With home gardening, there is a conflict between effective pest control and environmental impact. After all, pesticides are agents meant to kill some type of pest whether it is a weed or an infestation of aphids.
Fertilizers carry the same bane. They serve a purpose to amend soils because of nutrient deficiencies, yet they carry environmental risks. Gardeners may look for other means of treating the soil.
Alternative to Pesticides
Organic gardening offers alternatives to conventional use of pesticides. The danger of some pesticides is the nature of what they act on. Non-selective or broad-spectrum pesticides such as glycophosphate pose risks to non-targeted plants since these types of herbicides can potentially harm any organism, intended or not, which comes in contact with them.
Fortunately, there are less harmful alternatives. Ordinary household vinegar can be an effective herbicide for some of the more tenacious of garden weeds such as lamb’s quarters and Canada thistle, explains the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Vinegar alters the pH of the soil, inhibiting the growth of weeds. It is however, a non-selective pesticide.
Another simple and broad spectrum pesticide is boiling water. As with vinegar, the weed in question is targeted. Either agent is good for spot control of weeds.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated pest management (IPM) seeks to find a balance between economic losses due to pests and minimization of environmental impacts. The best time for pesticide application differs depending upon the type of pest.
The goal is to prevent the weeds from going to seed and increasing their coverage. For some plants, pre-emergent herbicide application is best to avoid germination of weeds. Prevention is the first line of defense, explains the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If one can prevent weeds, the risk of pesticide application is reduced.
Fertilizers help improve yield and replace nutrients depleted after harvest. While nitrogen is vital for plant growth, some plants cannot use atmospheric nitrogen. This is where fertilizers may offer solutions.
The simplest way of replenishing nitrogen stores in the soil is by planting nitrogen-fixing plants such as legumes. These plants are unique in that they can use nitrogen in the air and convert it to a form which can be used by plants. By rotating plants between plants which can fix nitrogen and those that cannot, nitrogen stores can easily be maintained.
Other natural alternatives such as bone meal or blood meal can improve the soil quality. These natural sources release nutrients slowly, minimizing the negative environmental impacts. Gardeners do need to be aware however, that pets may be attracted to these natural alternatives. Proper storage is essential.
For the home gardener, alternatives to synthetic products exist which can help avoid the negative aspects of maintaining a garden. While the risk is not eliminated, natural products offer safer alternatives to potentially harmful chemicals.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service: “Spray Weeds With Vinegar?” ars.usda.gov
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Integrated Pest Management epa.gov
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