Pest control

Taking care of pests naturally

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In 2009, the Province of Ontario implemented the cosmetic pesticides ban. The ban on the use of pesticides to control pesky weeds and insects for purely cosmetic reasons was implemented to reduce the risk people and pets.

Chemical and organic pesticides, whether permitted or restricted, can:

  • kill or harm beneficial plants, insects and mites;
  • kill or harm plants, animal, fish and people if not used properly; and
  • cause skin or eye irritations.

There are many ways to deal with pests without chemicals, including using beneficial insects, aerating, overseeding and fertilizing your lawn, and setting traps.

Check out 20 things that attract bad bugs into your house and yard from HGTV for tips on what might be working against you.

Insects, slugs and snails

Some insects can be a real problem for lawns and gardens. Here are some common pest insects and helpful tips for dealing with them.

Ants

The best way to find an ant nest is to follow a trail of ants to the colony. To get rid of or relocate ants:

  • Flood ant nests with water to make them move: this can be used to push colonies further from your home, but won’t kill them
  • Use diatomaceous earth in cracks and crevices around your home: this non-chemical control (a fine powder made from microscopic fossils) is safe for other animals, including your pets
  • Make your own bait systems (poison): by mix 1 part Borax and 19 parts icing sugar with enough water or grease to make a thick slurry, then place bait along ant paths, but out of the reach of children and pets. Baits work slowly to ensure all members of the nest eat some of the bait
ant

Chinch bugs

Chinch bug damage—brown, irregular, sunken patches— usually shows up around mid-August. Lawn roots stay intact so the grass isn’t easy to pull up (unlike with grubs). You can check for chinch bugs in late July by pushing a can cut open at the top and bottom into your lawn. Fill the can with water; if there are chinch bugs, they will float to the top. If there are more than 20 bugs, you may have a problem.

You can remove chinch bugs with some soapy water, a flannel sheet and a vacuum:.

  • Soak a small area with 30 mililitres of dishwashing soap in seven litres of water
  • Lay a flannel sheet over the treated area and wait 10 minutes; the chinch bugs will crawl onto the sheet, where their feet will become trapped in the flannel
  • Turn the flannel sheet over and vacuum them up or drown them in a bucket of water
chinch bug

You can help prevent chinch bugs by using a grass mix with perennial rye which has shown some resistance to chinch bugs, and by removing thatch. Thatch that’s more than 12mm thick will encourage chinch bugs, especially because adults overwinter in thatch.

Grubs

Common lawn grubs are the larvae of European chafer, June beetles and Japanese beetles. Adults of these insects do eat some plants, but it’s the grubs that do the most damage to your lawn.Having some grubs is normal and healthy, and they should only be controlled when they start damaging your lawn. If you have a grub problem, you’ll see brown, wilted grass that is easily pulled up (unlike with chinch bugs), and you may also see small mammals and birds digging in your lawn for a feast.

You can check for grubs by cutting a one-foot square section of your lawn near a damaged patch and counting the grubs you see; if there are 10 or more, you may have a problem.

Here are some grub control tips:

  • Keep your grass cut high and on the dry side; see our lawn care tips for more information on maintaining a healthy lawn
  • Plant a tree: beetles avoid laying eggs under tree canopies, and a tree will attract birds which feed on grubs and beetles
  • Don’t overwater, especially in late June and July when these beetles are breeding: wet lawns will have more grubs, and the eggs of these beetles are less likely to survive and hatch into grubs in dry soils

Check out Michigan State University’s video on controlling grubs.

grubs2grubs

Leatherjackets

The larvae of the European cranefly is called a leatherjacket. Adult craneflies look like large mosquitoes but they don’t bite or sting. Only the larvae of this fly is a pest. Leatherjackets feed on grass shoots and heavy infestations can chew the grass down to the bare soil. Damage will begin to show in early to mid-May, and peak by the middle of June.To check for leatherjackets, cut away a section of your lawn and scrape the soil from the roots. Count the leatherjackets; if you can count more than 25, you can expect damage.

To help prevent leatherjackets, make sure to let your lawn dry out late August and September when adults are mating and laying eggs in the soil.

