Organic gardening is a growing trend with homeowners and small farmers alike. That means the demand for organic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers is at an all-time high, and the number of products available is overwhelming. “The [Environmental Protection Agency] does not allow the terms ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ to appear on labels,” reminds Stephanie Boone, an expert on plant-based pesticides, “so it is up to you to read the ingredients to ensure you are getting what you want.”
To help sift through the best options for every need, we rounded up the organic pesticides that were effective and easy to apply. Our top pick is the easy-to-find Monterey LG 6135 Garden spray.
Here are our top recommendations for the Best Organic Pesticides of 2022.
Can be used around children and pets
Can be used all over the landscape
Controls a wide range of pests
This garden spray contains Spinosad, a well-researched bacterium that kills a variety of pets but can be used around pets and people. Many familiar garden pests, such as leaf miners and thrips, are easily controlled with the quick-to-action odorless formula. Monterey Garden Spray can be used throughout the landscape, from ornamental shrubs to trees, making it a must-have pest control powerhouse.
If you live in the South, Spinosad works wonders against fire ants, which are every homeowner’s nemesis. We love how easy this is to apply and the range of variations offered. If you would rather have a ready-to-use spray or a hose-end attachment, Monterey offers those as well. Also, Spinosad products are not residual, meaning they do not persist in the environment after application.
It should be noted that since Spinosad is broad spectrum, it harms all insects, including butterflies and bees. If you are trying to bring in the pollinators, be sure to avoid spraying blooming flowers or host plants that may be supporting caterpillars.
Price at time of publish: $31
Horticultural oil, like insecticidal soap, works by adhering to the insect, providing direct control upon contact. The All-Seasons version features mineral oil, suspended in a mixture that makes it a breeze to spray in a fine mist. Mineral oil is considered benign for the environment, pets, and people and can be used throughout the garden as well as on houseplants.
Oils perform best on slow-moving insects, such as scales and mealybugs, and when used over several weeks to ensure all lifecycle stages are taken care of. It can also work to suffocate exposed eggs. The adhering quality of oil can also close off leaf pores from participating in gas exchange, so it’s best to avoid soaking the plant.
Price at time of publish: $10
Neem oil has been used for centuries for everything from personal care to plant disease. Coming from the Neem tree, it does not get more natural than Neem oil. It also happens to be incredibly affordable, with the well-respected Natria brand’s 24-ounce spray costing less than $12.
You apply this product the exact same way as All-Seasons Mineral Oil, with it working best on slow-moving insects. Neem oil also moonlights as an excellent fungicide. I use Natria Neem oil exclusively to treat outbreaks of Rust fungi on my edible figs and blooming plumerias each year. If you want to treat a fungal outbreak, the same rules of application apply, making sure you cover the fungi entirely. It is not a silver bullet, but it does offer multi-purpose protection for indoor and outdoor plants.
Price at time of publish: $11
Offers greater distance coverage
No re-entry period necessary
Effective against mosquitoes
If you are not into gardening but still want to enjoy the backyard pest-free, Wondercide is your answer. You can apply the cedar oil-based treatment directly to the lawn with no wait time for re-entry. We were already fans of Wondercide, a staple of natural pest control for pets, and thrilled to see the company expand outdoors. The 32-ounce concentrate covers up to 20,000 square feet (larger than a hockey rink), making it a breeze to hit the entire backyard at once.
Cedar oil acts as a strong repellent for a variety of pests, including roaches, ants, fleas, and ticks. If mosquitoes are keeping you indoors, this product also keeps those at bay. You see the best results if you have a backpack sprayer. You may need to apply Wondercide several times to ensure summer-long control.
Price at time of publish: $75
No synthetic chemicals
Can be used around children and pets
Can be used indoors and outdoors
Costs less than similar products
While it may be tempting to make your own insect-killing blend, the degreasing formula of the familiar dishwashing bottle does not offer the same chemical formula present in insecticidal-grade soap. Safer brand’s mix is designed to weaken the protective outer shell of insects, causing them to dehydrate. While it is simplistic in design, it is extremely effective if you hit the insect directly.
Safer brand has the exact ingredients as most other soaps on the market at a much lower price point, making it one of our favorites. We were delighted that this product can be used indoors on houseplants as well.
Price at time of publish: $10
Bonide’s Captain Jack’s organics line features a variety of pest control options at affordable price points. Like Spinosad, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a bacterium that harms only the larval stages of insects and can be used around pets, people, and the environment. Use where you have hungry caterpillars, whether in the garden or on a treasured shrub or vine.
When a caterpillar munches on a desirable leaf sprayed with Bt, it ingests the bacteria that leads to its demise. Since Bt needs to be consumed, it does not offer immediate control, but it is extremely effective with patience. Since it is intended for caterpillars, be sure to use caution when applying it in areas where beneficial insect larvae dwell.
Price at time of publish: $15
Works the best when dry
Dust can blow away
Diatomaceous earth is a powder composed of the fossils of water-based organisms known as diatoms and has myriad uses, including stain removal, deodorizer, and joint supplement. It also makes a great multi-pest control. While hard for the eye to detect, diatomaceous earth has sharp edges that penetrate insects and dehydrates them as they walk over it. When applied around the perimeter of a home or garden, it offers control from ground-dwelling insects such as beetles and roaches.
