It’s that time of year again. Mosquitoes are swarming. Caterpillars are invading the garden. And ants are crawling all over the kitchen counter. I know I’m not the only person who has that problem.
Instead of poisoning your home and plants with toxic chemicals, I urge you to consider natural alternatives for your pest control needs.
Allow me to share a few of my favorite ways to repel unwanted insects, treat bug bites naturally, and combat pests in the garden.
Plants That Repel Insects Naturally
Here are several of the best plants to grow around your home and garden to keep bothersome insects away. Just having the plants near porches, windows, and entrances will help prevent unwanted bugs. I also like to crush the fresh leaves and rub them all over my exposed skin when working and playing outside.
Preparedness-wise, it would do us good to repel as many disease carrying insects and pests as possible from our living areas. In a future world where death tolls could run high due to outbreaks and lack of medical care, taking some time now to get a few of these pest-repelling plants established could be a huge asset down the road.
Lemon Balm- Not only does lemon balm have a long history of medicinal uses, it’s also great for repelling mosquitoes. It works best when you crush the lemony scented leaves and rub them over exposed areas of your skin.
Basil- Fresh plants are said to repel house flies and mosquitoes.
Beautyberry- This truly attractive plant repels mosquitoes, and biting flies. Crush the leaves and rub them on exposed skin.
Lavender- Said to repel moths, fleas, flies, and mosquitoes. Lavender has so many uses, it’s just one of those plants I love having around my house.
Lemon Thyme- The lemony scent helps to repel mosquitoes.
Lemongrass- The citronella properties in lemongrass repel mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, house flies, and ants.
Chrysanthemums- According to wikipedia, Chrysanthemum flowers repel: roaches, fleas, ticks, bedbugs, lice, silverfish, ants, and so much more!
Catnip/Catmint- These two plants are sometimes used interchangeably. Although they do vary slightly in appearance, they hold the same pest repelling properties. Both help keep away ants, mosquitoes, house flies, mites, cockroaches, and ticks. Works great when crushed and rubbed on your skin to repel biting insects. One Iowa State University study found catnip oil to work more effectively than commercial bug sprays at repelling mosquitoes.
Rosemary- Supposedly mosquitoes don’t like the smell of this lovely herb.
Garlic- I couldn’t find more information about whether the plants themselves deter ticks, or if you have to rub fresh cloves on your skin for protection, but garlic is one of those plants you should be growing a lot of regardless. It’s one of the most important crops you can cultivate for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Marigolds- When planted in flowerbeds around your home, Marigolds help to repel mosquitoes.
Citronella grass- Effectively repels mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, flies and ants.
Pennyroyal- Deters ticks and fleas; crush and keep in your pocket or hat to repel gnats and mosquitoes.
Horsemint- The strong citronella-like scent repels mosquitoes.
Bee Balm (Monarda)- This spreading perennial is said to repel mosquitoes. Crush fresh leaves and rub them over exposed areas of skin to use as a natural pest protection.
Peppermint- Another multi-purpose plant (as so many of these are), mint repels mosquitoes, flies and ants.
Sage- Grow this perennial near your home to deter ticks.
Yarrow- Ants supposedly can’t stand yarrow. Plant it around your home to help repel them. Rub yourself with fresh yarrow leaves to repel mosquitoes.
Treat Bug Bites and Stings Naturally
Before I get into natural remedies, I want to share a tool that I have used countless times as a first response for bug bites, bee stings, and worse case can be used for snake bites and scorpion stings . It’s called The Extractor. Basically it’s a suction cup device used to draw out the toxic venom causing pain and inflammation in the wound. I never leave home without one in my purse or in the car. After I use the extractor, I follow up with a plant based remedy.
I’m always amazed by how quickly and effectively plant oils can combat pain, swelling, and infection. The next time you get bit or stung, consider trying some of these natural treatments. (I’ll include arachnids in this list since they can be just as bothersome.)
Bee, wasp, and hornet stings- Any time I treat a sting, the first thing I do after using The Extractor is chew up (yes, in your mouth) a leaf of Plantain (narrow leaf, preferably, but broadleaf is a good second choice) and place the gooey green glob directly on the sting. Hold it there until the pain subsides. It usually only takes a minute or so. If it’s a really bad sting, you may need to reapply with a fresh leaf every 15 minutes or so until the throbbing has been relieved. Dried tobacco leaves chewed and applied to a sting as a poultice will also help relieve the pain.
Assassin bug bites- If you’ve ever been bitten by an Assassin bug you can attest to how extremely painful it is. My little boy has been bitten twice. The best remedy I have found is making a poultice from chewed up Plantain (plantago major, not the banana-like plantain) and applying it directly to the bite, replacing with fresh leaf as needed until the pain is gone- usually around 1- 1 1/2 hours post bite.
