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Gardening | Start prepping your yard to be pest-free now without using toxic chemicals

It is irksome to read the occasional rant about what a health hazard sago palms are to pets, while the millions of tons of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides we put on our lawns and gardens each year present a more significant danger to our children, pets, bees, fish and wildlife.

Yes, sago palms, like a number of other plants, are poisonous when ingested. It is a non-issue that distracts from the tons of poisonous chemicals we gladly add to our lawns and gardens each year. Lawn and garden cure-alls contain ingredients that are toxic by inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. Simply mixing concentrates exposes us to fumes from their active ingredients.

Pesticides and weed killers don’t remain where they are applied. It is easy for adults, children and pets to track them into the home where their toxins show up in carpets and on other surfaces. Dogs not only eat soil and grass but lick the lawn chemicals they carry inside on their paws and coats.

Products applied to the lawn drift with the wind. The particles easily make their way into our houses and yards. Lawn and garden chemicals can be in the air and in the dust on tables and windowsills. Toxic chemicals make their way from children’s toys and hands into their mouths.

What can we do to make our yards and homes safer from toxic lawn and garden chemicals? Learn to practice IPM, integrated pest management. Use less and fewer toxic chemical products.

IPM can be defined as using the least toxic solutions to manage insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses, weeds and even wildlife pests. It integrates biological, cultural and chemical controls to manage pest problems and thereby minimize risk to people and impact on the environment. Chemical measures are used only when less toxic methods have failed to keep pests below damaging levels.

For detailed information about Integrated Pest Management, google Clemson hgic 1722 Balancing Nature within Your Landscape and hgic 2755 Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

You can start practicing IPM almost immediately. Get started controlling next year’s garden pests with good garden sanitation this season.

Use pre-emergent on your grass this fall to manage winter weeds. Your warm season turf needs no winterizer, fertilizer or weed and feed.

Pre-emergent herbicide is used prior to weed germination. It is good for annual grassy weeds, especially crabgrass, which is why pre-emergent is sometimes called crab grass killer. To control winter annuals, apply pre-emergent when nighttime lows reach 55 – 60 degrees for four consecutive days. On average this occurs Sept. 15 through- Oct. 1 in the coastal and central South Carolina. Pre-emergent products are usually effective for six to 12 weeks. To continue control throughout the season, apply pre-emergent again nine weeks after the first application.

There is little need to fertilize in the fall. Ornamentals s are either dormant or growing very slowly. This is a good time, however, to feed your soil with compost. Your soil and plants will benefit. Fall is also an excellent time to have your soil tested. The analysis will let you know how much of what fertilizers to add to your soil and when to do it. For information on soil testing, google Clemson hgic 1652 Soil Testing.

Non-specific insecticides can be counterproductive because they kill all the insects in their path, and that includes the beneficial insects that prey on harmful ones. These insecticides also kill and injure the pollinators which we so badly need in our gardens and fields. In addition, the chemicals are deadly to the beneficial microorganisms essential for soil health.

There are less damaging options for pest control. Use biological based insecticides like Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) and Spinosad. Use insecticidal soap and horticultural oil instead of chemical products. Use sulfur based products to control fungicidal disease. To learn more about less toxic pesticides google Clemson hgic 2770 Less Toxic Pesticides and hgic 2771 Insecticidal Soaps for Garden Pest Control.

Manufacturers indicate toxicity level on package labels. Buy a product with a CAUTION signal word instead of one marked WARNING or DANGER.

Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.

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