Home & Garden: How to Use Plants to Naturally Ward Off Pests in Your Yard

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a person sitting on a bench in a park: A Dutch garden by [Ronald van der Hilst](https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/dijkerhoek-netherlands-ronald-van-der-hilst-gardens-article). © Photo: Allan Pollok-Morris A Dutch garden by [Ronald van der Hilst](https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/dijkerhoek-netherlands-ronald-van-der-hilst-gardens-article).

Not all pest control comes in plastic boxes. Truthfully, some of the best and most effective natural pesticides are already in your backyard. Michael Pollan, an award-winning science journalist and environmentalist, remarks in his book Botany Of Desire that “in the wild, a plant and its pests are continually coevolving, in a dance of resistance and conquest that can have no ultimate victor.” In other words, using artificial chemicals can only get you so far. People have been using specialized garden plants to remove pests from their lawns for hundreds of years. From colorful flowers to trap plants, there are so many ways to keep your garden safe while giving pests the boot.

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Why you should use plants over products

Can you use chemicals to control pests? Absolutely. Should you? That’s another question. It’s no secret that pesticides can be harmful in many ways. High use of pest chemicals has been linked to reduced health and wellness in humans. Long-term use may injure native plants and animals, including pollinators like bees. Worst of all, pesticides could lead to acute or chronic health effects related to residue on fruits, leaves, or roots.

A little pesticide use is common for most home gardeners, but overreliance could lead to problems down the road. That’s why so many plant parents are jumping back to natural pesticides. In a recent study completed in 2018, researchers discovered that companion plants with known pesticide properties worked just as effectively as synthetic chemicals. The best part? The resulting bean yield was almost entirely chemical-free.

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Using plants to ward off yard pests comes with many other benefits:

  • Promoting biodiversity
  • Reducing groundwater pollution
  • Sustainable growing practices
  • Healthier cooking ingredients
  • Added pollinator protection

How to pick your zone

Planting zones are used to categorize the world according to average temperatures. The higher your zone is, the warmer it will be. These zones (ranging from 1a to 13b) make it easy to determine the type of plants that will grow in your area, and when to begin putting them in the ground.

The best way to find your zone is to refer to a local extension office. There should be one in every U.S. county, offering plenty of free advice and resources for your particular area. For pest-fighting plants based on your growing zone, check out the options below.

Cool planting-zone options (zones 1–5)

Planting zones that are subject to negative temperatures often have very little plant variety. However, there is a surprising number of species that have adapted to control harmful pests.

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If you live in the Midwest or high Northeast, this list is for you!

  • Sunflowers: These beautiful plants are stunning to look at, and a huge boon for nearby plants. Sunflowers act as a “trap” species, collecting dangerous pests to reduce the load on other plants.
  • Borage: You may not have heard of this bee-friendly herb, but this edible plant is perfect for gardens in cooler zones. Repel some of the veggie growers’ most hated pests, including cabbage worms and the dreaded tomato hornworm.
  • Garlic: A favorite for foodies and culinary experts, garlic staves off one of the gardener’s least favorite pests: the Japanese beetle.

Warm planting-zone options (zones 6–9)

The vast majority of the U.S. falls between zones 6 and 9. Almost anything can be grown in these regions, giving gardeners plenty of options regarding color, variety, and species. Treat yourself with this list of plants that fight pests all season long.

  • Marigolds: A popular and beautiful garden border, these smelly blooms keep away spider mites, snails, and hungry rabbits.
  • Chrysanthemums: These working plants are a common ingredient in many modern pesticides. Sometimes referred to as “mums” by seasoned growers, use these autumn-loving plants to deter roaches, fleas, ticks, bed bugs, and the occasional louse.
  • Lavender: This plant has one of the most recognizable scents in the world. Not only does lavender attract pollinators, but it can deter the presence of fleas and pest moths.

Hot planting-zone options (zones 10–13)

From unforgiving summers to mild winters, living in zones 10–13 is a challenge for the hardiest of people (just not for pests). California, the southern tip of Florida, and Puerto Rico are a few of the areas within these zones.

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Here are a few of the best plants for pesticide use in the subtropical Americas.

  • Nasturtiums: Not only can nasturtiums add beautiful color to salads, but they are also a pest-fighting wonder. These plants repel hundreds of different pest species, and are even used in commercial agriculture to protect at-risk vegetables.
  • Rosemary: Warmer zones often experience higher levels of rainfall and humidity, leading to destructive snail and slug activity. By planting some rosemary near your leafy greens, you can repel soft-bodied pests, while simultaneously adding a rich aroma to the garden bed.
  • Catnip: Whether you grow it inside or outside the home, catnip is a wonderful plant for gardens and your feline companions. Expect aphids, squash bugs, and beetles to stay far away from these mounding bushes, as well as the occasional weevil.

What else can I do?

From beautiful sunflowers to edible nasturtiums, integrated pest-management practices are making insect control more sustainable. However, your efforts might not bear fruit overnight.

If you have potted plants, you could use fashionable yet purposeful sticky traps to zap the last few pests. Take care to water plants regularly, and refrain from overdoing it to prevent more pests from dropping by. Ultimately, you need to give your pest-fighting plants some time to flourish. You might be surprised just how successful your efforts can be!

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