Each year, an estimated 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to U.S. farms, forests, lawns and golf courses, with more than 17,000 pesticide products on the market, according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America. Worldwide, 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year.
As homeowners, there are many things we can do to minimize our impact on the environment in the way we care for our landscapes.
In general, highly cultivated plants require more chemicals, such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
As an example, hybrid Bermuda is a highly cultivated grass and requires six times more nitrogen fertilizer than a lawn with carpetgrass. Roses — along with many other highly cultivated and nonnative plants — can require extensive spraying to reduce disease, and they often require heavy fertilization to perform at their best.
Rain can carry excess fertilizers, pesticides and herbicide from both residential and agricultural land to our water sources, where they can present risks to us and wildlife.
The increase in urban populations and the use of nonpermeable surfaces, like concrete, has made stormwater runoff one of the fastest-growing sources of pollution.
Not only is our water a concern, but so are pollinators, beneficial insects and honeybees, which can be harmed by exposure to these chemicals.
Here’s the good news: You can make choices that make a difference.
A sustainable landscape finds balance with the local climate; reduces the use of chemicals; and promotes energy and water management for a healthier environment that can help improve both air and water quality.
These practices can also save you time and money by not using plants that need more chemical attention.
Planning is the first rule of sustainable landscaping. Start by choosing plants that are native or have adapted to our climate, so they are drought tolerant and more resistant to insects and disease.
Once established, these plants will need less water, fertilizer, pesticides and maintenance, saving time and money.
Walkways should be constructed of water-permeable surfaces, such as crushed granite, pea gravel or other types of gravel.
Keep up with weeding. By ensuring your plants are healthy, they can easily outcompete the weeds.
Replace mulch seasonally and as needed to reduce weeds. Ground covers also can be used for effective weed control.
Reduce the amount of turf grass you have. Lawns require mowing, fertilization and more water than most other landscape plants. In addition, many lawns suffer from fungal diseases, such as large patch and gray leaf spot, that require fungicide treatment.
Moreover, if you remember the sod webworm problem last year, you know that lawns require lots of your time and chemicals.
To reduce your lawn’s environmental impact, raise your mower blades. Mowing your lawn too short promotes vigorous new growth that requires more water. Longer grass promotes deeper root growth and a more drought-resistant lawn. In addition, it prevents the growth of weeds.
In place of a lawn, think about using ground covers — such as monkey or mondo grass, creeping lily-turf and Asian jasmine. They require a lot less upkeep. There are also native options such as wild strawberry, common blue violet and creeping phlox.