Rather than covering the lawn and garden with synthetic chemicals that have the potential to poison your pet and pollute the local environment, why not get back to basics? Try these organic alternatives to solve many common outdoor problems.
The sprinkle-and-pull method doesn’t come any easier, though a considerable amount of elbow grease may be required. To remove weeds this all-natural way, intentionally water any bare ground before planting flowers or vegetables. Wait for the weeds to germinate and yank them out with enthusiasm before they set seed. In just a couple of weeks the entire area will be cleansed of most of its weed seeds and ready for planting.
Cover bare ground to prevent weeds from taking hold by using mulch. Many green options abound, such as recycled timber tree waste. Even a few layers of yesterday’s newspaper make a great barrier against unwanted weeds. Laying down a thick layer prevents light from reaching weed seeds and lightens the work load considerably.
Note: Be sure to avoid recycled cocoa hulls as they contain the same dog-toxic ingredient found in chocolate products. Stay away from coconut husk mulch as well, as it can expand in your pet’s digestive tract, potentially causing bowel obstruction.
Corn gluten meal is Mother Nature’s own herbicide. By inhibiting tender root growth of many common weeds, this all-natural ingredient prevents seeds from germinating, making it a non-toxic “pre-emergent” herbicide. Spreading gluten on the lawn also helps fertilize already established plants, with its weak nitrogen content, without endangering your pet.
Diatomaceous earth consists of microscopic, prehistoric fossils. This affordable product works well for keeping pests at bay, while protecting your pet from poisoning. The fossils have tiny sharp edges that cut insects to ribbons when they track through it, but it causes no harm to people or other animals. Simply apply a barrier around plants in the yard and garden. Reapply after each rain.
Even plain soapy water helps keep insect numbers down. Just mix any vegetable-based liquid castile soap in a 1-10 mixture of warm water (one part soap to 10 parts water) in a garden sprayer. Stir and apply liberally to any area where insects are active. Make sure to spray the undersides of leaves and the surrounding soil where they hide. The large soap molecules clog the breathing organs in both flying insects and their larvae, while keeping your pet safe.
Attract Good Bugs
A fun and exciting way to keep destructive insects under control is to attract more bugs that eat them. Attracting these “beneficials,” such as lacewings, praying mantis and ladybugs, encourages the natural circle of life to come into balance. Plant flowers with tiny blooms, like alyssum and dill. Many adult beneficials also enjoy drinking the nectar from these plants. Once they arrive and lay their eggs nearby, their offspring do the work for you. Many live beneficials or their eggs can be purchased by mail or at your local garden supply store.
Turning yard and household waste back into fertilizer to enrich your plants is easier than you might think. Compost, rich in nitrogen, makes a potent fertilizer out of what would normally end up in the landfill. Just remember the following: browns, greens, water and air. These are the only ingredients you need. Aim for a 5:1 ratio of browns to greens in your compost heap. Browns include sawdust, wood chips, straw, leaves and even newspaper. Greens include grass clippings, kitchen scraps and any recently living plant material. Just keep the pile moist and turn it every couple of days. In about a month you’ll have garden gold.
All-natural alternatives work just as well as their factory-made counterparts and save you the worry of harming your pet or the environment in the process. Join farmers and gardeners of decades past by employing these organic solutions to life’s toughest outdoor challenges. Your dog will thank you for it!
Tom Barthel is a Lansing, Mich., master gardener and freelance writer who specializes in pet and gardening topics. His latest book is “Dogscaping: Creating the Perfect Backyard and Garden for You and Your Dog” (BowTie Press, 2010).