Photo: A healthy, green lawn with no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
(By Todd Michaels, Guest Writer)
Malathion, chlorpyrifos, aldicarb—don’t let the fancy names fool you. These are some of the most common poisons used to kill pests in the United States. They get the job done, but the ecosystem and you and your family are paying the price for the ruthless efficiency of chemical pesticides.
Some of the side effects of malathion are headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, cramps, diarrhea, excessive sweating, blurred vision, and increased heart rate. And that’s just from short-term exposure. There’s evidence showing these pesticides are putting endangered species in the Pacific Northwest at further risk.
But there are ways to control the mosquitoes and mites and ants, and any other creepy, crawly, or flying thing you’d like to see gone. Here’s a quick primer on organic lawn care without pesticides.
Test Your Soil
You can send a sample of your soil off to your local extension office, or you can DIY this test. Soil tests are available online or at your local home improvement store or garden nursery for under $40. These tests will tell you how much nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus is in your soil -- all required by your lawn to grow thick and strong. You’ll also find out how acidic the soil is, and once you know that, you can take measures to enhance your soil.
Make Your Lawn Stronger
Photo: Composting food scraps and other organic matter not only feeds your soil, it also helps keep a powerful greenhouse gas—methane—from being produced by landfills.
Armed with that information, you can go about giving your lawn a head start on beating the bugs. Feed your grass by spreading a layer of organic compost to return some nutrients to the soil. You can make this yourself from vegetable and fruit scraps and organic plant material.
You'll find organic fertilizers at local nurseries and garden stores. These fertilizers get their nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus from natural sources, like seaweed and manure, unlike factory-produced chemical fertilizers. Apply organic fertilizer from time to time as part of a regular lawn care maintenance protocol that includes watering and mowing. You’ll notice your lawn will fend off some unwanted visitors, naturally.
Photo: Ladybugs are amazing natural predators of aphids and other nuisance bugs.
You might still want something to target certain nuisance pests, but there’s no reason to go “scorched earth” with manufactured chemicals. Beneficial nematodes are a natural way to eliminate grubs, cutworms and billbugs. Ladybugs will eat your aphids. Diatomaceous earth targets ants, cockroaches, ticks, fleas, and other pests. The USDA recognizes both diatomaceous earth and neem oil as organic pesticides, under organic certification standards.
Boric acid or borates kill insects and are considered the least toxic pesticides. If slugs and snails are a problem, set out dishes of beer, and the slimy pests will drown themselves. And the list of organic alternatives goes on.
Plants for Pest Control
If snails and slugs are a problem in your yard, try planting some fennel. It’s a natural repellent that pests seem to hate. Garlic will keep the deer from munching on your lawn. Chives keep away the aphids. Surround the perimeter of your lawn with an herb garden along with marigolds to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
The American lawn has been dependent on synthetic products to stop weeds, spur growth and kill creepy crawlers for decades, but the overwhelming body of research shows the damning effect all those chemical poisons have on you, your loved ones, and the world we live in. You can take a big step in helping keep the ecosystem safe and clean by swearing off the old toxins and using these safer alternatives.
About the Author: Todd Michaels is a conservationist with degrees in biology and botany. He writes about eco-friendly landscaping and recycling efforts around the country.