Dear EarthTalk: What green-friendly lawn and garden pesticides are available today? I’m particularly interested in options that won’t harm my cats.
—Nancy Blanchard, via e-mail
Pesticides have greatly boosted agricultural yields over the last half century, so it is no wonder, given the commercial availability of many of these synthetic chemicals, that American homeowners apply 100 million pounds of the stuff each year to make their own gardens grow bigger and faster, too.
But the downside of using such chemicals is that they can poison people and pets as well as backyard wildlife: “Common insecticide ingredients such as 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), atrazine and dicamba have been shown to harm mouse embryos at times equivalent to the first week after conception in humans,” says Erica Glasener of The Green Guide. Due to such revelations, home gardeners are fast discovering the benefits of avoiding chemicals in favor of natural, less toxic alternatives.
But before thinking about applying pesticides, gardeners can design (or re-design) their gardens to make the most of native plants that have evolved over eons to thrive in local conditions without synthetic aid or lots of water. Choosing native plants appropriate to your elevation, soil type, drainage and sun exposure will naturally repel many common pests and also reduce the propagation of invasive exotic species.