To control them, rake the larvae up at night when they come to the surface to feed, and put them in soapy water to kill them. Beneficial nematodes can be used as a preventative means of managing the European cranefly larvae, and is best used for this pest in September. See the Beneficial insects tab for more information about nematodes.

craneflyleatherjacket

Slugs and snails

Slugs (no shell) and snails (shell) need moisture and are active only at night or on cloudy days. If you have slug and snail problems, you’ll see slime trails and leaves with irregular holes that have smooth edges where they’ve been eaten.You can help control slugs and snails by:

  • Eliminating dark, wet daytime hiding places from your yard
  • Using drip irrigation to reduce humidity and moist surfaces
  • Hand picking them from your plants at night; get rid of them in a bucket of soapy water
  • Placing copper strips around plants; slugs won’t cross the copper
  • Placing crushed eggshells around plants; slugs and snails will not move their soft bodies over the sharp shell pieces
  • Setting up traps: put fresh beer in a shallow container, then sink the container in the ground so they can crawl in

snailslugonleaf

Dealing with rabbits, groundhogs, skunks and more

Hungry rabbits and deer will munch on just about any plant they come across, a continual frustration for gardeners. Skunks and raccoons, meanwhile, can create lawn problems when digging for food, and groundhogs may create troublesome tunnels and eat your garden plants. Controlling these animals isn’t always easy, but here are some things you can do.

Choose plants they won’t like

By carefully selecting plants for the garden, you can decrease the incidents of rabbit or deer problems within the garden. Ask you garden centre expert to help you find plants that will look great to everyone—except the rabbits and deer! For the most part, these animals tend to steer clear of plants that have a sticky, rough or hairy surface, thorns or fragrant leaves. Of course, if an animal is hungry enough it will eat almost anything, so if you still have problems, try our other tips below.

Create barriers to keep animals away from your plants

Fences can be expensive but also very effective when built properly. For rabbits and groundhogs, a simple enclosure of netting around your plants may be enough. For deer you’ll need a barriers at least 2.5 metres high, while rabbits and groundhogs only need a 50 centimetre high barrier, and you should make them 30 centimetres deep too your problem is a groundhog. Wrap the trunks of tree saplings with sleeves to protect new growth from animals.

Use repellents to deter animals

Repellants can make animals leave an area by affecting their sight (scarecrow, motion sensors that trigger lights), smell (blood meal, human or dog hair, garlic, chili powder, rotten eggs), taste (mixtures of garlic, chili powder, rotten eggs applied directly to ornamental plants) or hearing (motion sensors that trigger sounds, things that make noise in wind). Keep children and family pet safety in mind when choosing a repellant, and use more than one, changing the locations, to prevent desensitization.

Take good care of your lawn

Making sure your lawn is free of insect pests will help reduce digging by animals looking for tasty treats. If you’ve got skunks or raccoons making holes in your lawn every night, you’ve might have a grub problem. Click on the Insects, slugs and snails tab above for tips on getting rid of grubs, and check out our lawn care page for healthy lawn care tips. You can also try surface repellants. Michigan State University has some tips to help you figure out what might be digging in your yard, and what to do about it.

Managing weeds

Weeds—the nemesis of gardeners and lawn lovers. Basically, a weed is a plant growing in a place it’s not wanted.

Lawn weeds

Thick, healthy lawns will help prevent weeds. Visit our Lawn care page to learn more about maintaining a healthy lawn.

Help control weeds in your lawn by:

  • Pulling the weeds out by hand or with a weeding tool
  • Raking your lawn, particularly in weedy areas
  • Mowing regularly and properly to prevent weed seeds from spreading
  • Using corn gluten meal in late March or early April to control crabgrass before it starts growing

Learn about some common weeds from the Professional Lawn Care Association of Ontario.

Garden weeds

If weeds are already established in your garden, pull them out by hand or use a hoe to loosen them, then remove them and throw them away in your green bin. Leaving pulled them in the garden or dumping them on your lawn will not remove the problem as they may re-root or drop seeds. Note that it’s easiest to pull weeds by hand when the soils is wet.

