Whether it’s inside or outside, the last thing you want are pests finding your Orlando home so inviting, they pack their bags and decide to move in. The area’s consistently warm and humid climate means it holds the honor as one of the buggiest cities in the country. But you have eco-friendly pest control options that are safer for the environment, your family, and pets.

Natural Options for Pest Control

Homeowners and Orlando pest control pros are opting for more eco-friendly methods in the garden and home. These organic pesticides have a natural base and are safer.

Eco-friendly pesticides are also less toxic to “garden-friendly” bugs. But, regardless of whether the pesticide is natural or synthetic, they all have inherent risks and require safe handling and use.

Pros of Natural Pesticides

  • Fast breakdown – When exposed to sunlight, moisture, or air, the majority of natural pesticides break down rapidly, which reduces the risk to the environment. But you will have to apply the product more frequently and at the correct time.
  • Fast-acting – Natural pesticides like soaps and oils kill on contact. But others like Bacillus thuringiensis and spinosad cause the pest to stop feeding, and the insect dies within hours or days.
  • Lower toxicity – When handled correctly, most natural pesticides have a low to moderate toxicity to mammals.

The Cons

  • Phytotoxicity – Insecticidal soaps, plant and horticultural oils can damage many types of vegetables and ornamental plants. This risk increases with use on stressed plants and when applied during hot and sunny conditions. It’s best to apply these treatments at night.
  • Availability and cost – Natural pesticides are sometimes more expensive than synthetics and can be harder to locate.

Many natural pesticides are exempt from the stringent reviews and testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This results in a lack of data on the efficiency in controlling pests and any long-term negative effects.

Dr. John Roberts is the residential horticulture and master gardener coordinator at the University of Florida UF/IFAS (University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences). He notes, “Toxicity is typically addressed/reported as a matter of dose or concentration of the toxic compound. Organic pesticides designated as ant/insect control agents should also have the ability to kill ants, and therefore, in most cases, probably aren’t that different from conventional pesticides with regard to the risk they pose to human exposure.”

Despite the lower toxicity of natural pesticides, it’s still important to follow label directions on handling and use.

An Integrated Pest Management Approach

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines integrated pest management as an environmentally friendly and common sense approach to controlling pests. IPM differs from traditional pest control in that it focuses on the prevention of pests and using pesticides as a last resort. “Pesticides are considered to be effective, but are only one aspect of the solution for effective pest control,” says Dr. Roberts.

The basic principles for IPM include:

  • Identify pest & monitor progress.
  • Note whether the pest is a nuisance, health hazard or economic threat.
  • Prevent infestations by removing attractants like food, shelter, and water.
  • Document, and if all else fails, consider another route.

Eco-Friendly Options

Insecticidal soaps

Insecticidal soap is similar to household soaps but designed to work on pests. The soap removes the pest’s waxy coating causing suffocation and dehydration. To be effective the soap must make direct contact with the insect. Some plants are sensitive to insecticidal soaps like those suffering drought stress or with hairy leaves. Test the plant’s sensitivity by spraying a small section and check the effects 24 hours later.

Insecticidal soaps have a low toxicity and work best on soft-bodied insects such as:

  • Aphids.
  • Soft scales.
  • Psyllids.
  • Whiteflies
  • Mealybugs.
  • Thrips.
  • Spider mites.

Horticultural oils

Horticultural oils work by smothering insects and are made either from highly refined petroleum products, or from plants. Neem oil is the most-common of the plant-based horticultural oils. The oil must make direct contact with the insect to be effective. Read the label for plants sensitive to the oil like waxy succulents and to prevent damage, don’t apply when temperatures are 90°F and above.

The oil has a low toxicity and works best treating small, soft-bodied insects including:

  • Aphids.
  • Whitefly nymphs.
  • Scale nymphs.
  • Mealybug nymphs.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth. Credit: Jen Knoedel, CC 2.0.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is mined fossilized silica shells that cut into the insect’s outer coating causing it to die from dehydration. However, the product must remain dry to work and with Orlando’s humid climate, its use outdoors is mostly ineffective.

When it comes to indoor use of DE, Roberts notes, “DE can have indoor application as well. I believe diatomaceous earth is one of the most widely-used “natural” remedies for household insect control. It is very nontoxic however, precautions should be taken against its inhalation.”

Indoors, DE treats the following pests:

  • Cockroaches.
  • Fleas.
  • Bedbugs.
  • Ants.

Boric Acid

Boric acid is a product of the mineral borate and works in killing pests by disrupting their digestive and nervous systems, as well as cutting into their outer bodies causing dehydration. It’s found in a wealth of pest control dusts, sprays, tablets, granules, baits and powders and its primary use is an indoor pesticide.

The product has a low toxicity and works in killing the following pests:

  • Cockroaches.
  • Ants.
  • Spiders.
  • Mites.

Traps

Another eco-friendly pest control option for both indoor and outdoor pests is by using traps. The type of trap depends on the targeted insect and location for use. Traps include everything from sticky tapes, bait stations, capture devices or are specific colors and designs to attract certain pests.

However, you can also make DIY traps yourself that will capture and kill a host of different insects. Additionally, you will know if you have an infestation problem by the number of pests the trap catches.  Some examples of traps and the pests they affect include:

  • Glue Traps (Duct Tape): Cockroaches, ants, silverfish.
  • Bottle Funnel Traps: Mosquitoes, wasps, midges and various flies.
  • CO2 Traps: Bedbugs.
  • Pheromone Traps: Pests on fruit trees, in pantries, cloth moths.
  • Illuminated Pan Traps: Stinkbugs and fleas.
  • Fly Paper: Small flying insects.

Prevention Is the Key to Success

You can help prevent a pest problem by cleaning up food debris, sealing up any entranceways into your home, and making nesting sites uninviting.

Outdoors, you can discourage many pests by keeping your yard free of weeds and overgrown areas, trimming bushes against your home, and cleaning up any yard debris where pests hide.

Dr. John Roberts is the master gardener coordinator and extension agent at the University of Florida. He grew up in Central Florida and studied environmental science and forestry at the University of the South in Tennessee. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida. He focuses on the eternal struggle between St. Augustine grass and chinch bugs.