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Natural Yard Care: Avoid pesticides

Pesticides can be harmful for your family and the environment

Scientists have found 23 pesticides (weed and bug killers) in our local streams, many at levels that may damage salmon and other wildlife (1). Overuse of these products can also damage soil and plant health. And studies find increased health risks among families that use lawn and garden pesticides, especially among pets and children.

Begin with prevention
Healthy plants naturally resist diseases and pests. Help your plants defend themselves by building healthy soil, putting them in locations where they can thrive, pulling weeds before they can go to seed, and cleaning up diseased plants to reduce the risk of spread.

A little patience sometimes pays off
Accept a little damage. Natural predators often bring pest problems under control, but they need time to work. Don't spray at the first sign of damage - nature may control it for you, or plants may just outgrow the damage.

Identify the problem, before you spray, squash or stomp
The problem could be incorrect mowing or pruning, improper watering or other easily corrected practices. Or that scary bug could actually be a beneficial "good bug" that eats problem pests. Whether it's a bug, disease or weed, you need to identify it to know how to effectively manage it. Choose from the following:

Use least-toxic remedies first
If a pest or weed problem develops, use the least toxic remedy:

  • Physical controls like traps, barriers, fabric row covers, or repellants may work for pests
  • Long handled weed pullers pop out dandelions easily
  • Mulching once a year reduces weeds in beds
  • Less toxic products like soaps, horticultural oils, and plant-based insecticides are now available that work for many problems
  • Beneficial insects that prey on problem bugs are available for sale
  • Attract these "good bugs" by planting a variety of plants that provide pollen and nectar all year

Beneficial insects and organisms (online bug guide)
By supporting populations of beneficial insects in your yard, you can help keep pests under control the natural way. Free print copies of the bug guide are available at local nurseries.

Least-toxic chemicals
You can choose chemical remedies that control pests without causing harm to beneficial insects, your family, or the environment. These chemicals are either harmless or break down quickly into harmless components.

Physical remedies
By preventing pests from reaching your plants, you can avoid the damage they cause. And in cases where you only see a few pests, physically removing them can often keep the problem under control.

Use chemical pesticides as the last resort
If you must use a chemical pesticide, use the least toxic product, and spot apply it - don't spread it all over the yard to kill a few weeds or bugs. You want to apply pesticides only when and where you really have a problem. Follow label instructions exactly - more is not better.

And be sure to keep children and pets out of application areas.

It may be best to have a professional who has all the protective gear do the application, but don't use services that spread chemicals over the whole yard or spray on a calendar schedule.

Replace problem plants with pest-resistant ones
If a plant, even a tree, has insect pest or disease problems every year, it's time to replace it with a more tolerant variety, or another type of plant that doesn't have these problems.


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