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UF Hack: Hot-Pepper Pest Spray

Avoid toxic pest sprays at the garden center, and opt for an organic solution you can make at home.

by Elizabeth AdamsJanuary 18, 2016

Mix up cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes as a natural garden-pest deterrent.  

Elizabeth Troutman Adams

As an urban farmer with limited space and modest yields, the first signs of insect infiltration or nibbles from a larger pest are cause for alarm. Even with preventative steps, such as companion planting, beetles, aphids and other critters are capable of wreaking havoc on your garden.

Home-improvement stores offer gardeners aisles filled with pesticide sprays, powders and traps as “fail-proof solutions” for deterring or eliminating the culprits. Unfortunately, most pesticides include toxic and harsh chemicals, which will ruin the natural and organic status of your garden. If remaining toxin-free and organic is a priority, these products aren’t for you. As an added incentive for staying chemical-free, many toxic sprays disrupt the natural, living ecosystem of your garden, which relies on a number of good bugs to replenish the soil and keep bad bugs in check. Sprays and bug powders are indiscriminate, so both kinds of bugs are affected.

A quick, cheap and natural way to deter pests without severe chemicals is as close as your pantry spice rack. Deterring rather than eliminating the pests, homemade pepper spray is a less-invasive way to manage insect damage. To make your spray, add a couple tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper, a couple tablespoons of crushed red pepper and a dot of natural dish soap to a quart jar. You can also add discarded hot-pepper seeds, though you should use caution when mixing and wear rubber gloves. If you want to be really mean to the pests (and have a strong stomach) smash up a couple cloves of garlic and add to the mix. Seal the jar tightly—for your own good!

Let this mixture rest at room temperature for at least one day, then strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth; the mixture will smell quite intense. Use a funnel to pour the mixture into an old, clean spray bottle. Spray the mixture liberally on the leaves of problematic plants every one to two days, sparing the plants that have not shown any damage. Remember, careful monitoring and proper irrigation and weeding should be incorporated in your gardening practices to reduce insect damage.

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About the Author: Elizabeth Troutman Adams is a public-relations specialist and freelance writer based in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. In addition to gardening, cooking and homesteading, she loves riding horses, practicing yoga, and spending time with her French bulldog Linus and husband Shawn.

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