However, if you reside in one of the wetter states, it turns to sludge when moistened. It is best to apply on days where rain is not in the forecast.
Price at time of publish: $27
Our top organic pesticide pick for gardeners hoping to keep things natural is Monterey LG 135 Garden Spray for its ease of use and spreadability. For a budget pick we recommend Natria Neem Oil Spray, which is equally effective and also has a pleasant scent.
Formulas vary in application, generally falling into one of three categories:
- Granules and dusts. Pests best controlled by granules and dust tend to be ground dwellers such as beetles, cockroaches, and even snails. Needing to be spread on the ground and/or watered in, these products work best in areas that are low in humidity and not expecting much rain, since they can quickly turn into a slurry.
- Systemic. These products are absorbed at the foliage or root level of the plant and integrated into the tissue. Generally, this control method takes longer to work but is effective once the insect starts feeding on the plant tissue. Products that include biopesticides such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) work really well for leaf-feeding caterpillars. Some chemicals, such as pyrethrins, are more broad spectrum and suitable for any plant feeder.
- Spray. Typically, this erects a barrier deposited directly onto an insect, blocking its ability to breathe. Examples include spray oils and soaps, which adhere directly to the insect body, causing suffocation.
Organic pesticide ingredients can be split into several groups, including bacteria, pyrethrin, natural oils, dusts, and soaps. Many are broad spectrum, so they can harm good insects as well.
- Bacteria, such as Bt and Spinosad, are wonderful because they only affect the specific body chemistry of insects, and in the case of Bt, only larval forms. This better ensures it doesn’t damage humans or animals.
- Pyrethrin is derived from chrysanthemums and is one of the oldest pesticides. For that reason, many insects, such as white flies, are resistant to it, and it is why most products we recommend do not include it.
- Natural oils can be used in two ways, as a suffocant applied directly to insects, or as a repellent to keep insects away. Mineral oil and Neem oil are the most common.
- Diatomaceous earth is composed of fossilized diatoms, which make a fine powder that is easy to sprinkle around home perimeters and in garden beds. Ground-dwelling insects can’t walk through it without injury. As long as it’s not rainy season, it offers long-lasting protection.
- Soaps are highly effective because they suffocate slow-moving pests such as mites, scales, and mealybugs. Insecticidal soaps contain no degreasers, making them much more suitable for pest control than home dish soap.
Not all organic pesticides are suited for indoor use. For example, diatomaceous earth should not be used in homes with children and pets. Soaps and oils can be used on houseplants, edibles, and just about everywhere else in the landscape. Spinosad and Bt are best suited for outdoor use. When determining whether a product should be used in a desired location, pay special attention to ingredient list, targeted pests, and application method.
Despite labels, not all pesticides are effective against all bugs. It’s important to do your homework, as many insects, especially those common in commercial greenhouse operations, where pesticides are used frequently, have developed resistance to once-effective treatments. Here is a general primer on what to use when:
- Oils: Best for slow-moving insects you can hit directly such as scales and mealybugs.
- Soaps: Like oils, these work best when you hit the insect, not the plant. A go-to for spider mites, mealybugs, aphids, and scales.
- Diatomaceous earth: Since it is spread on the ground, it’s for ground-dwelling pests such as beetles, grasshoppers, and snails.
- Spinosad: Broad spectrum, meaning just about every insect group.
- Bt: Larval stages of insects, particularly caterpillars and mosquito larva.
Organic pesticides are made from natural ingredients derived from plants, minerals, and microorganisms. Soaps and oils are also classified as organic pesticides. While they may be natural, they can still harm pests, and proper application to plants is needed for best results.
This depends on its composition and the pest you are trying to control. Certain pesticides, such as soaps and oils, can be used indoors and out, whereas Spinosad Bt is better used outdoors. Always follow label directions, especially adhering to the recommended amount. It can be very easy to overdo applying natural insecticides; remember, a little goes a long way! Often, too much coverage can cut off gas exchange to the plant leaves, leaving your greenery in further distress.
Usage varies, depending on which organic pesticide you use. Many pests have short lifecycles, making it tough to get every generation in a single go. As a rule, apply once a week for at least 3 weeks to grab back the edge on your pest situation. Always review the label instructions for further details.
Generally, organic pesticides are required by law to list use-by dates on the labels. Concentrates can be stored out of direct light and moisture for up to a year. If you choose to dilute, it’s best to use that within a few days, or dispose of it after.
This article was written by Amanda Rose Newton, an entomologist, freelance writer, and garden reviewer for The Spruce. Amanda Rose holds masters degrees in Entomology and Plant Health Management with a strong emphasis on organic gardening and sustainable agriculture. An organic gardener, she delighted in personally testing out the products in our roundup to provide advice to those with different needs, yards, and values when it comes to pest control. Many of these products have been her personal “go-tos” for years. She also spoke with founder of the popular natural Wondercide brand, Stephanie Boone. Amanda Rose holds a Masters degrees in Entomology and Plant Health Management with a strong emphasis on organic gardening and sustainable agriculture.
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