2012 New Year's Revolutions
It's traditional to make positive resolutions at the close of an old year. So, in this thrilling episode, we'll reveal how you can resolve to lower your exposure to potentially poisonous pesticides while having a better looking lawn and garden—and a safer indoor space. And we'll begin by paraphrasing a writer whose name somehow escapes me. "Bacon?" Why does that name come to mind…?
Ahem and anyway:
To be toxic? Or not to be? That is the question, gardeners and homeowners…
And let me assure those of you not yet converted that it isn't a hard question; that there is nothing noble about suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous nerve toxins and hormonal disruptors.
As many of you heard on the show earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics has just (late November, 2012) issued a strong Position Paper on the dangers posed to children by pesticide use—even when its 'just' the parents of those children using pesticides outdoors on the lawn and in the garden. (The dangers of spraying toxins indoors should be self-evident.) In mid-November, a new study from the University of California added to the massive body of literature linking pesticide use to an increased risk of Parkinson's….
The good news is that the implicated interventions are all 100% unnecessary. You don't need indoor or perimeter sprays to have a pest-free house. You don't need insecticides, fungicides or herbicides to have a nice green lawn or great garden. In fact, 14 years of listener emails has clearly shown me that people who spray have more plant and pest problems than people who don't.
So, along with your resolutions to get more exercise, eat healthier food and stop flipping the bird to people who have just cut you off in traffic, I'd like those of you who are still spraying for pests indoors, having your lawn treated with toxins and/or using poisons in your potager to commit to a new beginning; a New Year in which you'll protect your health and have your best garden and most pest-free home EVER. Now, raise your right hand ("ahem—your OTHER right hand…") and repeat these resolutions after me:
• I WILL get my plants off drugs. No more attacking the environment (and yourself) with caustic chemical fertilizers like Miracle-Gro and Osmocote, hormonally-harmful herbicides like Roundup and poisonous pesticides like Sevin and Dursban. Instead...
• I WILL use compost! So called "conventional" fertilizers contain harsh chemical salts whose original use was the manufacture of high explosives. They weaken your plants by forcing them to grow faster than Nature ever intended, which makes those poor steroid-pumped plants much more attractive to pests and disease. Instead, feed your garden the way Nature feeds the forests—with compost made from shredded leaves; or with worm castings, a sensational fertilizer you can make from your own kitchen waste—and a bin and some worms, of course. Two inches of compost or an inch of castings provides all the food ANY plant needs for a year; and makes your landscape naturally resistant to disease and insect pests.
• I WILL water correctly! Frequent short sprinkles result in weak, shallow-rooted plants. Your lawn and garden will grow strong with long, deep, INfrequent soakings. If Nature provides an inch of water in any given week, sit on your hose. Otherwise deliver that essential inch in one or two long sessions, ending just as the sun is rising. NEVER water in a way that lets your lawn or garden stay wet overnight. And never water every day; your plants' roots need to dry out between waterings.
• I WILL mulch. Applying a one to two inch layer of shredded leaves, pine straw or compost around your plants will help retain soil moisture AND prevent weeds. (Don't use disease-breeding, plant-food stealing wood, root or bark mulches; they're worse than no mulch at all; and never let any mulch touch a plant.)
• I will treat my grass like a living plant! People cut all the green growth off their lawn, complain about how bad it looks and then pour chemicals on top. Instead, adjust your mower to allow the grass to attain its natural height and it will thrive. That's two to two and a half inches for warm season grasses down South; three inches for cool-season grasses up North. A correct cut allows your grass to grow the deep roots that crowd out even the worst weeds. A lawn that's correctly cut also looks greener and fuller. And correctly cut lawns grow slower than scalped ones—which means you'll do MUCH less cutting!
• I WILL 'mulch' my clippings back into the lawn! Fresh grass clippings are 10% nitrogen by weight. Nitrogen is a lawn's favorite food. Sense a pattern here? Use a dedicated mulching mower to return the pulverized clippings to your turf and you'll supply half of the food your lawn needs—and you won't have to deal with any clippings.
• I will NOT panic when I see a bug! Only a VERY small percentage of insects are pests. So don't go killing everything you see—especially indoors, where you and your family are sure to inhale more of what you're spraying than any potential pest. True indoor pest problems are ALWAYS best controlled with traps or other non-toxic tactics. Just look up the name of the pest in our "A to Z answer" section—before you spray.
• I WILL have FUN!!! Don't lose sight of WHY we grow. Nature is beautiful and relaxing. We try and capture the spirit of Nature when we garden. Your sanctuary of solace is no place for poisons.