Pesticides: The Bottom Line and the Alternatives

gardening without pesticides

March 17, 2017

When an insect or animal is destroying a garden or wreaking havoc on a lawn, potent chemical pesticides might seem like the obvious tool for dealing with the problem. But are they absolutely necessary? Non-chemical alternatives exist for most pesticides.

When applied properly, many of these natural pest killers are reasonably effective, without being as potentially toxic as their synthetic peers.

Does Safe Usage of Synthetic Pesticides Help?

Homeowners can limit exposure to chemicals by following the directions and heeding warnings when they use synthetic pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves pesticides and issues guidelines based on their intended usage, and companies are required to put warnings and safety advice on the labels of their products. For example, lawn pesticides and fertilizers will often include a warning that tells users to keep children and pets off the lawn for 24 to 72 hours after application.

Critics of these chemical pest killers say that climate, local vegetation, and other variables make it difficult to be certain about safety even if the user follows the EPA guidelines and warnings to the letter.

Natural Pest Deterrents

Homeowners may decide that the best policy is to avoid chemical-based or synthetic pesticides in lawn and garden products altogether. The important question then is whether or not they can obtain their desired results from all-natural products. Many organizations, including the animal rights group PETA, Colorado State University, and the Natural Resources Defense Council suggest that natural alternatives to synthetic products can be used to deal effectively with unwanted plants, animals, and insects.

PETA recommends using natural methods to deal with unwanted creatures without resorting to sprays, traps, and poisons. For example, aphids, which commonly destroy garden plants, dislike light and therefore prefer to sit on the underside of a plant leaf. By placing aluminum foil on the base of a plant, a gardener can reflect the sun upwards and prevent bugs from landing on (and chewing up) his or her plants.

Mice, meanwhile, do not like mint. Placing this fragrant herb around the base of a house will help to keep the rodents from trying to get inside.

Rabbits, notorious amongst gardeners because they are fond of eating vegetables and young plants, can be repelled by sprinkling chili pepper around plants or laying grates or old oven racks around the garden. Rabbits do not like the feel of these metallic items on their feet and will usually stay away.

Attracting Beneficial Insects

A paper published by Colorado State University (CSU) claims that creating an attractive habitat for certain predatory species may help to control unwanted pests. For example, ladybugs prey on weevils, aphids, and rootworms, and can help eradicate these pests if you plant fragrant, colorful plants to attract them. Certain types of wasps and spiders feed on young caterpillars, which are one of the main problems for gardens with leafy plants. CSU researchers go on to explain that it is important to learn to identify insect species in order to decide whether or not a creature is actually a pest and, if it is, what the best countermeasures are.

The idea of beneficial species also explains why chemical pesticides are not always the best solution. Synthetic sprays do not discriminate. As well as killing the unwanted insects, the spray may kill bugs that are also helping to control the pests. Once the insecticide wears off, it may be necessary to respray spray again because the next wave of pests will have fewer predators to deal with.

Go Native

Landscaping with native plants can reduce the need for pesticides. They may be resistant to harmful insects and can attract the aforementioned beneficial creatures so that the predatory insects can then prey on pests who would otherwise destroy the non-native plants on the property. Plus, since native foliage already thrives in the local climate, it will not require extra watering, special soil, or fertilizer. This not only means that a garden can be kept chemical-free, but it will also be easier (and cheaper) to care for the plants.

Whether going native or not, it is important to mix plant species in the garden or yard. With only one type of plant or a collection of similar plants (from the same species), a property may become a target for pests. Even if they have not inhabited the area, these insects may be attracted by what they see as an easily accessible and plentiful food source.

What About Inside the House?

Dealing with pests in the garden or yard is one thing, but what about when they venture inside? Even individuals who prefer natural animal control methods could be tempted to reach for chemical sprays or synthetic poisons because they want to eliminate mice, ants, flies, or other unwanted creatures as quickly as possible. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) claims that it is possible to achieve favorable results with completely natural, time-tested pest control practices.

Old fashioned traps, such as flypaper or mouse traps, can prove quite effective. The important thing to remember is that using too much bait can actually draw more pests inside rather than merely catching the ones that have already invaded the home. The NRDC also recommends inspecting the home to find and seal any small cracks, gaps, or holes in the windows, door frames, or foundation. Small holes in window screens are especially popular entry points for bugs. This simple step will keep pests out in the future. However, if these efforts do not work, a spray or poison might be necessary.

Pesticides have different levels of toxicity, and the NRDC advises starting with a pest killer labeled IV (on a scale of IV-I, with I being the most toxic and IV the least toxic). Spraying should always be done in partnership with sealing the gaps and holes that the creatures use for access. By doing this, the homeowner will only have to use chemical spray or poison once. If the entry points are not sealed, then the spraying will not lead to a long-term reduction of pests inside the house.

The overall goal of indoor pest control is to eliminate the pest and, secondly, to reduce the need for repeated pesticide use.

General Home and Landscaping Improvements

Improvements made both inside and outside the home can decrease the need for chemical sprays. Upgrades that also increase a property’s efficiency and environmental friendliness (as well as help control pests) may even qualify for special financing from a property assessed clean energy (PACE) program. For example, insulating your crawl space with a protective layer of insulation, such as a radiant barrier, will not only help retain floor heat, it will also help keep unwanted critters out of your living space.

Replacing old drafty doors and adding weather stripping are other PACE-eligible upgrades that will reinforce the barrier against pests while improving the efficiency of the heating and air conditioning units.

Outdoors, a drip irrigation system will save money on water usage and encourage certain plants to grow so that they can draw beneficial insects and naturally choke out unwanted weeds. A complete strategy for getting rid of pests naturally can make chemical-based pesticides unnecessary or, at the very least, lower your reliance on them. As a result, you would only have to use them occasionally, instead of exposing yourself and your family to toxic chemicals on a regular basis.

Discover how PACE financing can help you live a more sustainable lifestyle – call Ygrene at (855) 901-3999 or email: