Cayenne Pepper as Pest Repellent

Did you know you can sprinkle cayenne pepper on vegetable leaves to make the neighborhood animals leave them alone? Neither did I.

household pepper for pest control

Using household spices and peppers for pest and animal control is a great idea until you run into a deer that’s fond of curry

Cayenne Pepper Repels Bunnies?

So far so good, right? Sounds like a definite hot tip (please, do pardon the pun) for the aspiring gardener who’s plagued by bunnies, lizards, cats, snakes, coyotes, jackelopes, roadrunners, Bigfoot and other woodland creatures in the desert.

That said,  think twice. Think what happens when you get a surprise dose of cayenne pepper or pepper spray –  your eyes water, your face sweats; if you’re like me, you might even scream a bit.

Try not to be a Pepper

Now I’m not saying NOT to use cayenne pepper for pest control. What I am saying is don’t just go out on a breezy day and pepper the garden, while standing downwind, without a set of safety goggles and a face mask, nowhere near a garden hose. At the very least, take your contact lenses out first.

Counteracting Pepper in Eyes

First step – DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES. I’ll say this twice – maybe more often because the first impulse is to rub your eyes. Don’t do that.

We’ll assume you’re acting alone and there’s no support system or neighbor nearby to take point on a cure. So I’ll make the steps simple and easy to remember.

  • Do not rub your eyes.
  • Take out contact lenses, if any.
  • Turn your face toward the wind or go stand in front of a fan.
  • Flush your eyes out with cool running water.
  • Put a cold compress over eyes for half an hour or more.
  • Clean and soak contact lenses, if any.

It’ll take about 45 minutes to an hour for the effects to dissipate.

Bottom Line

The basic premise is the same: Capsicum burns like heck. And capsicum is the key ingredient in cayenne pepper and pepper spray. This applies equally to cayenne pepper for the garden pests or a dose of pepper spray for the purse snatcher.


Flower Companion Plants Both Attract and Repel

Pretty blue flower attracts bees

Pretty and blue – that’s all I know, except the bees like it.

This morning when I went to Bunny Buffet to check the squash survival rate, I noticed that the base of the evergreen was now home to a large number of BEES.*

Those bees weren’t there because of any magic from the barely alive squash plant – but they were sure liking the blue flower stalks nearby. A few wandered over to the squash section and hunted for pollen.

And that, dear reader, is the essence of the “companion plant.”

Nothing panics a bee as much as a screaming human female. Instead of panicking the bees, I s-l-o-w-l-y moved my iPod with its handy Instagram app up near my nose and prayed the picture-snap whine wouldn’t cause a stampede. With trembling fingers I pushed the button, holding my breath. Thankfully they did not advance. I did, however, retreat.

Flower Power to Attract

Flowers are a good thing in a vegetable garden like what mine will someday turn out to be. The flowers attract bees which then pollinate the veggie blossoms which then make lunch.

In addition, the attractor flower brings “good” insects and critters that help keep the garden ecosystem in balance by ridding the area of “bad” insects and critters.

Flower Power to Repel

Some flowers also drive out unwanted pests. If you stand next to a tomato plant and a petunia is growing nearby, you might hear a faint “Get Thee Gone” command to the tomato hornworms.

Speaking of a repulsive flower, marigolds are in the group of companion plants that drive off pests while keeping the good pests to do their work. The French marigold repels whiteflies. A Mexican marigold fends off wild rabbits. (Some marigolds produce gold if you get the watering can off the last wave of zombies. I am not making this up.)

Popular Companion Flowers and Plants

  • Basil – thrips, flies, mosquitoes
  • Bee Balm – bees
  • Borage – hornworms, cabbage worms, bees, wasps
  • Catnip – flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, weevils
  • Chives – Japanese beetles, carrot rust flies
  • Chrysanthemum – Japanese beetles (used to produce pyrethrum, for roaches, ticks, silverfish, lice, fleas, bedbugs)
  • Dahlia – nematodes
  • Dill – hornworms, aphids, spider mites, squash bugs
  • Garlic – aphids, moths, Japanese beetles, root maggots, snails, carrot root fly
  • Hyssop – honeybees
  • Lavender – fleas, moths
  • Marigolds – whiteflies, nematodes, rabbits
  • Nasturtiums – wooly aphids, whiteflies, squash bugs, cucumber beetles, aphid trap
  • Petunias – asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, tomato worms
  • Sunflowers – ant colonies

Want even more companion planting ideas? Here’s a excellent resource at Golden Harvest Organics.


* Large number of bees = anything more than one, or one if it is near me. No, I didn’t stop to count them. Nor did I get close enough that my aging eyes could tell they were bees. They could have been levitating black and yellow cement trucks for all I know.


Pest Control Choices for the New Gardener

tomato worm

Pest. Send in the bears!

Every gardener has her limits, beyond which she cannot be bribed, cajoled, pleaded, mandated or lured by fat-free slow churned chocolate mint ice cream. Mine is pest control.

A pest can be a spider, snake, bug, beetle, tarantula, bee, wasp, termite, ant, grub, snail — you get the drift. If it’s smaller than one of our cats and doesn’t purr when I approach, it’s a pest.

Birds aren’t pests, though they can easily damage a budding garden. They’re great at picking up the seeds you just planted, leaving you to wonder why not everything sprouts. However, robins and thrushes are great about taking care of slugs and caterpillars. So it’s a tradeoff.

Lizards are snakes with feet. This doesn’t mean some can’t learn to be pests, but it’s possible to think ‘Oh how cute!” when one skitters by, instead of thinking “OMG I’m gonna die if I can’t get on the roof before that reaches me.”

Pest control boils down to organic, physical and chemical. Without getting all political or green, here’s the very basic basics:

Organic Pest Control

Organic pest control is not just for the organic tomato growers that produce the pretty (and often expensive) produce at your local supermarket. Organic methods aren’t exactly cheap – it turns out it can cost some real money to go organic.  For instance, the Idaho OnePlan site lists organic insect pest control materials and practices designed to support operations from the gardener up to large-scale farming operations.  This approved methods and practices list includes vertebrate pest control methods—repellents, predators, traps, approved poisons and baits.

The advantage: Organic pest control can often be accomplished with household items. Garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, jalapenos, even flour gets called into action by several organic pest control methods. Beats the heck out of spraying the neighborhood with pesticides that may contaminate the groundwater before their half-life expires.

The disadvantage: Planting marigolds to repel rabbits, deer, squirrels should sound like an advantage – unless you can’t stand the smell of marigolds (*raises hand vigorously*). Choose your solutions carefully, lest the cure be worse than the cause.

Physical Pest Control

Sure, you can chase a raccoon with a trash can lid and a triangle, making noise as you dance threateningly around the garden perimeter. You can encourage the lizards to eat the ants, crickets, beetles, flies and grasshoppers.  You can introduce vipers to hunt down the lizards.  And badgers to slay the vipers. And bears to slay the badgers. But then you’re going to have a pack of wild bears tromping through your strawberries. Bears are considered apex predators, so unless you’re best buddies with a BLM wildlife relocation specialist or live next to Yellowstone National Park, this may not be the best path to take. So try bunny fencing – also known as hardware cloth.

The advantage: Barrier pest control can work well against a variety of pests. Bunny fence also slows down roadrunners.

The disadvantage: Predator chain pest control solutions can be worse than the original problem, unless you really want 35 ravenous black bears living on your back lot.

Chemical Pest Control

Those of us who grew up riding our bikes through the Malathion mosquito fogger trailer’s haze may not be the best of poster children for chemical pest control. 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-di(4-chlorophenyl)ethane, or DDT, was banned in the United States on December 31, 1972 (although some state bans took place far earlier, thanks to efforts of the Environmental Defense Fund).

The advantage: Pesticides are fast acting and highly effective against a specific type of pest.

The disadvantage: Pesticides can also be toxic to humans. If you’re human, this should concern you.

 Bottom Line

Chatterbox the Cat

This is a pet, not a pest.

At some point in your lifespan as a gardener, you’re going to need to deal with pests and figure out which pest control solutions work for you. Whether you go organic or physical or chemical – or some mix of these methods – do your homework early, before you find yourself with 35 ravenous black bears in the back yard and still no cure in sight for those pesky tomato worms.

Everyone out of the pool (or house, in this case)

tomato hornworm

If I’d seen a tomato hornworm, all calm-face bets are off.

I use the hostile outdoors as my excuse for wanting to garden inside – it works when you live where very little grows spontaneously except sagebrush and inch-high flowering “weeds.” I also blame my heart medications, several of which say “avoid sunlight” in their warning.

But the biggest reason I am gardening indoors is that I’m not a fan of bugs.

I don’t run and scream anymore. I used to run and think about screaming. I’d go find the closest heaviest, flattest object to throw at them, or trap them under a coffee can and await rescue (me, not it).

Now, after 50-odd years in the desert, I don’t panic, scream, run or hide. I am calm and collected as I move away from the basking snake or crocheting spider, and lizards are actually rather amusing to the cats.. So I’m a cool customer around many living things that used to freak me out.

Unless they’re in. my. house.

Then all bets are off. The reason we have 1800 square feet surrounded by walls and a roof and double-paned windows is to keep our stuff in, and keep bugs out. “Bugs” means anything that can walk, crawl, fly, web or otherwise move, and is not bigger than our cats.

So when I discovered I had to navigate a crowd of gnats to get from kitchen to living room to watch 60 Minutes and munch on dinner, it was everybody out. Tomatoes and cauliflower showing any sign of bugs on leaves – out Out OUT.

Last I looked out, the wind was still kicking along at about 500 mph. The bugs are probably long gone by now. Maybe a few plants will leave also.  I wish them well.

We’re Hunting Wabbits

Snowshoe Hare / Lièvre d´Amérique

Adorable even while devouring your herb garden

Escrow closed this afternoon, after a long weekend of stress, nail-biting, hyper-imaginative panic attacks (what happens if they don’t close on time? do we lose the house? will we have to start house-hunting all over? are we out a gazillion bucks in closing costs?!).

Our real estate broker and I collapsed in relief against the butcher block island in the middle of the kitchen, toasting each other with imaginary Chablis in imaginary stemware. I paused and gazed out over a couple of acres of empty desert –

– and spied the first rabbit.

Oh, yes. Apparently rabbits are quite populous in this new neighborhood – a pest I hadn’t included  in my garden daydreams, since we’ve lived next to a major highway for 25-plus years. But now, up the desert hillside as we are, little fuzzy-eared new-plant-chomping varmints are going to be a very real gardening challenge.

Visions of meandering, bedecked in my Katharine Hepburn garden hat and gloves,  through a small field of budding flowers and vegetables popped like soap bubbles, leaving behind a residue that looked a lot like blobs of hastily planted chicken wire.

I wonder if they’d be scared away by a coyote replica …