It may seem daunting, but it isn't very difficult to have a healthy, attractive, and chemical-free lawn and garden. The key is to provide the ideal conditions for plants and grass to grow vigorously, crowd out weeds, and to resist pests and disease.
Chemical pesticides are toxic to the environment and can cause human health problems. Pesticides include: insecticides, which kill insects; herbicides, which kill weeds; fungicides that kill fungi; and rodenticides to eliminate rodents. But many of the chemicals used in pesticides are non-specific and will kill beneficial insects, plants, fungi and animals.
Most pesticides are endocrine disruptors and have been shown to cause significant damage to humans and wild species. Increasing evidence points to widespread and disturbing impacts on wildlife, including the feminization of male animals and cancer.
Pesticides have been linked to many forms of cancer in humans, including cancer of the breast and brain, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and soft-tissue sarcoma. Studies have shown elevated levels of cancer in children where pesticides were used in their homes and yards. Low-level exposure has been linked to symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea, and mental confusion.
Natural Lawn Care
For every pest problem there is a non-chemical alternative solution. Preventing pests from attack by providing healthy conditions in your garden and lawn is your first line of defense.
Mowing your lawn to a height of 2 to 2.5 inches results in vigorous growth, conserves soil moisture, and shades out weed seedlings. Use a sharp blade; a dull blade tears grass making it more susceptible to disease. After mowing, leave grass clippings on the lawn. They will decompose, adding organic matter and nutrients to soil.
While over-watering your lawn encourages disease, a dehydrated lawn results in damaged grass and soil microorganisms. Certain weeds withstand drought conditions better than grass and can grow uncontrollably. Your lawn requires only 1 inch of water each week. Consider slope drainage and the amount of rainfall before watering. When your lawn begins to appear dry, water deeply. Shallow watering hydrates only small, shallow root systems resulting in a dry layer of soil between the moist surface and deeper levels. The best time to water your lawn is early in the morning.
Mulch is a protective layer of grass clippings, straw, leaves, weeds, stones, or bark chips that is spread on top of soil. Mulch acts as a sponge to hold water and nutrients close to soil, and blocks the drying effects of the sun. Thick layers of mulch (no deeper than 2 to 3 inches) insulate and stabilize soil temperatures, while reducing germination and growth of weeds. In the spring, remove or turn mulch under to discourage slugs and snails from laying eggs.
Compost—soil's natural conditioner—returns organic matter to earth in a usable form. Composting improves plant growth by loosening up heavy clay soils so that air and water may reach them and adds essential nutrients and soil organisms. The best time to dig compost into a garden is in the spring and fall. Compost makes an excellent "dressing" and can be spread on top of soil around flowers, vegetable plants, and trees.
Naturally protect your plants from pests by using other plants, often called companion planting. Positioning certain plants together prevents insects from eating or laying eggs on their preferred plants (scents from other vegetation confuses or offends them). For example, planting basil next to a tomato plant repels flies and mosquitoes. Dill planted alongside tomatoes traps the tomato hornworm. Garlic next to roses or raspberries discourages the Japanese beetle from attacking. Mint beside radish, cabbage, or under fruit trees traps aphids and deters squash bugs, the Colorado potato bug and striped pumpkin beetles.
Earth-Friendly Lawn and Garden Products
Many safe insecticide alternatives are available from your local hardware or garden stores. Look for products containing these ingredients:
Organic Insect Killer: Contains Thuricide, a liquid formulation of bacteria, to control leaf eating caterpillars (loopers, cabbageworms, tomato hornworms, leaf rollers, gypsy moths, and others) without harming beneficial insects.
Dio Slug Killer: This dust attracts and kills slugs, earwigs, ants and potato bugs while harmless to beneficial insects.
Insecticidal Soap: This liquid controls aphids, earwigs, mealy bugs, sawfly larvae, white flies and others, but is harmless to beneficial insects.
Homemade All-Purpose Insect Spray
If you'd rather make your own inseticidal soap, this simple recipe will work just as well as store-bought options.
1 quart water
1 garlic bulb
1 small onion
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. liquid hand soap
In a blender, mix the garlic, onion, cayenne pepper and water. Let steep for one hour, then add liquid soap. Pour mixture into a spray canister and use as a spray whenever insects are causing a problem. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
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