Landscapers have long relied on pesticides as their 'frontline' when it comes to ridding gardens and yards of destructive pests. Ironically, lawns and gardens that depend the most on pesticides tend to have the most pest problems, among other complications.
"You agree to a certain level of risk when you use pesticides," says Rachel Rosenberg, executive director of the Safer Pest Control Project, who says that pesticides have been linked to a number of diseases including lymphomas, cancers, nerve disorders and learning disabilities.
In fact, there's growing concern among consumers that pesticides' inherent risks do not remain outside. As a consequence the demand for less toxic pest-control solutions is likely to increase.
Transitioning to more environmentally friendly methods takes thought and effort, but reaps benefits in the long run. "By designing and planting a landscape with [certain] principles in mind, you can create a garden where the use of pesticides will almost never be called for," says Frederique Lavoipierre, director of the Sonoma State University Sustainable Landscape Program. Here are some basic tactics and strategies you can use to create landscape that can resist pests on its own, thereby reducing your need for pesticides.
Seek out plants that adapt well to your conditions. "If you have clay soil in a hot area, you need to plant a tree that is adapted to clay soil in a hot area," says Lavoipierre. "Insects do key in to imbalance." They know the plant is suffering or is otherwise off balance, and they attack.
Cultivating monocultures, or one type of plant species, not only makes gardens more vulnerable to diseases, but also makes them more susceptible to attacks from insects.
As a consequence, "We feel like there are a lot of pests out there because we're planting things in a way that encourages pests," Lavoipierre says.
To prevent your landscape from succumbing to a multitude of pests, layer your gardens with trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals.
Utilize plants with diverse leaf textures, different heights. You should also strive to have pollen and nectar available throughout the season by planting flowers that peak at different times.
Another way to strengthen your lawn is by being proactive about choosing the right grass for your growing conditions. Rosenberg suggests keeping clover, which often occurs naturally, is drought resistant and fixes nitrogen efficiently. Furthermore, Rosenberg says that clover has been vilified because the chemical industry couldn't find an herbicide that didn't kill it, meaning the herbicide that gets rid of broadleaf weeds kills clover too.
Here's a disconcerting fact: Three times as much pesticide is used on lawn per acre than on agricultural crops. The greater the lawn, the more pesticides you will need to use. Steer your clients away from large lawns by positioning smaller ones as more environmentally - and economically - friendly. For example, many of your customers may not know that watering lawns utilizes between 30 percent and 60 percent of urban water resources.
Creating a bio-diverse habitat is the first step to an environmentally friendly landscape, but you should also consider buying 'useful' insects and introducing them to a garden as a way to jump-start the pest fighting process.
Lavoipierre says that some species are more conducive to this process than others. Lacewings, for example, can stay in one place, breeding for generations and gobbling aphids, mites and other pests.
Ladybugs on the other hand have wanderlust in their genetic code and may fly away before too long. However, Rosenberg argues that ladybugs can help battle an immediate problem, such as an aphid infestation.
Creating a garden that has little to no reliance on pesticides for pest control isn't going to be easy - and in some cases may not be possible. If you are committed to creating an environmentally friendly landscape, understand that it can take up to two years to wean a garden from heavy chemical use, but the eventual benefits usually outweigh the cost. "After you've done this for a while you just get this wonderful garden where you're not doing the work of controlling pests anymore" Lavoipierre says. "You have all these little garden allies doing it for you," she says.