Natural Alternatives to Toxic Pesticides

While spring may bring warmth and sunshine, it also brings out bugs and other pests that can become a nuisance inside the home and in the yard. Here are some natural ways to keep five common types of creepy crawlies at bay:

Ants sneak in the house in search of food and water, so the first thing to do is remove the food source, especially any food crumbs.

“Ants are harmless,” says Catherine Short, a Virginia Master Naturalist. “Wipe them up with a damp cloth daily, and remove whatever is attracting them.”

Ants tend to, well, bug off, if there are strong scents around, so consider setting out cinnamon, peppermint or bitter cucumber to chase them away. They also dislike the smells of lemon and white vinegar, so another option is to combine equal parts water and vinegar with a few drops of essential oil or lemon juice and spray the mixture around baseboards and other entry points. Borax, meanwhile, is toxic to ants and can also be used, but avoid using if you have children or pets.

Cockroaches are attracted to water, so get rid of all water sources. Placing catnip around the house may steer cockroaches away, since they don’t like the smell. Spraying cockroaches with soapy water may also kill them.

“Termites are a serious problem and have expensive consequences,” says Short. To keep your house free of termites, eliminate any moisture near wood that could attract them. Exposing these pests to sunlight or heat may destroy them, as can cardboard traps containing a termite-attracting compound known as cellulose.

Neem oil, a type of vegetable oil, can be used in a spray to deter termites, or try using a Borax mixture.

Mosquitoes, of course, are also attracted to anything wet, so empty all water sources around the outside of the house. “Encourage purple martins and bats, which eat insects, by putting up houses for them,” Short suggests. “Citronella helps to repel mosquitoes that are close by.”

Other recommendations to deter mosquitoes include planting marigolds in the garden or using neem oil. Mosquitoes also dislike the aromas of eucalyptus, lemon, camphor, garlic, mint and lavender. Flies can be just as pesky as mosquitoes at an outdoor picnic. Mint, bay leaves, cloves, eucalyptus and basil may help to send them packing, too.

Garden Pests:
Planting herbs with strong odors among your vegetables can keep certain bugs away, as well as deer. “As for other insects outside, like Japanese beetles or aphids, I usually pick them off by hand or leave them alone and let nature take its course,” says Leanne Conrad, a Master Gardener, “Many people will buy ladybugs online and put them out in the garden in a ladybug house. Ladybugs are well known for eating aphids.”

Other ideas to do the trick?

“You can buy Epsom salt and sprinkle it around plants like hostas that slugs like to munch on,” says Conrad. “Cayenne pepper seems to work on moles and voles. You can sprinkle it down in the holes. I’ve done that before, and the moles and voles will move on.”

About the author

Brandy Centolanza

Brandy Centolanza is a freelance writer who has contributed regularly to The Health Journal since 2005. She covers health, travel, parenting, education and community issues for several publications in Hampton Roads and Richmond. Brandy lives in James City County with her husband, two children and two cats.