Garden Remedies: What’s the Appeal? (Tell us and win a free book)

– Posted in: Meditations

Image of The Truth About Garden Remedies book coverAfter reading about some of these so-called remedies in Jeff Gillman’s first book, The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why, it’s gotten me wondering what it is that makes gardeners try them in the first place. Here are some of my thoughts; see if you can add to them.

Fear of the Unknown

Vinegar I know, coffee grounds I know, but what the heck is indole-3-butyric acid? Vinegar is in my salad dressing and I drink coffee, so they must be safe, but that indole whatever stuff sounds dangerous! We tend to think that familiar things are safe, and are more inclined to use them in our gardens. (Indole-3-butyric acid is a common rooting hormone, by the way.)

Penny-wise and Pound-foolish

We tend to think of commonplace things as being inexpensive, and when we check out a product specifically designed to deal with our garden problem, we practically faint from sticker shock. Pricing things out accurately is a little more complicated than it might first appear. If you have to use a whole gallon of vinegar to get the job done, the problem-specific product might actually be cheaper per application. Then again, you might only need to use a teaspoon of it, and it comes in a 4 ounce package, and what are you going to do with the rest of it? But you know you can make salad dressing with the leftover vinegar. Or the “official” product may be reasonably priced, but you also need to invest in special equipment to apply it or protect yourself, and the total cost seems like too much.

Furthermore, a lot of people tend to undervalue their labor. I couldn’t believe how labor intensive and tedious it was to create or apply some of these home remedies. If you figured out how much time it took to make them, and paid yourself the same wage as your day job, you might be better off buying a specially formulated product, and spending your precious leisure time doing something fun, like weeding!

Respect for the local expert

If your next-door neighbor grows great tomatoes and swears by Epsom salts, you might use Epsom salts on your tomatoes just because you see the results. Of course there may be some other reason why his tomatoes are better, but who has time to do all that weeding and watering anyway?

Suspicion of the non-local expert

Sure, those fancy-pants scientists know what works under ideal conditions, but they’ve never tried to grow tomatoes in my backyard. Epsom salts? You gotta be kidding me!


I’ve got vinegar right here in the cabinet, and who wants to spend a sunny Saturday driving to the big box store for a bottle of Do-It-Right? For that matter, who wants to do research, or think? So often, isn’t our attitude, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it”? Or even, “Help! Somebody rescue me from these killer aphids!”


You’ve already tried three different products recommended by the experts, and none of them worked, or worked good enough. At this point, you’ll try anything. (I’ve seen a lot of people plagued by deer or ground hogs get to this point.)

Win a free copy of The Truth About Garden Remedies

What makes you choose a homemade remedy over a store-bought one? Do you have any you swear by? Tried any that made you swear? Share your best and worst in the comments. One comment will be chosen randomly and the writer of that comment will receive a copy of The Truth About Garden Remedies.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

~Albert Camus in Albert Camus quotations

Comments on this entry are closed.

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Curtis February 22, 2008, 9:27 am

I only use two with varied success. Gallon of water, 1 tablespoon of veggie oil and a teaspoon of soap to smother bugs. This mostly burned my plants but I have used it on some plants with success.

The other a gallon of water, a tablespoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of dish soap. This works alright as a mildew preventive and cure.

Apple February 21, 2008, 8:49 am

I’m hesitant to use chemicals because I have a butterfly garden. The kids love to pick beetles off of plants and toss them into a bucket of soapy water. I had good luck last year with urine to move the voles out of the garden. It may have discouraged the deer too. I have used salt to discourage weeds between the bricks on my mother’s patio. I’ll have to try vinegar this year. Newspaper saves me a lot of money on mulch.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens February 21, 2008, 8:46 am

I think the appeal of homemade recipes is two-fold: they provide the feeling of being in control (you choose the ingredients and make the mixture) and they put us in touch (even if only in our imaginations) with nearly lost knowledge.

This attraction of the arcane could be interpreted as a form of feminism. After all, we sometimes perceive scientists as unfeeling men in cold laboratories concocting unnatural solutions to conquer and control nature. In contrast we see ourselves following the sage advice of those old wives, brewing esoteric concoctions of herbs in order to work with nature and as part of Her.

kerri February 20, 2008, 2:38 pm

I’m happy to use a home remedy which involves something simple that I have in stock. Saves a trip to the store and the price of expensive packaged remedies, often containing poison. A great way of getting rid of Japanese beetles is an empty cool whip container of warm water with a dash of dish soap. Just hold it underneath and quickly give those beetles a nudge. They fall in and drown.
Hot or cold vinegar works great to kill weeds, especially in the patio cracks.

carolyn February 20, 2008, 10:50 am

Back in the day in rural areas of the South folks used what was readily available . My Father was known as one of the best farmers in our county. He never used a chemical on anything he grew . If there was a problem with insects in the large field of crops he would use tobacco dust to repel them.

When I got stung by wasps he would take tobacco, wet it and apply to the sting and it relieve the pain and swelling.

I watched in disbelief one day when he showed me his wasp repellent. He’d been working in the fields all day and was sweaty. He reached under his shirt, rubbed his armpit and held it up to the nests full of wasps. They all flew away. I know that one worked but how he knew it he would never tell.

wiseacre February 20, 2008, 9:26 am

My wife is my secret weapon in the vegetable garden. I let her pick the pests by hand. I do get upset sometimes when I find a bucket full of june beetles ‘composting’ in the woods.

For tent caterpillars I use a propane torch.

When it comes to ill plants – they get dug up and tossed in a roaring bonfire.

I’ve used buttermlk and moss mixed in a blender to paint hypertufa planters and rock. It seems to work since moss is growing on them

Broken concrete/cement buried in the root zone of Clematis to keep the soil sweet.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter February 19, 2008, 10:59 pm

I think some people like to use these home remedies because they like the cachet of a secret receipe. (Kind of a bragging rights thing.) I think they’re messy, smelly & inconvient, and so are the remedies. Teehee!

jodi February 19, 2008, 10:50 pm

Although I have been conducting the battle of the goutweed, and testing out the usefulness of solarizing vs glyphosate vs vinegar and salt, I’m otherwise a pretty laissez faire gardener when it comes to pests or diseases. We encourage beneficial insects and other creatures, so we don’t spray for anything–except water on the roses and honeysuckles that attract too many aphids. We also have a perfect deer repellent in the form of our donkey-from-Mars, Jenny. She’s a weird looking creature, and about as dumb as lint, or suffering from Donkey Alzheimers, but she thinks deer are longlegged coyotes and keeps them off the property. Coyotes and dogs, too.

Kylee February 19, 2008, 10:28 pm

My grandma is 93 years old and was a gardener “back in the day.” If I want advice about what works and what doesn’t, I usually call her. She lived through the Depression when home remedies were all they could afford, so she usually has a pretty good answer for any gardening problems I may have.

Bonnie Story February 19, 2008, 9:06 pm

My favorite home brew is to blend up some eggs, strain them and then mix with water in a sprayer as a deer, dog and cat repellent. Got lots of big, hungry deer around here. I have had great results too with a blast of water for aphid removal, not even with soap added, using one of those “firehose” looking sprayer tips squeezed down to the narrowest point. Just blasts those little devils right off! Kind of fun too. We’ll see if I have aphids here in WA like I battled back in CA. Hope not!

Crafty Gardener February 19, 2008, 8:16 pm

I don’t like to use chemicals of any sort, so tend to shy away from store bought remedies. I do use vinegar (it has so many uses) and it is cheap! I try things like cayenne pepper to deter ants from crossing the line, boiling water on anthills, dish soap & water to spray on various things. I guess it try these remedies just to see if they really work.
And yes, as someone mentioned, we all try to be a little ‘greener’ in our approach to gardening.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens February 19, 2008, 7:58 pm

My home made remedy for bagworms involves no chemicals or home brews, just time. I pick them off by hand and throw them in the trash. And for aphids and japanese beetles, I knock them off the plants with a strong stream of water. I think it controls the aphids but those japanese beetles just laugh and fly right back on the plant to continue eating and mating.

I think with the popularity of anything that is “green” more gardeners and homeowners will turn to products already in their homes that they may perceive are safer, and may make some situations worse.

Very thought provoking, why do we do what we do sometimes?

Dee/reddirtramblings February 19, 2008, 7:11 pm

I think people often use them because they think “natural” means “safer.” Not necessarily. Arsenic occurs naturally, but is poisonous. I do use leftover coffee grounds and tea leaves as top dressing for my gardens, but I don’t have any natural remedies. I try to just make the soil as good as I possibly can.~~Dee

Tracy February 19, 2008, 7:09 pm

I learned a bunch of home remedies back when I was a Texas gardener. To get rid of fire ants, pour boiling water on their mounds. (Didn’t work.) To deter squirrels from digging in the garden, sprinkle cayenne pepper around your prized plants. (Didn’t work.) To grow plants intended for a cooler heat zone, pile a lot of mulch around their roots to keep them cooler. (Really didn’t work. Dead dead plants.)

Now that I’m gardening in upstate New York for the first time, I’ll be eager to see what new remedies might actually work up here.

Priscilla February 19, 2008, 6:25 pm

I’d rather have a homemade remedy because I’d like to stop using harsh chemicals on the environment. If something I have that is familiar to me works I will definitely use it. The garden remedy I use the most is just some soap with water to get rid of aphids. Other than that I don’t have much to control. I will be buying The Truth about Garden Remedies because I’m a new gardener and would like to know some simple things that work and things that do not.