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How to Keep Insects and Animals Out of Your Garden Naturally

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One of the biggest problems that organic gardeners face is how to keep animals out of the garden and keep insects from destroying their plants without using any harmful chemicals.

This problem isn’t really a new one at all, though, because before the term “organic” even existed, farmers and gardeners have been facing this same dilemma for centuries.

On a recent visit to Old Sturbridge Village, my favorite living history museum, I learned about one of the old-fashioned methods that gardeners in previous centuries used to help keep animals and insects from destroying their garden.

This method requires just one simple thing: onions! You can use them in two different ways, but with just a simple onion, you can have a really easy and frugal way to help keep your garden free of insects and animals naturally.

Method #1 for Small Animals

The first way to use onions is to plant onion seedlings around your garden, either by planting them around the perimeter, or by putting them near the plants you want to protect. If squirrels and chipmunks keep digging up your squash and pumpkin seeds, for example, you could plant onions near those seeds since squirrels and chipmunks don’t like the scent of onion.

I planted my onion seedlings about a foot apart. The idea is just to have them close enough together so that the scent will be a deterrent, but far enough apart so that you don’t have to buy a whole greenhouse worth of onion seedlings to get the job done.

NOTE: This method seems to work best for smaller animals like squirrels and chipmunks, but it doesn’t seem to work for rabbits, at least not in my experience anyways. I haven’t had any problems this year with squirrels and chipmunks in my garden, but I’ve had bunnies eating some of my bean plants, so the onion scent must not be much of a deterrent for them. I also couldn’t say whether this would work for woodchucks or deer since I haven’t had any around my yard at all this year, but I have my doubts that it would work for them.


  • Easy and simple
  • Inexpensive
  • No maintenance needed (besides watering) – plant once and you’re done
  • Non toxic – won’t harm animals or people
  • You can harvest and eat the onions at the end of the season


  • Works best for smaller animals like squirrels and chipmunks
  • May require a lot of onion seedlings, depending on the size of your garden and which plants need the most protection

Method #2 for Insects

The way to use onions to keep insects away from your seedlings is to make an “onion tea.” To make it, you simply slice up an onion and put it in a watering can, then fill the watering can with water and put it out in the sun for a few hours to let the onion steep in the water.

Then, once it has steeped, water any plants that are having a problem with insects, making sure to get the leaves. This method won’t kill the insects, but it will drive them away because they don’t like the smell of the onion.

Since this method requires reapplication after rainstorms and since you have to water the plants by hand with the onion tea, it’s more practical if you have a few plants in your garden that are really having an insect problem. It might be a bit too time-consuming to use as a preventive measure for your entire garden (unless you’re a more dedicated gardener than I am!), but it’s a good method for dealing with insects without having to worry about putting something toxic in your garden.


  • Simple and easy
  • Inexpensive
  • Non toxic


  • Takes a little time to prepare (mostly waiting for it to “steep.”)
  • Has to be re-applied after it rains or after watering

I think it’s really interesting to learn about the ways that people living in earlier centuries used simple things like onions to help protect the vegetables in their gardens. And I know that when it comes to food I’m going to be eating, I would much rather use something natural like onions in my garden than spray my plants with chemical pesticides!

Do you know of any other natural gardening tips? Let us know in the comments!  

Other Gardening Tips:

4 Beginner Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

4 Secrets for a Better Beginner Garden

How to Save Seeds from Your Garden for Next Year

Planting By the Moon Signs


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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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Brian Dube

Tuesday 4th of May 2021

I also picked the onion tea idea from OSV about 3 years ago. Have used it for our 2 gardens and my parent's garden ever since. No raccoons in our corn field anymore! I leave 4-5 disposable tins with the onion tea around the perimeter of the garden and I use the water can to wet down the bottoms of the stalk and in between rows every few days. In the veggie garden I water the perimeter and around the base of the plants. Cukes I'll hit the leaves but not the fruit. No fences or scarecrows, just the onion tea. I do have to change out the tins every couple weeks because the onions rot, but very effective!

Lori Elliott

Wednesday 5th of May 2021

That's great that the onion tea has been working so well for you, and that's neat that you learned the same idea from OSV! :)

Linda Williams

Thursday 4th of March 2021

Do you have info on how to keep cats/kittens from using my flower garden as a litter box?


Wednesday 27th of April 2022

@Lori Elliott, We use to recommend keeping cats away from bird nest, feeders, and birdbaths by laying down spiked mats on the ground. Office chair mats that are put an carpet have sharp little spikes that keep the mat from sliding on the carpet. Turned upside down they just the cats feet. Maybe some adapting to this method can deter the cats using your garden as a litter box. Meredith

Lori Elliott

Thursday 4th of March 2021

I'm sorry to say that I don't have much. That's a tough one. Using a raised bed might help some, but if your garden is already planted in the ground then that might not be very practical. Do you have any mulch around your flowers? Maybe using a fairly thick layer of mulch might be a bit of a deterrent since the cats would have more to dig through. Or maybe even something like weed block that they can't dig through as easily as just dirt. I can't say from personal experience that that would work for sure, but maybe it would encourage the cats to find a more convenient litter box area. Fencing might help some too, if the fencing was tall enough that they couldn't jump over it.

Ahmed Asre

Sunday 16th of August 2020

Good information about protecting plants from insects and small animals.

Lori Elliott

Monday 17th of August 2020

Thank you, and I'm glad to hear that it's helpful :)

Will Sherman

Thursday 25th of July 2019

My dad use to put plates with cheap beer on them for slugs and lots of other pests. It works. But drunk rabbits sounds dangerous

Lori Elliott

Thursday 25th of July 2019

Drunk rabbits do sound quite dangerous, haha!


Saturday 8th of April 2017

My grandmother used to tie aluminum pie tins around her garden to scare away critters. I haven't tried it, but it worked for her.


Saturday 8th of April 2017

Great idea! Thanks for sharing!

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