The Q&A Archives: Home-Made Pest Controls

Question: I recently watched a TV program that recommended using beer, epsom salts, liquid dishwashing detergent, ammonia, chewing tobacco juice in various mixtures as insecticides, and fertilizers. My biggest concern is the use of ammonia. Is it safe for flowers and vegetables? What does it do? What is the right proportion?

Answer: I've used rubbing alcohol as an insecticide, but never ammonia. Even rubbing alcohol must be used with care--it can damage tender plants. I've never heard of using grocery-store ammonia as a pesticide, so I wouldn't recommend it. Ammonia gascan be released in some situations when a nitrogen-containing fertilizer, like ammonium nitrate, is applied. I have not heard of using straight ammonia as a fertilizer, and would not recommend it--better to use a more stable, slow-release fertilizer thatworks to improve soil structure.<br><br>Epsom salts is most often used as a supplemental fertilizer--it is a good source of magnesium. I wouldn't use tobacco juice for fear of spreading tobacco mosaic virus. Liquid dish soap (such as Ivory) can be used either by itself or mixed with other home-made insecticides. It acts as a "spreader-sticker", helping the spray coat more evenly. On its own, it helps suffocate susceptible insects like mites. Use 1 teaspoon of soap per quart of water. Beer is often used to trap slugs.<br><br>One good book with lots of information on home-made pest controls is "The Gardener's Bug Book", by Barbara Pleasant (Storey Communications, Pownal, VT 1994).

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