Natural Ways With Pests

a healthy colony of aphids

Heat and harvest come to this – pests. It’s easy to malign them, “Damn things!” But pests are not malicious. They’ve come because you’ve served dinner.

Aphids, leafhoppers, scale, thrips, green vegetable bugs – put a feed out, create the perfect environment and they will come! Pests are just a part of playing in nature – for a peaceful life it helps if you adjust your mind to this fact.

Hoverfly on Bishops Flower
Hoverfly on Bishops Flower

But don’t get stuck thinking pests are inevitable cos they aren’t! Nature is all about checks and balances. The gardeners job is to create the right environment for these to play out.

Let’s look at all the bits that add up to a garden with low pest numbers. It takes a bit of time but the end results are extraordinary – beautiful abundance inside and out.

Beneficial insect power

Abundant Vegie Patch

Beneficial insects are your go to smart solution.  There’s an army of insects on your side – parasitic wasps, hoverflies, ladybirds, praying mantis, spiders, dragonflies, assassin bugs, lacewings, various beetles, frogs and even earwigs.

They’ll manage pests, pollination and recycling of debris in return for a safe haven and a years supply of food. In order to sustain this population you need an attitude of gratitude towards a few pests – they’re feeding the good guys.

anise hyssop

This kind of garden (mine by the way) is heaven for beneficial insects. Nectar + pollen rich + spray free. Building your garden of Eden takes time. Every season add a few more perennial companion plants and after a few years you have year round flower and loads of habitat.

Who’s Eating Who (the pest and the predator)

Check out the array of bugs hanging out on your plants (a magnifying glass is super helpful.) Where there’s a pest, there’s also a predator. Probably a few different types of each. Rushing in guns blazing wipes out all the good guys as well.

Identify all the players at the party with the ever helpful google and figure out who’s the pest, and who’s eating the pest.

aphids and ladybird larvae

There’s a-lot going on on my corn.

  • There are brown puffy parasitised aphids about to give birth to a heap of new parastic wasps.
  • There are empty brown aphid mummies – the parasitic wasps have already left.
  • Ladybird larvae are eating aphids like there’s no tomorrow and there’s a few ladybird larvae pupating as well – more ladybirds on the grow!

Needless to say I did nothing. Nature had it all in hand and my beneficial insect population was exploding daily. To squash or spray would’ve been counter productive. So yeah, worth it to find out whats happening before you pull the trigger.

Be Strong

yarrow fennel and parsley mulch

What a difference to our pest levels when we garden in a steady, robust, natural way.

  • Look after your garden well by watering and feeding properly. Artificial fertiliser, too much manure and overwatering creates sweet, soft, sappy growths that sucking pests adore.
  • Go gentle on your soil if you’re at the beginning and your soil is sand or heavy clay. Plant more greencrops than crops or spread lots of compost – either is fab.
  • Meet all the needs of your plants. Plant with the seasons – heat lovers when its hot and those that prefer cool when its cool. Don’t fertilise legumes and do fertilise heavy feeders. Happy plants (like happy people), have a heap less problems.
  • Cover your soil.
  • Grow resistant varieties. Talk to gardeners in your area. Experiment with varieties until you find ones that the pests don’t bother. Save the seeds of those.

Be cunning

feb in the vegie garden

Pests hunt by either smell or shape. So be smart and use disguise, camouflague and distraction (ie your parenting toolkit). If carrot fly is a problem at yours be judicious when you sow so that you don’t need to thin much – the smell attracts the fly. Or spray with seaweed before thinning or grow alongside strong smelling onions.

  • Disguise vulnerable plants by growing among different shapes and smells. Eg carrots with spring onions and calendula or tomatoes with nasturtium, marigolds and parsley.
  • Distract pests away from your vegies by growing plants they prefer close by – this is called catch cropping. Eg: seduce shield bugs away from tomatoes and beans with mustard or cabbage whites with nasturtium.
  • Regular seaweed or fish foliar sprays not only boost your plants, but disguise scent.

When to act and when not to

white fly yellow sticky trap
Yellow sticky trap for white fly

The point at which you step in and halt the pests is up to you – there is no right way, no one way to go.

