Down in the Garden: Get Rid of Pests, Organically

“Help! I need an organic alternative.”

This was once the cry of radical greenies and hippies, but these days most of us have realised we just don’t want to consume, inhale or be in the presence of chemicals.

If we can find an safer alternative that works, most gardeners will give it go.

I have found and that’s not only good for us, but for our environment and the creatures we share it with.

Why do we need pest control?

The simple truth is that native plants rarely have problems in their native environments – they have evolved to live in symbiotic relationships with the other plants, animals, birds and insects and even the microbes in their natural environment.

But in our home gardens, we are usually asking plants from across the world to not only adapt to the weather and environment but to everyone and everything living in our gardens, including a wide range of introduced pests.

While the best way to have a healthy and pest-resistant garden is to plant natives, most of us want tomatoes, lettuce and roses, so we need to find ways to protect them and to enable them to thrive.

Other than companion planting, all other pest control measures should be only employed when the pest population is proving to be out of control.

Your pest controlling methods, even organic ones, should be stopped as soon as your garden situation improves because no matter how careful you are, unfortunately these measures can effect native living things as well.


Healthy plants are much better equipped to combat the invasion of pests.

They recover quicker, and they can better resist subsequent disease challenges as well.

Water, feed and care for your plants properly as per their individual needs to keep them in tip top health.

When working in the garden clean and disinfect tools and your hands when moving on to another plant as this helps stop the spread of pests and disease.

You must remove damaged and diseased materials quickly to stop the spread.

I would never plant anything in my garden without a fortnight quarantine.

You can’t see the microscopic eggs of some pests or other problems at times so having an area of your garden just for new plants to quarantine is a great way to not introduce problems.

My area is next to my driveway, well away from most of my garden.


Bottle Traps

These are incredibly easy to make, cheap and they do work.

Once full, you simply throw away or wash and repeat.

Neatly cut the top third of a plastic drink bottle off (I use the 1.25l ones).

Insert the top into the bottom, creating a funnel that the insects will go into, attracted by whatever bait you use and be drowned in water that you need to add.

Wasps: Use mashed up fruit in about 3cm of water and make sure that a few bits of fruit stick up from the water. (Set on ground near places you have noticed wasps.)

House Flies: Old raw meat in about 3cm water with some sticking out from water. Make sure this trap is set in the sun.

Stink Bugs and Moths: a battery-operated light in the bottom of trap. Set in a dark place in your garden.

Bowl Traps

You need to get a little craftier with fruit flies.

Into a clear glass bowl place a chopped-up piece of ripe fruit and cover with fruit juice mixed with ¼ teaspoon of dishwashing liquid.

Cover with plastic cling film drum tight and punch about 3 to 6 holes, depending on size of bowl with a bamboo skewer or similar.

Underground Container Traps

A good way to combat a slug or snail invasion and use up beer dregs!

If you don’t have beer around, mix up 2 cups of warm water, 2 teaspoons of sugar and a packet of dry yeast to make a beer substitute.

Use plastic containers about the size of a margarine tub with lid and cut away about a third of the lid.

You want to create a cover for the container but have enough room for slugs and snails to fall in.

Bury container to soil level, fill with beer/yeast mix and then put the lid on. You can also use half a scooped-out orange or grapefruit in the same way but without a ‘lid’.


All of these mixtures should be tested on a small part of the plant first and never used on stressed, dry or thirsty plants.

Use in the evening and reapply as required to control pests.

The All-Rounder

This is suitable for a broad range of pests and the majority of plants.

6 unpeeled cloves garlic

3 whole hot chillies

½ cup of chopped tomato plant leaves

500ml water

½ teaspoon liquid soap

Blend all except soap in a blender and then mix in soap, strain into a spray bottle.

Test on a leaf first and watch for adverse reaction over 24hours.

If none, spray all over plant when plant is not stressed and in the cooler evening.