To prevent weeds in your garden:

  • Use landscaping fabric when planting new gardens to create a physical barrier to weeds
  • Use 7-10 centimetres (3 to 4 inches ) of mulch in your gardens to create a barrier and block sun to weeds underneath; top up your mulch every year
  • Don’t disturb the soil any more than you need to as digging will brings buried weed seeds to the surface where they can easily grow
  • Remove flower heads before they turn to seed: if you can’t remove the whole plant, preventing them from seeding will help stop them spreading and sap their resources
  • Water where you need it: use drip irrigation to water your plants, not your weeds
  • Space new plants so they’ll grow close together when they mature, and fill in gaps with new plants; those pesky weeds will have nowhere to grow!

Visit the Province of Ontario’s weed guide to identify common garden weeds.

You can have healthy lawns and gardens without chemicals

Everything eats something, and almost everything is eventually eaten by something else. This natural situation can be used to help control pests such as aphids, caterpillars, mites and mealybugs by attracting insects or other animals (frogs, toads, birds, etc.) that will eat them.

To attract beneficial insects:

  • Stop using all chemical control products: even organic products can harm the insects and other animals you want to attract.
  • Provide water: A shallow dish with wetted stones is often enough to supply the insects you want to attract with the water they need. A small pond will attract dragonflies, toads and frogs—helpful insect eaters. If you’re worried about mosquitoes, have the water circulate with a pump; mosquitoes only breed in standing water.
  • Provide shelter: Mulch, leaves and branch piles give insects great shelter all year round, while shrubs and trees of different heights make great homes for both insects and birds. Leave some areas of open, bare soil for ground nesting bees and wasps too. You can even create a great shelter by rolling newspaper into narrow tubes or cutting bamboo into varying lengths and clustering them together under a small roof-like structure.
  • Provide food: A wide variety of plants that bloom at different times will help provide insects and other animals with the food they need through their whole life cycle. Plants in the carrot (Apiaceae, e.g. dill, parsley, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace) and mustard (Brassicaceae, e.g. cabbage, kale, radishes, Basket of Gold) families are particularly good for providing pollen and nectar to beneficial insects.
insect shelter

Common beneficial insects and worms

Insect Preferred plants Insects controlled
Hoverflies
  • Yarrow, Achillea spp. 
  • Basket of Gold, Alyssum saxatilis 
  • Aster, Aster spp.
  • Parsley, Petroselinum cripsum 
  • Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  • Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia 
  • Cinquefoil, Potentilla spp.
  • Aphids
  • Thrips
  • Mealybugs
  • Other small insect pests
Lacewings
  • Yarrow, Achillea spp.
  • Dill, Anetheum graveolens
  • Queen Anne’s Lace, Caucus carota
  • Sunflower, Helianthus spp.
  • Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare
  • Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
  • Mites
  • Aphids,
  • Mealybugs
  • Soft scale
  • Small insects and insect eggs
Ladybug / Lady beetle
  • Yarrow, Achillea spp. 
  • Basket of Gold, Alyssum saxatilis 
  • Dill, Anethum graveolens
  • Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare 
  • Sunflower, Helianthus spp.
  • Cineuqfoil, Potentilla spp. 
  • Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberose
  • Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
  • Aphids
  • Other soft bodied pests
Predatory bugs: minute pirate bugs, damsel bugs, big-eyed bugs
  • Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  • Goldenrod, Solidago spp.
  • Marigold, Tagetes spp.
  • Alfalfa, Medicago sativa
  • Leaf hoppers
  • Plant bugs
  • Scale
  • Spider mites
  • Aphids
  • Thrips
  • Whiteflies
Nematodes (microscopic worms)
  • Not applicable: nematodes are applied directly to lawns. Purchase these at your local garden centre and follow the application instructions
  • Lawn grubs
Parasitic mini-wasps (Braconids, non-stinging)
  • Yarrow, Achillea spp. 
  • Dill, Anethum graveolens 
  • Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare 
  • Parsley, Pertroselinum crispum 
  • Cinquefoil, Potentilla spp. 
  • Stonecrop or Sedum, Sedum spp.
  • Thyme, Thymus spp.
  • Caterpillars
  • Beetle larvae
Tachinid flies
  • Golden Marguerite, Anthemis tinctoria
  • Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis 
  • Parsley, Petroselinum crispum
  • Thyme, Thymus spp.
  • Caterpillars
  • Stink bugs (Pentatomidae)
  • Squash bug nymphs
  • Beetle larvae