You choose whether you jump on them right away or pause and wait for the beneficials to turn up. How important the crop is plays a big part here – for instance I wont, at this stage, let psyllids loose on my tomatoes but will let aphids go a ways on robust crops like corn or brassicas.

The more established your garden is + the more faith you have in it, the easier it is to let things take their natural course. Letting pests go a bit here and there, as and when you feel safe enough, is the ultimate way to build beneficial insect populations.

In the early days of your garden you may want to get pests early – a couple is easy, an epidemic is not.

Spray free ways


Use your fingers. Pests like snails, aphids and shield bugs are easily managed by picking off and/or squashing.

Cover vulnerable crops with fine insect mesh like wondermesh. This is my most used solution – for potatoes to avoid psyllids, brassicas to avoid cabbage whites and carrots to avoid carrot fly.

Make traps. Yogurt traps for slaters, beer traps for snails and leave boards or orange skins out to trap slugs.

Unsafe spray

  • Don’t use knock ’em all dead (the good and bad) sprays like Pyrethrum, Rhubarb, Garlic and Derris Dust (which is by the way a neurotoxin).
  • Don’t use chemical sprays. Even in the driveway – spray drifts into every nook and cranny, going far further than you think.

Safer Spray

green vegetabl bugs

Spray is my last resort. Even safer spray resounds somewhere.

The ultimate is no spray, our gardens are stronger the less we intervene. Perhaps one day my garden will not require even Neem, but for now there are times when I choose to and I am so grateful to have it in my toolkit.


Neem must be ingested to work. Death comes to insects that suck or chew the foliage which is what makes it safer for bees and beneficial insects – it is not a contact killer. Contact insecticides, even natural ones, nail everything they touch.

Naturally neem is super easy to use. Spray for complete foliage cover and do so in regular fashion to keep up with egg hatchings. I use it as required to manage psyllids on my tomatoes, aphids on citrus, blister mite on Pears and shield bugs on my raspberries.


dead caterpillar
Looper Caterpillar dead after BT spray

BT is Bacillus Thuringiensis which is the active ingredient in Dipel and Kiwicare caterpillar killer and like Neem, must be ingested to work. I have it in my cupboard incase of emergencies.

BT is caterpillar specific which is what makes it safer for bees and all non caterpillar beneficials, but still its a toxin. Just remember that monarchs and all butterflies begin as caterpillars, as do moths who are an important food source for our birds, help with pollination and play a similar role as frogs do, as an indicator of eco system health. Where you can, use an insect mesh or opt for digital control.

I used to use BT on brassicas without regard until I put the dots together building the butterfly house at Shannon School. Since then I diligently cover all my brassicas with wondermesh instead. I cant tell you how much easier it is than mixing and applying spray! The only time I’ve used BT in recent years, has been on looper caterpillars in the greenhouse. My bad for not noticing them and catching them early, but there you go. Life’s for learning.


  1. Pat Bloxham says

    I have approximately 20 big swan plants and yesterday I counted 106 caterpillars on them which really means there will be far more than I can see. My problem is there appears to be a orange aphid appearing. What do I do? Leave it and let nature sort it out or should I be out there squashing the aphids?

    • Hi Pat

      Your place will be amazing if all those caterpillars make it to adult hood!

      To squash or not, to spray or not – always the million dollar question! Find out all about that aphid first and then you’ll be able to decide (I’d have to research it to answer you). A great place to start would be these guys – an NZ website specialising in all things Monarch

      best Kath

  2. Libby Jonson says

    Daily walks – that’s what I’m inspired to do. We’ve got a huge vege patch that we’re slowly getting under control and a walk through and a quick big squish every day sounds just my cup of tea 😊 Very keen to try the neem idea too.

  3. Tracy Johnston says

    Ahh, so last year I grew nasturtium and the seedlings are popping back up I am now replanting them along one side of the garden hoping to create a ‘shield wall’ for those pesky white butterflies.

  4. Linda Quinn says

    I love that as gardners we just keep only learning! I never knew you could mix neem oil with your favourite liquid fertiliser. So, that’s what I’ll be doing this year to keep my tomatoes healthy!

