So, you want an eco-friendly yard? It’s true that controlling bugs, weeds, and other nuisances the natural way requires more time, energy, and ingenuity than the chemical methods. It’s also true that the peace of mind brought by taking good care of the earth is well worth the extra effort. Unsurprisingly, creating a lawn and garden that is naturally beautiful can also positively impact your health and happiness. Keep reading to learn how.
Say No to Bugs
In many areas of the country; scratching mosquito bites, checking for ticks and sharing picnics with ants have become accepted parts of the summer experience. Unfortunately, biting and stinging bugs are more than just an inconvenience, they often carry diseases and viruses.
So, no matter how much you dislike the sticky feel of bug spray, it’s in your best interest to use it. Luckily, that’s not all you can do to prevent bites. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the comprehensive, multi-prong approach used by pest control professionals to eliminate insects — both the disease-carrying and nuisance varieties — from your yard, and you can do it right at home, without pesticides, in just a few steps.
- Eliminate habitat. To prevent bugs from multiplying on your property, you must get rid of the places they breed. For mosquitoes, that means getting rid of all standing water. Female mosquitoes require less than a bottle cap worth of water to lay their eggs. For ticks, focus on areas of your property that border woods, as well as woodpiles, stone walls, and sheds. Trim shrubs and branches back from the edge of your property and rake up leaves where moisture gathers.
- Treat. To control mosquitoes in areas of standing water you can’t remove and ticks in wooded areas you can’t rake clean, treat the areas with a pesticide-free insect growth regulator (IGR) that prevents immature insects from developing into adults. For mites, aphids, and mealybugs, apply insecticidal soaps or oil sprays. Use milky spore bacteria for grubs. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label regarding quantity, frequency, and method of application.
- Trap. Setting traps for nuisance insects can help you keep them away from your garden and outdoor living spaces. For slugs, put small containers of milk or beer into the ground, or leave grapefruit rinds in garden beds.
- Install resistant plants. Some plants contain oils that make them naturally resistant to insects. Fragrant herbs (basil, lavender, lemongrass, and mint), colorful ornamentals (geraniums, marigolds, and petunias) and carnivorous buds (pitcher plants and Venus fly traps) won’t eliminate pests entirely, but they will contribute to a bug-free backyard.
- Attract natural predators. Not all bugs are bad. Beneficial insects, such as praying mantises, spiders and crane flies eat other bugs. So do bats, chickens and gambusia minnows.
No Need for Weeds
Bugs aren’t the only threat to an easy-to-enjoy, eco-friendly lawn. Not only are weeds are unsightly, but they can be hazardous too. Before you turn to harsh chemicals to eliminate the pesky plants, you can try taming them in other ways.
If it’s poisonous…
Depending on where you live, you may encounter poison ivy, oak or sumac. If you encounter these shiny leaves you could have an allergic reaction; complete with an itchy rash and bumps or blisters. In the worst cases, you could even experience severe anaphylactic shock. Because of this, you must be extremely careful when treating or removing the vines, shrubs, or small trees. Wear long sleeves and long pants, gloves, and eye protection; and one of the following two methods:
- Remove the entire plant, roots and all. Seal it in a plastic trash bag and dispose of it in the trash.
- Spray a mixture of salt, vinegar and liquid dish soap directly onto the plant. Heat 1 cup of salt in 1 gallon of vinegar until it’s dissolved, then add 8 drops of liquid dish soap. Once cool, apply only to the vegetation you want to kill. This mixture will harm other plants as well.
If it’s prickly…
Thorns and thistles can make it unpleasant to work in the garden or even just stroll through the grass barefoot. They can also make it difficult for the right vegetation to grow as they aggressively compete for the water, nutrients and sunlight that every plant needs to thrive. Whether they have already taken hold of your property or are just starting to show up, here are some ways to get rid of the pesky perennials.
- Hand pull the weeds with heavy gloves. Water the area of the ground where they grow with a hose first to make removal easier.
- Homemade solutions, like boiling water or pure, white vinegar can kill smaller weeds. You may need multiple applications, and you should be sure to apply when the wind is light to prevent harm to other vegetation.
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying goes. Newspaper, mulch or black plastic can smother existing weeds and help prevent new ones from taking hold. If you’re getting soil delivered, make sure it’s filtered and clean – you can find soil near you at a variety of places. Otherwise, you may be importing weeds right from the start.
If it’s big and ugly…
If you’re renovating an overgrown oasis, tending a large garden, or dealing with large trees – you may be facing a bigger job than hot water and hand tools can tackle. If that’s the case, it may be time to ask for a little help from the professionals. Just make sure in your initial conversations that your pro knows you want to keep things green.
- A gardener can be a big help with large gardens, keeping them weeded and ensuring that plants are in optimal health. Even if you enjoy getting out there and gardening yourself, scheduling a regular visit from a local gardener with the knowledge and experience to identify weeds and other problems early can go a long way to keeping your garden healthy.
- If you have a tree that has been overtaken with vines or just needs a good pruning, contact an arborist near you. These pros specialize in tree care, and they will be able to advise you how best to care for your trees and protect them from any invasive vegetation.
- If your weeds have become too big or too dangerous to handle alone, you can always hire a reputable landscaping company near you to step in with power tools, heavy equipment and the expertise to do the job safely.
Other Unwanted Guests
There are more than a few other unwanted outdoor guests that can wreak havoc on your lawn and garden — think venomous snakes, rodents that eat everything, predatory birds and wild animals. In these cases, it’s usually best to outsource the work. A local pest control company can trap the uninvited creatures safely and without chemicals, in most cases. Then, they can test them for diseases and relocate them or otherwise handle them. They can also suggest measures that you can take to keep them out of your yard.
While these methods of controlling bugs, weeds and other nuisances may be more time consuming than just spraying herbicides, pesticides or setting out poison; there are real and immediate benefits to an eco-friendly yard. You can enjoy being outside with family and friends without worrying about negative side effects, and you can take pride in knowing that you are caring for the world around you. Best of all, creating an eco-friendly yard can be the first step on a path to even more sustainable home improvements.