Fight Dire With Fire

June 23, 2012

“What is eating my plants?” is a familiar lament for gardeners everywhere.

In leafy urban Philadelphia enclaves like Chestnut Hill and Roxborough, bordering the lesser-tamed sections of Fairmount Park, deer are a major nuisance. In West Philly, it’s squirrels possessed with a pathological need to dig, dig, dig newly planted flowers and young vegetable plants out of pots and garden beds. Bird feeder stations are also popular targets.

Fortunately, there are some non-toxic remedies and the best ones involve hot peppers.

Hot pepper sprays such as Mace®, formulated with oleoresin capsicum, the hot stuff in hot peppers, have been used for years as non-lethal defense weapons. While hot pepper sprays might not be lethal they can be powerful irritants and the oils from peppers can cause burns to the skin and eyes.

Birds are completely unaffected by the hottest of hot peppers because they lack the genetic neurons that trigger any reaction to the  capsaicinoids in chiles. Many mammals, however, are not so gifted. Growing chiles to protect farm crops in Africa and India has proved to be more effective than electronic fences, traps and noise machines. Plus, the resourceful farmer gets to harvest a lucrative secondary crop of fresh chiles.

For birders, many garden centers offer hot pepper suet balls and bird feed laced with hot pepper seeds. Other garden blogs recommend hot pepper sprays that can be appliedHot Pepper wild bird Suet Cake - Hot Pepper - 12 Ounce to the leaves and soil of garden plants. Not sure how effective these tactics are against bugs, but they sure repel critters. Commercial pepper sprays and powders are also available from garden centers.

The US Environmental Protection Agency considers capsaicin a biochemical pesticide, since it’s a naturally occurring compound that acts as a repellant, yet does not harm pests that come into contact with it. Interestingly, the EPA cautions against using high concentrations of capsaicin near waterways or koi ponds since its effect on aquatic life has never been studied.

It’s very easy to make your own pepper spray. Be as careful using your homemade product as you would with Mace® or commercial garden sprays. Use gloves and goggles when applying the sprays to your garden plants. After heavy watering or rains, you will most likely need to reapply the pepper spray.

Now, what to do if “something” is eating your pepper plants!  There are at least 35 types of insects and mites that attack pepper plants.

If you don’t want to use chemicals of any kind, caterpillars can be picked off and a mild non-ammonia soap solution works on getting rid of many other insect infestations. For a last bit of protection, try some hot pepper spray on your hot peppers.

Here’s a recipe for hot pepper spray from Green Living, provided by University of Florida Extension: Home Remedies for Insect and Disease Control on Plants:

“Soak 2 tablespoons ground red pepper overnight in a gallon of water. Add 6 drops of dish soap – a natural vegetable-based soap like castile soap, not an anti-bacterial soap – and place the mixture in a spray bottle.

To make pepper spray using fresh peppers, chop one half pound hot peppers and soak overnight in a gallon of water. Add 6 drops of dish soap and put the mixture in a spray bottle. Thoroughly spray the plants, wearing goggles and gloves.”

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

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