    • Tracey MacDonald says

      Who would have known that the good and the good get rid of the bad. I was a bit miserable last time I checked out the price of neem oil but will be getting it the next time I’m in garden shop.

  5. Emma Miller says

    I’ve been a bit overzealous with the beneficial insects not realising that they are helpful. So the thing I’m going to do, is leave them alone! I can be a bit of a helicopter gardener.

  6. Maike Fichtner says

    Daily walk sounds lovely but I usually get carried away with starting to garden only to come in at night fall exhausted. I am keen to try the Neem oil to protect my tomatos from psyllids as DAE alone is not doing the trick. Cleaver has taken over in my garden due to the moist spring. Luckily the tender shoots are eatable.

  7. I think I’ll try some wondermesh after reading this post. I’m also very happy to read about nasturtiums and tomatoes. I’ve done that accidentally this year. It’s a beautiful and healthy looking combination. Great tips as always.

  8. I have had a bit of a google search to find out what ladybird larvae look like so I can keep them in my garden! Today I was out hosing down the whiteflies on the lemon tree. New to this gardening thing and loving your blog! Thank you for the fab advice.

  9. I’m going to use neem!! I love how it’s safe for bees and is easy to use. I’ve been too hands off with our garden pests, but now I know that there’s something I can use without blitzing everything good or bad!

  10. Hi Kath,. Your post has really inspired me to pay more attention to bug infestations before taking action. In the past I’ve always reached for the garlic spray as soon as I see a problem without a thought to what beneficial insects might also be there giving me a helping hand and so they too have become a unwitting target. Well no more. So thanks Kath for this blog post and for making me realise that it’s always best to investigate first.

  11. Sue Johnston says

    Definitely the daily walks Kath. Getting in early before an ‘aphidemic’. :0

  12. Jackie George says

    We have heaps of slaters so I will try the yoghurt and water mix buried in the garden. And mix Neem with my seaweed fertilising. Great ideas thank you.

  13. Gwen McBride says

    I will be using Neem on my huge lemon tree to get those aphids. Totally agree about the garden walk. I read some time ago about the 15 minute gardener. Taking 15 minutes each day to work in the garden means that you are always quietly making a difference. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. I will look at my unsafe spraying practices. I was thrilled to see a ladybug the other day – I want to keep seeing them.

  15. Bronwyn Ward says

    Looking for the pests instead of assuming that She’ll Be Right!

    • I’ll make it a daily routine to walk around and squash while there are only a few. Would love to try neem on my tomatoes this season!

  16. This is my first year growing a vegetable garden and I’m very happy with how it is going, I am trying to keep away from nasty chemicals to keep our food friendly. My garden is having a problem with earwigs though and I was getting tempted to reach for the nasty stuff out of pure frustration but I won’t after reading this, I will try other more garden friendly options.

  17. I’ll plant up some nasturtium and marigolds among the tomatoes – cover the ground a bit more and mix things up a bit for the bugs.
    I remember finding a large family of baby (2nd instar) green vegetable bugs in the raspberries last year and having to really dig online to find out what they were. They were easy to pick once identified and I avoided an infestation.

  18. Elizabeth Kerr says

    I’m inspired to try Neem. I’ve been working on a healthy garden with companion planting and flowers – borage, marigolds, nasturtiums – which seems to be working. Also found a ring of sharp gravel around the zucchini has deterred the slugs that munched my first seedlings. Keen to use Neem in a spray with veggie liquid feeds – lots of trouble with cyllids in the past. Can pea straw spread too thickly provide habitat for slugs and other pests?

  19. Ali Johnson says

    I’d love some neem! I’m going to use my fingers more and squish! My 5 year old came inside yesterday “Mum, I’ve got a present for you, it’s a lady bird to put on the rose (outside the bedroom window) to get all the aphids!!”.

  20. Will try and get out in the early morning and late evening to try and squash the slugs and snails.

  21. Cathy Kopeke says

    Thanks for all the great advice. I’m definitely getting some yellow sticky and will be ditching my pyretheum for neem in future. The white fly are infesting my lemon tree but I can’t spray because it’s covered in bees and hover flys. Now I understand the difference in how these work I’ll also be looking to get the caterpillar killer you mention. Munch on that critters!

