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How natural are ‘green’ gardening products?

Plant being sprayed

Using ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘chemical free’ gardening products to ward off unwanted pests and bugs is very tempting. But just how natural are they – and should they be trusted?

Most gardeners try to use fewer chemicals these days, especially if we grow our own veg. But there’s no denying that there’s an army of pests out there hell bent on ruining our gardens and allotments.

Slugs, snails, aphids, caterpillars and a whole host of other critters are lurking in the undergrowth, ready to chomp their way through our favourite plants. While we want to be kind to the environment, we don’t want our garden eaten either!

So could ‘green’ gardening products be the answer? They promise to kill all of our most hated pests and weeds and enhance our favourite crops, all without damaging the environment.

Are we being greenwashed?

In the latest issue of Which? Gardening, we decided to take a closer look at ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ gardening products. We asked the leading organic gardening charity, Garden Organic, and the Which? Policy team to look at the environmental claims made on the products’ packaging.

Lots of claims were made – ‘fights bugs the way nature does’, ‘made of naturally occurring materials’ and ‘uses nature’s own ingredients’ are just a few. Some products had several claims emblazoned across their packaging: ‘100% chemical free’, ‘made with 100% natural ingredients’ and ‘made of 100% naturally occurring materials’ were all found on one product. But what do these statements actually mean?

Not a great deal, it would seem. As Garden Organic points out, most of them have no legal status. The claim ‘100% chemical free’ is particularly ambiguous – as even water is a chemical! And, the Royal Society of Chemistry has launched a competition to find a chemical-free product, offering a £1 million bounty for anyone who can create one and present them with it!

‘Environmentally friendly’ is another nebulous claim. According to the Government’s Green Claims Code, this particular phrase should be avoided. The Code says that all claims should make clear what environmental impact or improvement they relate to.

So what’s a gardener to do?

Garden Organic points out that ‘nature doesn’t go around spraying things’ and that organic gardening is all about finding a natural balance that keeps the garden healthy. However it also recognises that people have different levels of know-how and that bought-in products still have a place, especially for people who are new to gardening.

It classes the majority of the products we looked at as being ‘acceptable, but not for regular use’. Which is handy, as I’m not sure what I’d do without my organic slug pellets on my allotment.

Here at Which?, we want to see clear, meaningful green claims that are backed up by evidence. That way we can decide for ourselves what to spray on our greens. If you see what you think is a misleading green claim on packaging, let us know in the comments below – and report it to your local Trading Standards office.


As far as I’m concerned – I never use insecticides – as I want all insects to thrive. Though I will use some fungicides very rarely – It is far better to manually remove diseased (not insect eaten) leaves.

I have to admit that I do use the odd slug pellet when I’m getting things going – we have so many snails in our garden (mainly thanks to the neighbouring gardens being overgrown so they all come to ours for their lunch!) But I don’t use sprays etc, natural or otherwise. If I found a ‘natural’ spray that a) I trusted and b) worked then I may give it a go, but sometimes home-made methods, like a bit of soapy water or beer traps, can be just as good.

Surely if the neighbourhood gardens are “overgrown” which means bags of vegetation – the slug and snails will stay in those gardens to feed?

If only! Unless there are loads next door too, which is very likely.

I used to use slug pellets but I didn’t want to kill any other animals which would want to feast on the slugs. So when I’m at home and we have a slug infestation my mum and I go out with a torch looking for them, squashing them as we go. I hear bear baths are good too (to kill slugs that is).

GardenManor says:
9 January 2011

Check out my comments below. I use slug shields from seedlings on up and can relax about slugs for the rest of the season. This link has some interesting info about those pellets: http://www.hostalibrary.org/firstlook/RRIronPhosphate.htm

GardenManor says:
9 January 2011

For slugs, I use Slug Shields. To me they are the best non-toxic, no-maintenance option. Iron Phosphate pellets may have nasty EDTA listed as an ‘inert’ ingredient and other methods are a pain in the ****. I got them online and recommend them.