The Sure-Shoot

Mix up the above recipe and substitute the tomato leaves with any one or you could try a mixture of the following:

Ants: basil, mint, pennyroyal, tansy, wormwood

Aphids: coriander, dill, mint, chives

Weevils: catnip

Mice: wormwood

Cabbage White Butterflies: tansy, wormwood

Slugs and Snails: wormwood, rosemary

Mosquitos: pennyroyal, lavender, rosemary

Spider mites: coriander, dill

Gnats: pennyroyal

Fleas: wormwood, lavender

Flies: lavender, pennyroyal, tansy

Beetles: Tansy

Moths: wormwood, tansy, lavender

Cockroaches: catnip

Carrot Fly: basil, chives


Johnalene from East Gosford Community Garden is having great success using ‘Nature’s Way Caterpillar Killer, DiPel Bio-insecticide Spray’ particularly for the White Cabbage Butterfly.

This preparation in also safe to beneficial ladybirds and bees.

Pyrethrum based sprays do work and are very safe for humans but can kill bees so that needs to be taken into consideration.

NatraSoap is a commercial preparation that can be strayed directly on insects and works well.

A range that I have had success within my garden is ‘Eco organic garden’.


Growing an abundance of natives, especially along the perimeter of your garden can help.

A lot of introduced pests find our Aussie botanical life rather uninteresting or even repulsive so they make great barriers.

Other plants below will help you send pests the other way:

Aphids: Summer Savoury (Satureja hortensis)

Cabbage White Butterflies: Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Whitefly: French Marigolds (Tagetes patula)


An alternate angle that can work well is planting crops that your pests would rather eat than your garden treasures.

You can plant as barriers to your whole garden or around more valued plants.

Caterpillars: Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus)

Slugs and Snails: Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)


There are beneficial creatures and insects that you can encourage into your garden to help control pests for you.

These include other less destructive to your garden insects along with birds, frogs and lizards.

Keeping chickens will help if you can manage them.

They love snails and slugs as well as a host of insects.

Spiders and even wasps, as much as you might not like them, do a fantastic job of munching their way through a lot of annoying insects.

The local bird population will love your bug problem so invite them in as well.

How do we let the predators know we are open for their dinning pleasure?

You can encourage them by having a water source such as a bird bath, a pond, nesting boxes and hives/insect hotels.


This includes nettings to stop pests getting to your crops.

Just make sure they are fine, breathable and white or clear and well anchored, so they do not entangle birds and animals.

Things put on the ground that pests like slugs and snails won’t cross include crushed eggshells, nutshells or gravels.

Copper is also known to be something snails and slugs won’t cross, and you can purchase copper tapes that can be effective along the edges of raised garden beds.


Yes that’s right, your gloved hands! Get out there and pick those pesky bugs off and squash them into the rubbish bin.

Evenings are best for bug catching as most are more active then.

Also don’t leave rotting fruits, flowers and leaves on plants or fallen as these attract bugs.

Pick them up and either compost or dispose of if unsuitable due to disease.

Pests are a fact of life in the garden.

You really are never going to rid yourself entirely of them, but a healthy, well managed garden will make them less of a problem for the majority of time.

On some occasions, you just can’t fight nature and you might be better off planting things that don’t seem so appetising to the munching visitors.


Neil from Kanwal writes:

I’m looking to add flowering Australian natives to my front garden.

The main problem is heavy summer shade from a large deciduous ornamental pear tree which keeps the house cooler in summer and lets in winter sun when the leaves drop.

Overall, the other plants around the area I want to plant are; dodonea viscosa, ahoy grevilleas, mountain devil, winter fire grevillea, callistemons, native mint bush, acacia sophorae and leptospermum and now a re-emerging correa from a previous planting. I’d welcome suggestions as to what might work.


Hi Neil, that is a little tricky and I see you have a few good ideas.

The problem you have pointed out is that the tree you are planting under is deciduous so your underplantings need to handle both sun and shade.

Other plants you might consider include any of the Boronia’s, Chorizema cordatum, Crowea exalata, Hibbertia obtusifolia, barema sapindoides, Acmena Smithi, Hypocalymma augustifolium, viola betonicifolia.

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 10am every Saturday on Coast FM.

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