Often people think that anything used in the home must be safer to use in the garden than research based scientifically tested pesticides. Just the word pesticide scares people. No matter what you use, if it kills something, it’s a pesticide. If it kills weeds, insects, rodents, mites, fungi, viruses or bacteria, it is a pesticide – home remedy or not. We wash our hands with anti-bacterial soap – that’s a pesticide. Bleach kills germs – it’s a pesticide. Soap sprays kill insects – they are pesticides. For example, I recently read a column by an author known for her frugal solutions that mentioned using vodka as a weed killer or insect spray. Using vodka or any alcohol may certainly kill insects or weeds, but at what cost to non-target plants, plant health, soil organisms or beneficial insects?
When we try a home remedy, we don’t really know how much of which ingredient to add to the mix. We don’t know how certain plants will react or whether the ingredients may burn plant parts. We don’t know how these home remedies might affect us either. One online resource stated “You should avoid any type of ignition source is you are spraying alcohol around. It is extremely flammable.”
An advantage to using store bought insecticides, herbicides and other pesticides is that they are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Manufacturers are required to carefully test each ingredient and combination of ingredients for efficacy, safety, side effects, health effects and much more on many different species of plants. Before they are ever allowed to bring a product to market, they must have verification from the EPA allowing them to go forward. Then, they provide you, the consumer, with a most valuable tool – the LABEL, the tells you all the safety and use precautions.
Making a remedy at home can work. However, the effect on the plant or soil will depend on how you use the material, what it is combined with and the strength of the solution. A bit of alcohol on a cotton swab may be effective against mealybugs on houseplants, but that is a highly targeted use of the material, not used on the entire leaf. Dr. Chalker-Scott of Washington State University Extension points out that exposure to ethanol “resulted in reduced root growth, decreased water uptake and reduced leaf transpiration” in experiments testing why alcohol made narcissus stems shorter.
Home remedies for plant problems sound like good ideas, but beware.