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Organic Answers Column - May 1, 2024 - Soft Pest Control

Soft Pest Control


Getting rid of all the bugs, beetles and other critters on the farm or in gardens or landscape is impossible. It's also a bad idea. Why? Because most of these living organisms are beneficial. If anything, we want to encourage more life and more biodiversity.


Giant bark aphids disappear on their own
These are aphids parasitized and killed by
tiny Braconid wasps.


Insects and microbes usually do a great job of controlling themselves if we don't foul up the balance by spraying toxic pesticides, using harsh salt fertilizers or watering too much or too little. Even the insects we would classify as harmful, such as aphids, are helpful in their own way. Insect pests and disease pathogens attack plants that are in stress from problems of the soil, from unusual climate, from poor plant selection and from other outside influences. In doing so, they help identify the basic problems that caused the stress that invited in the pests in the first place. Ultimately they help eliminate unfit plants.


Specific so-called pest insects you'll see pop up in the early spring are giant bark aphids. They are interesting, do very little if any damage and are not worth the trouble to treat. They'll be gone when the weather warms up. Many other insects fall into this category. Some of the most beneficial insects include green lacewings, ladybugs, Trichogramma and other non-stinging wasps, beneficial nematodes, hoverflies, minute pirate bugs, predatory stink bugs, ground beetles, assassin bugs, fireflies, dragonflies, damselflies, pollenating bees, black soldier flies, robber flies and most spiders. Often the larvae of these friends are more helpful than the adult insects.


Carnivores like assassin bugs will help control aphids and other vegetarian insects
Ladybug larvae (they clear out aphids) and eggs


If natural balance is out of whack for some reason, we go to the next steps of "soft pest control." See below.


Diseases are even easier to control. They are simply micro-biotic activity that is out of balance. Reestablishing the balance is the key to control. Toxic chemical pesticides not only don’t do that, they make the situation worse by killing the beneficial organisms more efficiently than killing the pathogens. It’s possible that there are no pathogens. The terms germs, bacteria and fungus conjure up negative thoughts. They are only negative when out of balance. When in balance with all the other microbes and doing their jobs, they are mostly beneficial.


Here’s how the Soft Pest Control Program works:



  • Plant native and well-adapted plants. Use gentle organic amendments, fertilizers and techniques that help keep things in balance. Avoid the destructive products (high-nitrogen synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides).
  • Release beneficial organisms – the two primary choices are Trichogramma wasps and beneficial nematodes. They should be released at a minimum of once in the early spring when foliage is emerging.
  • If pests persist, go to the next step – spray repellents that don’t kill. Choices include garlic, garlic pepper tea, cedar oil, etc. Dry garlic on the ground can also help.
  • If that step fails to rid the tough pests, go to the next step – spray organic products that kill. Choices here include orange oil, fatty acid products, neem, spinosad, Bt products, spinosad soap, hydrogen peroxide, etc.


More about Trichogramma wasps.

More about Beneficial nematodes.

Acceptable and Unacceptable products in an organic program.

Howard Garrett and Malcolm Beck's Texas Bug Book.






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