Mosquito bites- I prefer to use Melaleuca (tea tree) essential oil and Lavender or Peppermint essential oil to relieve itching and swelling caused by mosquito bites. Making a paste from ground oatmeal or cream of tartar can also help relieve itching. Apple cider vinegar is another remedy for itchy bug bites- just wipe the bite with a cotton ball dipped in ACV. Fresh Aloe Vera juice is soothing to bites. Alternatively, crushed fresh basil (or basil essential oil) can also help reduce itchiness.
Tick bites- There isn’t much you can do for a tick bite once they’ve attached and been removed. I always dab the spot with Melaleuca essential oil. If I’m dealing with a deer tick, I prefer to use a paste of either activated charcoal or Bentonite clay to help absorb any bacteria which may have been left behind by the tick. Always keep a close eye on tick bites, and get to the doctor right away if you develop a fever or the classic “bullseye rash” associated with Lyme Disease (which doesn’t present in every case, by the way).
Spider bites- Applying a poultice of freshly chewed plantain leaf (plantago major) is helpful for drawing out poisons, inflammation, infection, and itching. A paste of Bentonite Clay is good for drawing out the poisons left behind by spider bites. Melaleuca oil is also a good treatment to reduce inflammation and possible infection.
Ants bites and stings- If there are multiple bites I would recommend soaking in a bath with 1 c. epsom salt dissolved in it to help draw out the toxins and prevent infection. Follow up with Melaleuca (tea tree oil) applied to each bite. A paste of baking soda or Bentonite clay would also be helpful to draw out the irritants. Aloe Vera would be soothing as well. Lavender and Peppermint essential oils are soothing and cooling. Chew fresh Yarrow leaves and swallow the juice to counteract a histamine reaction; you can also make a tea for the same purpose. Dried tobacco leaves chewed and applied to fire ant bites as a poultice is an old timey remedy.
Chiggers- Comfrey leaf makes a fantastic salve for relieving the incessant itching from chigger bites. Warm one cup of coconut oil over low heat, add one cup of dried, crushed comfrey leaves, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for at least three hours. If the coconut oil begins to solidify at room temperature (only if the temps are below 75*) you can keep the mix over low heat to hold it at a liquid stage. Strain leaves out and store the comfrey oil in a sealed glass container. You do not need to refrigerate. Fresh Aloe Vera rubbed on the bites is also soothing.
Bed Bugs- Full strength witch hazel is said to help treat bed bug bites. You can grow witch hazel bushes and learn to use their bark to make an astringent at home. Tucks pads (which are soaked in witch hazel) also feel good over the itchy bumps. A paste of baking soda will dry up the irritation. Oatmeal baths will help reduce inflammation and irritation. Melaleuca oil helps fight infection.
To Make An Oatmeal Bath
Put about a cup of rolled oats in a clean sock, tie the top of the sock to keep the oats from spilling out. Toss the sock into a warm bath, and allow it to soak until the tub is filled with a white milky cloud. Rub the oatmeal sock over affected areas, coating the skin and soaking in the tub for at least 20 minutes.
Lice- Use a nit comb (something everyone should have in their first aid supplies) to comb out adult lice and eggs. One method you can try is to suffocate the adult lice by covering your scalp with Neem oil or coconut oil, covering it with a shower cap, and leaving it on overnight to smother the bugs. Repeat as necessary. Do this once a week for three weeks so that all of the remaining eggs have hatched, otherwise you’ll be reinfected. Melaleuca (tea tree) oil has also shown to be extremely effective at killing lice. Add several drops of the essential oil to a quarter sized amount of shampoo, scrub your head and allow it to sit for 15 minutes before combing through with a nit comb. Again, do this once a week for three weeks to ensure you kill all of the lice through their reproductive cycles.
Scorpions- Apply a cold compress to slow the venom’s spread. Keep the affected area elevated at heart level. Make a paste of activated charcoal or Bentonite clay and allow it to sit on the affected area until it has thoroughly dried. Frankincense essential oil is said to almost instantly relieve the pain associated with scorpion stings. Make a poultice from Cottonwood leaves or Prickly Pear Cactus. Alternatively, a spit poultice of chewed Yarrow, Mugwort, and Plantain is also said to be an effective remedy. Dried tobacco leaves chewed and applied to a sting as a poultice will also help relieve the pain.
Mites/Scabies- Swab the affected and surrounding areas with Melaleuca (tea tree oil). You can do the same with Neem oil, and wash with Neem oil soap for 3 weeks to kill the mites. Taking a warm bath with a large amount of powdered cayenne pepper is an old timey remedy that is said to work for scabies. Oil of Oregano is said to be a strong treatment for relieving scabies mites. Add a couple drops of oil of oregano to a tablespoon of carrier oil and rub over affected areas several times a day. It is also recommended that you take 2 drops of oregano oil under the tongue twice a day to combat scabies.
