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  • Niki Randolph MS, CISSN

Gardening with Essential Oils

April 2021

"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow." - Audrey Hepburn

Spring in Colorado is one of my favorite times of the year. I get excited for the claps of thunder and bolts of lightning that fill the sky (or the 6 inches of snow that come with Colorado’s unpredictable spring weather), but mostly I look forward to planting my leafy greens that thrive in the chillier temperatures. With limited space, I take great joy in growing a variety of greens in whiskey barrels; this year I plan to grow green and red leaf lettuce, spinach, chard, and arugula.

Unfortunately, there are several insects that love my garden as much as I do.

To ensure that my garden remains healthy and free of pests, I prefer the use of safe, non-toxic alternatives to conventional pesticides and herbicides that are known to cause a number of negative health and environmental effects.

You may be familiar with companion plants like basil and marigolds which can help ward off pests in your garden; lady bugs are helpful too. But did you know that essential oils can be used in much the same way? For example, adding basil essential oil to your watering can (3 drops to a gallon) acts as a natural insect repellant similar to planting basil as a companion plant for tomatoes, protecting them from tomato hornworms.

Essential oils act as preventive medicine for your plants helping to fight off bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew, not to mention their ability to deter insects from eating your food.

Here’s a small list of essential oils that can be used to deter garden pests:

  • Peppermint – aphids, caterpillars, ants, moths, spiders

  • Cedarwood and/or Sandalwood – aphids, slugs, snails, plant lice

  • Rosemary – cabbage caterpillars

  • Basil – tomato hornworms

  • Thyme – beetles, cutworms

One of many ways to create a repellant for plants is to mix 8 ounces of water with ½ teaspoon of natural soap like castile soap, then add 10 to 12 drops of essential oil. Spray both the top and underside of leaves shaking the bottle vigorously before application to ensure the oil and water are mixed. Apply in the evening when temperatures are cooler and there is indirect sunlight.

Essential oils are concentrated, powerful extracts so apply them sparingly to plants and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well they deter our plant-eating friends.

How do you protect your garden from insects and bugs?


Nicolopoulou-Stamati P, Maipas S, Kotampasi C, Stamatis P, Hens L. Chemical pesticides and human health: The urgent need for a new concept in agriculture. Front Public Health. 2016;4:148. Published 2016 Jul 18. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2016.00148.

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