, flower, tree, insect, or disease you want information about or you want to treat or control. A list of publications will appear. Read the ones of interest and print what you want to file and save.

          Iowa State University Extension information may be reached at www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews. In the search box type in the name of the plant, shrub, flower, tree, insect, or disease you want information about or you want to treat or control. A list of short, practical articles will appear. Read the ones of interest and print what you want to file and save.

          In Part II I will cover “Rots and Spots” (Diseases) and “Fertilizers”. Part III will cover “Weed Control”.

Copyright July 30, 2005