Vegetable Garden Pest Control

More PRI Pest Management Bulletins

Minimize the use of pesticides in your vegetable garden by smart planning, crop rotation, and taking advantage of a pest’s natural enemies.

See PRI’s Top-Ten List for Keeping Pests Out and Kids Safe. Use PRI’s tool, PestSmart, to find low-hazard pesticide products.

Working with Nature

Summer is almost here, and vegetable gardens everywhere are moving into high gear with the warm weather and abundant sunshine. The only problem is . . . so are the weeds, insects, fungus and gophers! But with a little planning, you can head off most pest problems before they get started. This bulletin highlights general methods for vegetable pest prevention. For tips on specific pests, see our bulletins on aphids and whiteflies, garden weeds, caterpillars/moths, beetles, slugs and snails, garden ants, gophers and moles.

Read on for a few pest prevention tips, but one concept is key — start with good soil containing lots of organic matter to provide time-release nutrients for growing healthy plants. Composted cow, horse, or chicken manures, lawn clippings, or kitchen scraps provide nitrogen and potassium. Bone meal or rock phosphate are good sources of phosphorus. Rotate your crops to reduce nematode and fungal pests that flourish in soils when similar crops are grown in the same plot of land several years in a row.


Use low-toxicity pesticides only if necessary. Killing pest insects with a strong insecticide will also kill the predatory insects that are your best allies in controlling pests. Using mulch instead of herbicides to control weeds protects water quality, pets, and humans.

Pest Prevention

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Tips for Keeping your Garden Pest Free

Utilize local knowledge Find out what pests are common in your area by talking to local gardeners
Plan for success Plant a variety of crops and select those best suited for your growing area
Cultivate beneficial insects Create habitat for beneficial insects by mixing flowers into your vegetable garden
Monitor pest populations frequently Decide on a tolerable level. Acting early to control pests can prevent problems later
Use mulch for weed control Mulch with straw or compost to prevent weeds and provide organic matter

Pest Smart mobile app

Read on for information on low-impact methods for managing garden pests. Also included is an overview of pesticides of concern that are commonly used in home gardens.

Interested in finding out more about specific insecticide products? The Pest Smart app is now available in the iTunes Store. Conveniently access pesticide data on your iPhone and iPad while on the job, in the store, and at home.

  • Search by product name or registration number.
  • Search by pest to find pesticide products that target common household and garden pests like ants, fleas, cockroaches, lawn weeds and aphids.
  • Quickly verify the eligibility of a pesticide product for use in the LEED v4-certified Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.
  • Compare products and find least-toxic alternatives to streamline decision-making.
  • Link to PRI’s Pest Management Bulletins to learn about low-impact methods of pest control that minimize pesticide use and exposure.

Low Impact Approaches

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Low Impact Solutions that Keep Unwanted Garden Pests Away

Pest Preferred Alternatives
Insects Plant flowers to create habitat for beneficial predatory insects. Tolerate a few pests. Use insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, neem oil, or microbial pesticides such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Weeds Mulch plants with compost or straw. Use mechanical weeding, flaming, corn gluten meal (pre-emergent applications), or essential oils (post-emergent applications).
Fungi Plant resistant varieties. Ensure good air circulation by proper spacing and pruning of plants. Remove and dispose of infected leaves. Use sulfur dust, potassium bicarbonate, garlic extract, or microbial fungicides such as Bacillus subtilis.
Nematodes Plant resistant varieties. Rotate crops with mustard and small grains like wheat, rye, or oats. Use solarization, dry or clean fallowing.
Slugs/snails Pick slugs or snails (escargot!) at night for several nights in a row to bring populations down. Use slug traps and iron phosphate baits.
Gophers/moles Exclude burrowing animals with fencing below the soil line. Encourage natural predators such as owls and gopher snakes. Use traps.

Pesticides of Concern

Type Issues
Insecticides Broad-spectrum insecticides like organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroids, and neonicotinoids kill valuable beneficial insects and breed resistance in pests. Systemic insecticides like neonicotinoids end up in pollen and nectar, killing bees and butterflies. Many insecticides are highly toxic to humans, pets, fish and wildlife.
Herbicides Most herbicides are water soluble and can contaminate surface and ground water. Some of the older herbicides like atrazine and 2,4-D are suspected endocrine disruptors. Although less toxic to humans and aquatic life, many of the newer-generation herbicides can persist in the soil for months to years, reducing plant growth in the next season.
Fungicides Most fungicides are used preventatively, based on humidity and temperature. Resistance is an issue.
Molluscicides Metaldehyde-containing baits are a hazard to pets and aquatic animals.
Rodenticides Rodenticides are acute poisons and a hazard to children, pets and predators such as hawks and foxes.

Additional Resources


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