Wean Your Yard Off Pesticides

April 29, 1999

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Not unlike duct tape, pesticides have become a quick fix for some homeowners. Purdue University entomologist Cliff Sadof says weaning your yard off chemicals starts with learning other, less toxic ways to reach the same end -- a yard you can be proud of.

Determining your tolerance of pests will guide how you manage your yard. "Some people might think they want all the bugs dead, but what they really want is a healthy and attractive plant," Sadof says. "Your plant will survive a few pests. The more pests you can tolerate, the less pesticides you use."

Cutting out preventative sprays helps a lot. "You can reduce pesticide use by 90 percent if you only spray when and where you know you have a problem," he says.

Sadof and other Purdue researchers are developing alternatives to chemical pest control, looking at natural enemies, pest-resistant plants and new ways of plant management that frustrate insects, weeds and disease.

Cultural control, which refers to how you do things, takes several forms. It can mean selecting plants best suited for your yard conditions and the climate, because healthy plants are their own best defense. Cultural controls also include mechanical methods such as tilling the soil to disrupt weeds.

Biological control is the use of organisms such as bacteria, viruses and insects to attack target pests. The best method of biological control, Sadof says, is nurturing and encouraging the natural enemies already found in your yard. Ladybugs like many of the pests you don't. Reducing the use of pesticides allows ladybugs and other beneficial insects to take over your pest management chores.

Control by exclusion means simply keeping pests at bay. Fences that keep rabbits out of vegetable gardens are one example. Netting also can safeguard plants from birds and insects.

A major tenet of pest management is scouting -- inspecting your yard and garden regularly for the first signs of insects and disease. Early identification of a pest is critical, because most pesticide alternatives work better on small, young pest populations.

Keep records of what you saw, what you did and what worked. Next year you'll be able to make better decisions based on your own experience.

Purdue University

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