  22. Alisa Duncan says

    We need to keep on top of our aphids because last year they were out of control 🙂

  23. I’ll make it a daily routine to walk around and squash while there are only a few. Would love to try neem on my tomatoes this season!

  24. You have given me lots of things to think about as I plan my new garden. Disguise is a very clever idea and planting method!

  25. Denise Watt says

    Will plant mustard next to my beans no tomatoes n not fertilise legumes.

  26. I will be taking the time to identify more of the insects and their larvae so that I can encourage the good bugs that will in time help eliminate the bad. Thanks for the helpful post.

  27. Anna Hughes says

    Always great to read your words of wisdom. I’ve just moved from Dunedin to Nelson and oh the bugs! Just don’t get them in the cold south. Have no idea what’s eating my capsicum for example. You’re inspired me in two ways – I’m going to get a magnifying glass out to find out what the bugs are doing and what they are! I’m going to keep seaweed spraying as that is working on my nectarine. I’m going to keep trying to get the balance of water/nutrients right – new beds=high nutrients and some of the my plants aren’t liking that much. Going to plant another 2 packets of beneficial insect flower blends and a pollinator blend. About to go hunt slugs now that it’s getting dark. Oh guess I should lay off the cayenne/garlic spray I’ve been using til I know what’s going on!

  28. I love reading your posts and looking at the pictures of your garden.
    They are very inspiring to me. In our garden, we have leaf miner issues, they damage almost every veges we plant. Personally all the tips are very helpful and i love the fact that they are natural, I don’t like spraying with chemical even though my garden is suffering because of the pests. I really like the idea of disguise – spray with seaweed to boost plants and at the same time to disguise the scent. I am motivated to try and make my own seaweed fertilizer.

  29. Margaret Thorsen says

    I will try and track down Neem. Havent heard of it before.

  30. Stacey Woollaston says

    I actually just brought some neem before this post but this post has reminded me to use it. But I now realise I have to be more mindful when I squash that aphids that I’m not squashing baby ladybugs.

  31. Hi Kath
    We are in our 2nd year garden so still learning, I have been inspired to change everything about sprays from your blog, I was about to buy derris dust but will never again, I am so greatful for all the invaluable information you give, can’t wait for you’re next blog

  32. Katrina Parker says

    I will hold off on the garlic sprays to control aphids on my chillies in the hothouse and let the benficials and predators try and control them. I have planted lots of alyssum and marigolds amongst my chillies so hopefully they bring in the good guys. I have lots of flowering plants such as cosmos, cleomes,marigolds,calendulas, borage and comfrey everywhere too. I have been wanting to buy some neem oil but it is sadly out of my budget.

  33. Cara Worboys-Clark says

    Love the sound of wondermesh, will have to look at getting some. Also keen to try neem oil!

  34. Definitely daily walks. I’m very proud that this season I’ve managed to attract ladybirds into my garden. I’ll also plan to plant more green crops too. Thank you great read!


    I’ve been using the digital method for killing aphids on my roses but they’re breeding faster than I can squish them! I’d like to try Neem oil as an organic method as I don’t use chemicals in my garden.

  36. What I learnt from this blog is that I should be using Neem oil more to deal to the bad guys while not harming the good ones.Mixing it with fertiliser is an excellent idea

  37. I learnt that I should be using neem oil more to deal to the pests while not harming the good ones. Also using it with fertiliser was a great idea

  38. Neem in my garden spray for caterpillars! I just took off a net to put on a fruit tree and left my cavelo nero exposed for only one day. Next day…an army of caterpillars all in the crop have almost wiped it out and they are even on the newer ones that were still undercover – once they were in they were in. I thought that was that, but I will get a spray together and give that a go!!: 😀

  39. There are roses in my garden. Had a friend help me prune them but the aphids are.attracting blowflies.(which in turn invade my house as I live on farm) thank you so much for.this article as.I was not aware that neem products could help (have been sprayig aphids with water and dishwash liquid so far)

  40. I think I might use the yoghurt too as I have heaps of slaters in my garden.. also must get organised and cover brassicas as I am usually a bit lazy and late and they get hammered by white butterfly.