To Make Oil of Oregano
1/2 cup carrier oil (olive, coconut, grapeseed, almond)
1/2 cup crushed fresh oregano leaves
Warm the oil over low heat in a stainless steel pot. Add the crushed oregano leaves, stirring to cover. Allow to infuse over warm heat (do not allow it to reach a simmer) for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Transfer to a clean glass jar and cover for 2 weeks. Strain; store the oregano oil in a sealed glass container at room temperature.
Controlling Pests on your Animals
Mites- Although these microscopic parasites usually aren’t harmful to animals, they can cause skin irritations which can be severe in some cases. There are several different species of mites which affect animals, and all are highly contagious.
Honey, cooking oil, yogurt, neem oil, and apple cider vinegar applied to the infected areas has shown to be helpful in clearing up mites. You can also try making a tea from Yellow Dock, Calendula (pot marigold), or Aloe to be sprayed on the affected area several times a day.
Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth or wood ashes in your chickens dust bath area to prevent and kill mites. Add fresh garlic cloves to their water or sprinkle garlic powder over their food to help repel mites.
Fresheggsdaily.com has a garlic spray remedy that is said to have a 100% kill rate within a 24 hour period:
To make Natural Mite Garlic Juice Spray you will need:10 ounces of water1 ounce of garlic juice1 teaspoon (total) any combination of these essential oils – bay, cinnamon, clove, coriander, lavender, spearmint and/or thymeMix in a spray bottle and spray hens bi-weekly as a preventative or every other day for two to three weeks in the case of an infestation. Concentrate around the vent and under the wings. Dusting your chickens with DE after spraying them is also recommended, taking care not to get the dust in their (or your) eyes or lungs. Treating your coop and chickens simultaneously is necessary to completely get rid of the mites.
Ticks- Add garlic to your dog’s food every now and then to repel ticks. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water to raise their body’s acidity, which also deters ticks. Something else I’ve heard works amazingly well is Geranium essential oil. Put one drop between your dog’s shoulder blades and one drop at the base of his tail (where his tail meets his backside). You can actually put Geranium oil on your wrists and behind your ears to keep yourself tick free also!
Fleas- Pennyroyal can be tucked in your pet’s collar. Allow your cats and dogs to roll around in a patch of Pennyroyal for flea protection. Do not use Pennyroyal if you think your animal could be pregnant, as it has been shown to cause miscarriages. Dust the pet’s bedding area with DE. Add 1 teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar to 1 quart of your pet’s drinking water. Cedarwood essential oil is a strong flea killer.
All Natural Flea Spray
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 quart fresh water
2-3 drops lavender or cedarwood essential oil
Add all to a spray bottle and spray your pet liberally, avoiding eyes, nose and mouth areas, and insides of the ears.
Horseflies- Scientists have recently confirmed a long time folk remedy for repelling horseflies. To keep these flying insects from annoying your horses, take young branches from an American Beautyberry bush, crush the leaves and stick the branches between the harness and the horse.
Controlling Pests in the Garden
Companion planting can be a very effective way to prevent a pest infestation in the garden. Interplanting useful flowers and herbs with your regular garden crops helps to repel unwanted guests. Many companion plants are dual-purpose, and are either edible or medicinal, or both. I’ll share a few organic methods I personally use in the garden to keep pests at a minimum.
Flea Beetles and Mexican Bean Beetles- These guys are the worst for decimating bean crops. Sprinkling the plants liberally with wood ashes makes a huge difference. Don’t sprinkle before a rain, it’ll just wash off. Re-apply several times throughout the growing season.
Catnip, peppermint, rue, pennyroyal and tobacco are said to repel flea beetles.
Marigolds, garlic, and rosemary are said to repel Mexican Bean Beetles.
Japanese Beetles- In June, when the Japanese Beetles begin making their first appearance (hence the nickname, “June Bugs”), I have to be diligent in the garden handpicking the beetles and dropping them into soapy water to keep the infestation under control. Handpicking takes time… but it works.
Geraniums, catnip, chrysanthemums, hyssop, garlic and chives are said to repel Japanese Beetles. Four o’ Clocks are said to attract and poison these pests.
Squash Bugs- You’ve gotta be extremely diligent in the garden, keeping a close eye on your plants and watching every day for new signs of pest activity. Plants in the curcurbit family are a special favorite of squash bugs. Turn leaves over and look on the undersides of plants for tiny copper colored eggs laid by adult squash bugs. One of my favorite ways to take care of eggs and nymphs is wrapping packaging tape around my fingers, sticky side out, and using it to quickly remove the pests from my plants. Larger, adult bugs are hand picked and fed to the chickens.
