How do I keep bugs off my plants without pesticides?

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After a long cold winter, no one gets more excited about Spring than a gardener. No one, that is, except the insects that are waiting to dine on garden plants. But there are homemade insecticides that will prevent your garden from being a 24-hour diner for every insect that passes through the neighborhood.

There are any number of chemical products on the market that will kill insects, but many gardeners are hesitant to use strong chemicals on their plants. There are very effective organic insecticides and repellants available these days, and in a pinch, you can make your own homemade natural insecticide or insect repellant.

Most insects prefer a bland diet, so by giving your garden a spicy flavor you can encourage insects to dine elsewhere. A homemade hot pepper or garlic spray works great as an insect repellant and can actually prevent insects – and even hungry rabbits – from nibbling on your plants.

To make homemade hot pepper spray insecticides, toss a couple of hot peppers, such as cayennes or habaneros, into a blender with about a cup of water. Puree the mixture, strain out any solids, then add enough water to make a gallon of concentrated hot pepper juice. You may wish to wear rubber gloves when working with this concentrated mixture, and avoid getting it in your eyes.

To use the hot pepper spray, mix a quarter cup of the concentrate with a gallon of water and a tablespoon or two of liquid soap. The soap will help the spray stick to the plants. Unsuspecting insects may still sample plants that have been treated with hot pepper spray, but after one bite they will usually move on in search of a milder meal.

To make a homemade garlic spray insecticide, roughly chop one or two garlic bulbs, place them in a quart jar and pour boiling water over the garlic, enough to fill the jar. Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature overnight. Strain out the chunks of garlic and add the garlic water to your sprayer along with a few drops of liquid soap. Leftover garlic water can be kept frozen for later use.

Garlic water makes an excellent homemade insect repellant for either vegetable or ornamental plants. The garlic smell may seem strong when first applied, but there’s no need to worry that it will make all of your vegetables smell garlicky. Although treated plants will retain enough garlic smell to repel insects, the odor will quickly fade to our less-sensitive human noses. Likewise, the garlic water spray will not affect the taste of your vegetables.

Garlic water can be very helpful in preventing corn earworm damage to your sweet corn crop. When the silk appears on each developing ear of corn, spray garlic water directly on the silk. Corn earworms will bypass the garlic-treated corn to find plants that are more hospitable. Many other chewing insects will be repelled by plants that are sprayed with garlic water.

A good place to buy liquid soap for the purpose of making homemade insecticides would be a health food store or the organic aisle in the supermarket. Do not use a detergent or a heavily scented soap as these can be harmful to plants. Once you’ve made your homemade insect repellant concoction, test it on a few leaves first before spraying your plants.

Either of these homemade insecticides should be reapplied every week or two, or after a rainfall to retain their effectiveness.