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The 4 Best Insecticides For Your Vegetable Garden

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Few things are as disheartening to a gardener than seeing unwelcome pests feasting on the literal fruits of your labor. The best insecticides for your vegetable garden target the bugs that are destroying your crop while minimizing harm to helpful insects and your veggies, and they use active ingredients that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both organic and synthetic insecticide ingredients can be effective, but there are a few differences in how they work.

Organic Insecticides

Derived from naturally occurring sources, organic ingredients tend to be fairly effective at eliminating pests without being toxic to humans and pets and have a short residual activity time, so they can help reduce harm to beneficial bugs you actually want in the garden. Some products on this list are also listed with the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) for use in organic gardening.

Two of the most common organic insecticides are spinosad (effective against caterpillars, beetles, and thrips, and more) and neem oil (effective against aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, and more insects, as well as fungi like powdery mildew). Neem oil is rich in azadirachtin, which inhibits bugs’ feeding, stunts their growth, and disrupts their ability to reproduce, so it affects larvae as well as full-grown pests. Essential oils like garlic, thyme, clove, and peppermint have also proven to be effective at preventing and treating a variety of insect infestations in your garden.

The downside when compared to synthetic insecticides: Organic options usually take longer to work and may require multiple applications.

Synthetic Insecticides

Made by a chemical process, synthetic ingredients such as permethrin — which is effective against aphids, mealybugs, and other pests — are usually less expensive than organic ones and take longer to break down, so they may offer longer-lasting protection. That also means there’s a greater risk of harming helpful insects, but all of the insecticides below are registered with the EPA and “won’t harm people, non-target species or the environment” when used following the instructions on the label, according to the EPA.

Whether you prefer an organic or synthetic option, all of the best insecticides for your vegetable garden below come in spray formulas that are easy and safe to apply to targeted areas.

1. The Overall Best Organic Insecticide

This spinosad-based organic insecticide controls infestations from caterpillars, leaf miners, codling moths, tent caterpillars, gypsy moths, borers, and more. The insecticide concentrate is OMRI-listed for organic gardening, odorless, and backed by a 4.5-star overall rating after more than 2,000 reviews. Once diluted with water according to the instructions, you can apply the insecticide with the sprayer of your choice. The guidelines for reapplication vary by crop and directions are included on the product label.

One helpful review: “Spinosad was recommended to me by a gardening expert. Although I've had a vegetable garden for decades, I had never heard of this and gave it a try. It cleared up a major problem with what I believe were cabbage moths eating my tomatoes. This year, my garden was much healthier, with sprayings every two months.”

2. The Best For Larvae & Full-Grown Insects

Another organic, OMRI-listed insecticide, this neem oil is made from cold-pressed seeds and is effective against leaf miners, whiteflies, thrips, caterpillars, aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, scale bugs, and more. It’s slow-acting and will need reapplication every two to four weeks for best results, but it also targets insects at various stages in the life cycle. The concentrated formula has a strong, garlic-like smell and will need to be diluted with water and liquid dish soap following the instructions.

One thing to keep in mind: Neem oil freezes at temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so if it solidifies while in storage, you’ll need to thaw it in warm water before using.

One helpful review: “Followed the instructions and it’s working amazing! I use it for my citrus trees, vegetable garden and front yard desert bushes. Been using this for over a month and so far I’ve seen all the bugs gone and no additional pests around!”

3. The Overall Best Synthetic Insecticide

This permethrin-based insecticide works on over 100 bug species, including mites, aphids, scale, and leaf miners. The formula touts immediate results when spraying insects directly, while residual activity affects insects when they come back to feed. One application will last up to four weeks. As with the other concentrated formulas, you’ll want to dilute with water per the instructions before treatment.

One helpful review: “This is a must for saving my fruit trees from Japanese Beetle invasion. They've been horrible the past two years, but spraying EIGHT keeps them at bay for 4 wks at a time.”

4. The Best Essential Oil Insecticide

Made with food-grade essential oils, this spray-on insecticide combines garlic, thyme, clove, peppermint, and other oils to fight insect attacks in your vegetable patch. In addition to protecting against spider mites, russet mites, and aphids, the spray is effective against powdery mildew, botrytis, mold, and fungal attacks. It comes already diluted in a spray bottle, so it’s ready to use right away. The spray should be applied every other day, up to three times per week, until the infestation is under control.

One helpful review: “Love this stuff and so do my plants. It truly works as described just follow the directions and your garden will flourish. Now that it has exterminated the fungus gnats I use it as a routine prevention.”

Also Consider: A Handheld Sprayer

This handheld sprayer holds 48 ounces and is perfect for applying diluted insecticides to your vegetable garden. The sprayer has an ergonomic handle and an adjustable nozzle, so you can choose a more targeted stream or cover larger swaths with a spray. The durable polypropylene sprayer also has an anti-clog filter to keep things working smoothly.

One helpful review: “This all polymer model works great, rinses easily for different spray solutions and doesn't rust inside. I use it for everything in the garden.”

Studies referenced:

Plata-Rueda, A., Martínez, L., Santos, M., Fernandes, F., Wilcken, C., & Soares, M. et al. (2017). Insecticidal activity of garlic essential oil and their constituents against the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae). Scientific Reports, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep46406

Tian, B. L., Liu, Q. Z., Liu, Z. L., Li, P., & Wang, J. W. (2015). Insecticidal Potential of Clove Essential Oil and Its Constituents on Cacopsylla chinensis (Hemiptera: Psyllidae) in Laboratory and Field. Journal of economic entomology, 108(3), 957–961. https://doi.org/10.1093/jee/tov075

Isman, M., & Machial, C. (2006). Chapter 2 Pesticides based on plant essential oils: from traditional practice to commercialization. Advances In Phytomedicine, 29-44. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1572-557x(06)03002-9