Farmers and gardeners today are aware of the environmental benefits of using organic products like diatomaceous earth.
The widespread use of chemical pesticides and fungicides is harmful to bees and other essential pollinators, wildlife, and domestic animals.
Public awareness of the danger of toxicity in food crops has emphasized the need to return to the use of organic methods.
Diatomaceous earth has been known since antiquity as a natural insecticide as well as for its many health-giving properties.
Here are 13 benefits and uses of diatomaceous earth for the modern organic gardener.
1. All-Round Natural Insecticide
The most important benefit of diatomaceous earth is as a non-toxic general pesticide that can be used against almost any harmful critter.
This white powdery substance is really soil and is composed of the crushed fossil shells of marine microalgae called diatoms.
It has a double-action against many pests by a process of dehydration and a destructive lacerating effect from the microscopic silicon fragments.
Apart from those listed below, insects and bugs that diatomaceous earth kill include:
- Leaf Miners
- Squash Bugs
- Boxelder Bugs
- Pill Bugs
- Sow bugs
- Leaf-Footed Bugs
- Kissing Bugs
DE is also beneficial in preserving useful pollinating insects that do not absorb the product and earthworms that nourish the soil but are also unaffected.
2. Keeps Away Maggots
A compost heap in the garden is a joy to gardeners for the many uses derived from the rich organic mix of garden/household waste. It is invaluable in enriching the soil and preserving moisture in hot weather.
The downside of the heap is that it may harbor many unwanted maggots and other creatures.
A little diatomaceous earth added to the mix can rid the compost of fly larvae and unhelpful insects.
3. Deters Slugs
Spreading a layer of DE around ornamental plants and vegetables will deter these harmful creatures.
Those that attempt to cross over the barrier will meet with the very abrasive earth. The sharp silicone edges can cut into the protections of their exoskeletons causing fluid loss.
DE particles entering their bodies results in further dehydration which kills the slugs.
4. Ant Control
Well organized tracks of ants across the garden can rapidly expand into vast highways of tiny transporters carrying pests and diseases straight to healthy plants.
Although most ants have a useful role to play in the garden, improving the soil and protecting plants from various insects, swarms are a nuisance.
Anthills damage lawns and red fire ants can bite or sting so a dusting with diatomaceous earth will rapidly destroy nests and trails.
Applying some around the house will prevent them from entering the home.
5. Repels Flies
Flies, especially tiny blackflies, can quickly cover plants and damage them, particularly the young growth in spring.
DE deals with this problem by dehydrating them as they absorb the powder puffed onto and around plants.
6. Eliminates Aphids
Another pest familiar to gardeners in the spring and early summer, aphids feed on the sap in plants causing them to wilt.
They are known to carry viruses too and can rapidly spread diseases to many plants.
Spraying the infected plants with diatomaceous earth is an effective way of eliminating them.
7. Gnat Control
There are several types of gnats but each group gathers and swarms in ‘clouds’ around moist areas, rotting fruit, or decaying vegetation.
Some bite, some don’t, but all are considered a nuisance especially as they often migrate into the house and onto houseplants.
Dusting or spraying with DE will disperse them and prevent or limit re-infestation. Re-spray after watering the plants.
8. Ticks, fleas, and Red Mites
As every pet owner knows, fleas and ticks are a constant problem, the more so as these parasites become resistant to certain treatments.
These bloodsucking pests pose many serious health problems and can attach themselves to humans as well as pets and farm animals.
Grasses in the spring harbor them and a program of prevention is the best way of dealing with that.
A solution of DE and water spread around the house and garden will, when dry, prevent eggs from developing and kill the adult pests.
The powder can also be puffed directly onto pests to kill the parasites and prevent a new infestation.
9. Wasps and Hornets
These insects have an eco-friendly role in the garden but large numbers can become a nuisance to the family or visitors.
Their stings are especially troublesome to children and pets as well as the gardener at work.
Diatomaceous earth applied near swarms will deter many and disperse the nest.
10. Vermin Deterrent
Rodents like mice and rats can do much damage in the garden. Moles are notorious for ruining lawns and rabbits just eat through the carefully nurtured vegetable patch in no time.
Catching them may be difficult and trapping distasteful to some gardeners. DE can do the job effectively by deterring them.
Some gardening experts suggest adding strongly smelling oils like peppermint or lemon that are easily absorbed by the substance. This should be further discouragement to vermin.
11. Pot and Greenhouse Plants
DE is a highly porous substance which, when added to fertilizer and soil, can help aerate and nourish the plants.
It is also beneficial here in improving drainage.
Flower gardens may be delightfully fragrant places but all gardens have some smelly corners that need attention.
Spraying DE around the compost heap, trash cans, or the favorite toilet patch of the household pet will deodorize these areas.
13. Preserves Flowers
A dusting of diatomaceous earth has another use in saving short-lived spring/summer flowers by helping to dry and preserve them.
How to Use Diatomaceous Earth
The product is non-toxic but precautions should be taken when mixing, spreading, or spraying.
- Face masks and protective clothing is advisable and children or pets kept away from the substance.
- The powder, dry or with water, can be spread around growing plants, soil, or grass throughout the winter to destroy eggs.
- Further applications and spraying in the spring will kill off many of the emerging larvae. Remaining adults can be treated by puffing DE directly onto the pests.
- Pest control spray recipes vary, but a general guide is to use 4 tablespoons for every gallon of water. Shake well before spraying.
- Applications will need to be repeated after watering or rainfall.
The powder works just as well as Sevin for controlling some pests, only non-toxic and safer.
Where to Buy
DE can be bought online or at your local gardening center.
Purchase food-grade quality if the purpose is for spraying leafy vegetables. The regular type is fine, otherwise.
In an era of renewed environmental concerns, diatomaceous earth is one age-old natural remedy against pests and diseases available to farmers.
It is most effective against a large number of pests by disrupting their life cycle.