Catnip, dill, nasturtiums, peppermint, petunias, spearmint, and tansy are said to repel Squash Bugs.
Aphids- Spraying aphids with a strong stream of water will knock them off your plants. Attracting beneficial birds to your garden can also help keep aphids and other pests under control. Chickadees, Titmice, Hummingbirds, Finches, and Warblers enjoy aphids as part of their diet. Neem oil is also said to be effective control.
Chives, cilantro, coriander, clover, dill, eucalyptus, garlic and nasturtium repel aphids. Mint, fennel, dill and yarrow attract ladybugs which are natural predators of aphids.
Cabbage Moths- The best prevention is using a row cover. I also thoroughly examine both sides of all cabbage leaves several times in spring… which yes, takes a while… to remove any tiny eggs or hatching worms.
Oregano, sage, lavender and clover may help repel cabbage moths.
Colorado Potato Beetles- These guys have never been a huge problem for us in the garden. Handpicking is the best organic method of control.
Eucalyptus, catnip, coriander, horseradish, marigolds and tansy are said to repel Colorado Potato Beetles.
Hornworm Caterpillars- Hand picking is the best organic method for keeping these guys under control. Encouraging predators is also extremely helpful.
Dill attracts predatory wasps that lay eggs on tomato horn worms which in turn hatch and eat the caterpillar alive. If you find an egg covered guy like this, leave him in the garden so the wasps that hatch can seek and destroy other hornworms.
Borage is said to repel tomato worms.
Nematodes– David Goodman wrote an excellent article on preventing Nematodes in the garden. Instead of elaborating here, I’ll just point you to his sage advice.
Stinkbugs– If these guys are causing trouble in your garden, try this homemade remedy.
Controlling Pests Indoors
Maybe you’ve done everything you can do and you still have pests coming indoors. Try these organic methods to rid your home of unwanted creepy crawlies.
Ants- Once they’ve made their way into your home, it can be hard to control a scavenging colony. Be sure to keep any food and crumbs off the counters and floors, and seal up foods in your cabinets which ants could find their way into.
Peppermint or cinnamon essential oil swabbed with a Q-tip around openings where the ants are coming in is said to make them turn in their tracks. Grits and coffee grounds will supposedly kill ants who take a bite. Mix borax, sugar, and a little water into a paste for the ants to take back to their colony. Within a week or so they should all be dead. (Keep out of reach of pets and children.)
Fleas- Make a flea trap by setting out a shallow bowl of warm soapy water, placed underneath a desk lamp on the floor (with all other lights turned off). Leave out overnight and the fleas will be attracted to the light and drown in the water. Vacuum constantly, in every nook and cranny until the fleas are eradicated.
Spiders- Keep your house tidy. Seal up holes around the home. Vacuum spiders as you discover them. Spray the corners of rooms with peppermint essential oil to deter spiders. Mix equal parts vinegar and water to make a spray to kill spiders on contact. (Remember, some spiders are actually beneficial in your home, and can keep houseflies and mosquitoes under control. Don’t be too quick to kill!)
Cockroaches- Keep all food put up and eliminate standing water around the home. Don’t let dirty laundry pile up. Clean behind the fridge and stove often. Mop floors regularly. Place bay leaves in closets, cabinets, and under sinks. Make a trap by filling a cup with old beer and adding 1 Tbsp oil to drown the thirsty roaches.
Weevils- One time we had a major weevil infestation when a bag of wheat we had sitting around hatched out. It took two days of diligent searching and constant vacuuming, but eventually we got rid of every single weevil. The best prevention is to re-package grains that you won’t use up fairly quickly in a sealed container (such as glass jars or sealed buckets) using O2 absorbers. Or, freeze grain products for 3 days to kill weevil eggs to prevent hatching.
Stinkbugs- Vacuum them up as you spot them, or hand pick them and remove them outdoors. We like to collect stinkbugs in a jar to transplant to the grapevines in spring, where they will feed on the larvae of grapevine moths.
Houseflies- Repair holes in window and door screens. Keep the kitchen and bathrooms clean. Cover compost and trash with a lid before taking it outside. Old fashioned fly swatters are still a good low tech option. Fly strips are effective, but very unsightly. Carnivorous plants, such as Venus fly traps, can be placed on the kitchen windowsill or counters as a natural solution.
Make A Homemade Fly Trap
A glass quart jar and lid
1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
water to fill 3/4 full
Use a hammer and nail to a few poke holes in the lid, just big enough for a housefly to crawl through. Screw the lid on and leave where the flies are the worst.
Fruitflies- Remove rotting produce as soon as it’s discovered. Place a piece of fruit or a banana peel in a glass jar, insert a narrow funnel into the jar, seal any openings around the rim of the jar with tape. This will create a trap that the flies can crawl into, but can’t find their way back out of.