While bewildering numbers of organic products and home remedies exist to repel garden predators, a few "old reliables" are continually mentioned as insect and animal pests deterrents. Among them are red pepper sprays and powders, made from extracts of the hotter members of the Capsaicin family. Organic sprays and powders that use red pepper extracts are available at garden centers, but simple home methods may also deliver the power of red pepper to your organic garden.
"Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening" recommends either red pepper spray or ground red pepper as a broad-spectrum, organic treatment for a number of insect pests. Among those insects that may be repelled by red pepper are aphids, lace bugs, cabbage maggots and spider mites. Red pepper spray works best as protection against flying insects that feed on leaves, flowers and fruit, according to the Rodale encyclopedia. Ground red pepper, also known as cayenne pepper, can be dusted around the base of plant stems to thwart crawling pests that feed on seedlings, including cabbage maggots and cutworms. (See References 1)
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, red pepper is commonly marketed as a deterrent for a range of pests that eat or damage shrubs, trees and smaller plants, as well as those that break into outbuildings and garbage cans. Powder and spray formulas exist that address such common garden foes as rodents, rabbits, skunks, deer, raccoons, cats, dogs and even bears. The red pepper appears to work in mammals by irritating lungs and skin. These irritants repel rather than harm or kill most animals, notes the NPIC, although some rodents did experience respiratory damage and even death at certain doses in laboratory testing. (See References 3)
To create red pepper spray, combine 1/2 cup chopped red chili peppers with 2 cups water in a blender. Process briefly, then strain the plant matter from the liquid. Pour the red pepper liquid into a spray bottle. Some gardeners add 1 tbsp. liquid dish soap to help the spray adhere to the plants. Along with this basic red pepper repellent, the Rodale encyclopedia recommends a combination red pepper-garlic spray, in which several cloves of garlic are added to the blender along with the red peppers and water. If you are dusting the soil to deter crawling pests, look for red pepper in the spice aisle of your grocery store. It may also be labeled as cayenne pepper or chili powder. (See References 1)
Although red pepper appears to present a fairly Earth-friendly deterrent to garden pests, it may have some drawbacks. The chemical components of red pepper appear to be toxic to honeybees and beneficial insects as well as to the "bad" bugs in your garden. Although red pepper spray and powder do not pose a risk to air, soil or water, they should not be considered mild. Getting red peppers -- in any form -- in your eyes, breathing it in or exposing your skin to it may cause rashes, temporary blindness and extreme nasal and lung irritation, warns the NPIC. (See References 3)
Ellen Douglas has been a writer for more than 20 years, both as a New England-based newspaper reporter and as an editor of nonprofit publications. She has written on health, education and the arts for both online and print publications.
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