  41. Each day I shed the burdens of work with a quick walk around the garden it is so relaxling watching nature slowly work. I am going to start using the seaweed spray to strengthen the plants. I have just started the neem spraying this year so will see how this tackles the bigger pest problems. In the past I thought I was doing the ‘natural way’ by using pyrethrum. I love learning so much from your posts.

  42. I need to spray neem on big citrus trees, to reduce the white fly! I wondered if you have used the small spray bottle attachment (to pop on end of your hose?)…if so do you rate it?…thanks Kath!

  43. Great article thanks! I have a real problem with slugs and snails, so will be giving the orange peel traps a try for sure with my bounty of oranges. Really like your planting match up suggestions too, so will rethink where I put things. K x

  44. Alana Cornforth says

    Thanks Kath! I’m going to get me a magnifying glass and some insect books from the library and will take the kids out exploring in the veg patch! Parasitic wasps! Parasitised aphids! Amazing! Who needs sci fi…

  45. Heidi Bowater says

    I will be planting catch crops from now on, to help lure some of the pests away from my vege garden. I will also definitely try the seaweed spray to disguise smell of some of my plants. Prefect timing really as Ii collected heaps from the beach the other day and made a bin with tap for some good natural seaweed fertiliser!!

  46. Lexina Wyatt says

    I saw that using Neem oil is one way to help grow tomatoes without the silids(?) killing the plants. I have been spraying but have run out and need more…. I will also start using this on my roses to get rid of aphids.

  47. Inspired to keep a closer eye on things & deal with little problems straight away.

  48. Have been trying to check daily to see what’s going on, definitely keen to try the Neem Oil and the beer trap.

  49. More awesome advice thanks Kath. I grow my tomatoes in pots away from my actual vege plot. They are next to a hot sunny wall of the house. But I still try to provide a healthy soil environment by mulching and regular watering of the pots. I hadn’t thought of putting some other guys also in pots next to them to foil any hungry passers by. I will plant some nasturtiums and parsley with them. Win win!! Also your notion of watching closely but being strong and not jumping for the spray ( I only use Neem and BTK now for the edibles and their friends) worked for me accidentally with the aphids on my plums as they were prolific one minute and when I went to do my follow up Neem spray pretty much gone the next. I held off and they have all but gone. So I will now try to be more observant and in tune with the goings on in the “village” and keep a magnifying glass at hand.

  50. Michael James says

    I have four bee hives I got to help with the pollination of the garden and to boost the bee population as over the years I noticed a decrease in the number of bees in the area. Because of the bees I have been very reluctant to use any form of insecticide but now knowing the Neem can be used without affecting the bees will make my job of pest control so much easier.

  51. This is a great article. I have been interested in some sort of covering for various vegetables, so was very interested in the mesh crop covers link you provided. I am interested in them partly for the shelter from the wind (I am on a very windy site) but also as a physical shield for the plants.
    Also, a sticky trap is quite handy.

    I enjoy planting beneficial partnership plants, and will take cuttings etc of my nasturtium (well, my neighbour’s nasturtium growing through the fence!) to plant more closely to my tomatoes and courgettes.

  52. Viola Palmer says

    After reading your advice I will stop using Derris Dust. I will try thr slater yoghurt recipe. Do they fall in and die?

  53. continue using foliar seaweed spray to maintain plant health and therefore their resistance to pests.

  54. It our comment about spraying driveways. We have a gravel driveway and I have tried a number of things for the weeds do you have a recommended way to deal with this. Thanks. Great to have a kiwi site to ask questions.

  55. Do you have any comments regarding Diatomaceous earth as a spray for plants? I have been using it and love it, but would appreciate your comments.

    • Hi Jude, for whats it worth I dont feel good spraying or dusting it over plants because from there it gets onto all the insects working the garden. Bees take it back to the hive and then what? Does it impact the larvae? Just the all round breaking of beneficial insect life cycles is my concern. You are the best judge, watch closely and see how you feel about it. How often are you using it? Isit once in a blue moon or regular as clockwork? How are the numbers of hoverflies, parasitic wasps, lacewings etc and bees at your place? How have they changed over time of using the DE? These are the things to ponder. kind regards Kath