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Think Green: How to Handle Lawn Pests without Chemicals

Green Heart (And the Green Grass Grows All Around, All Around)Everything grows more in the Spring – lawns, garden vegetables, and unfortunately weeds and insect populations.  If your first inclination is to go out and buy the latest herbicide, think again.  By taking an eco-friendly approach, you could save money and help your environment as well.  Try the following proactive steps toward avoiding chemicals for your home or business landscape.

Back away from the Roundup!  Pesticides can go overboard and kill off helpful insects like earthworms, along with all the bad pests.  Chemicals go into the soil and also enable thatch layers, which become homes for more insects. Thatch is a tightly woven layer of living and dead stems, plant crowns, roots and other parts of plants, which is embedded between the layer of grass and the surface of soil. Essentially thatch is plant residue in various stages of decay, acting as a natural compost.

Identifying the Damage  Be observant – check for problem areas once a week and closely inspect areas with pest activity.  Browned areas and thinner grass could be an indication of insect damage, but they might also be caused by over watering, under-or-over fertilizing, or pet urine stains.  More signs of potential pest problems are: more weeds than usual, bigger adult insect populations (lawn pests are typically in the larvae stage), and animal scavenging at night.

Flush Pests Out of Their Hiding Places  A few insects here and there isn’t an issue.  To be a damaging force there would be more pests than your lawn can sustain.  Try this tip to expose the real insect population! Fill a gallon container with water, then mix it with one ounce of dish soap.  Next, pour the whole container full over 1 square yard of lawn – and watch, as every pest crawls to the surface.

Have your camera ready and shoot photos of each type of insect, counting the number of each pest from your measured area.  Next research college or cooperative extension sites to properly identify the pests you’ve discovered.  Continue your research to find out how many of each type of insect is usually found in a square yard.  If you have more than that average amount, you have a pest problem.

Take Away the Insect’s Comfort Zone  Once you’ve identified the problem insects, check the web for their preferred environments and try to make the appropriate changes.  Realize that over watering and over fertilizing are typical culprits, as both conditions create more grass on which to feed.  Larger layers of thatch also create a “safe house” where pests can hide, feed and procreate.

Introduce Natural Predators  One of the most eco-friendly approaches is to manage your pests with biological control.  Investigate which of nature’s predators will feed upon your problem insect types, and add them to your landscape.  These predators will be selective and rarely harm beneficial insect.

Chemicals as a Last Resort   If nothing else works and the damage is increasing, search for the best product for your particular grass seed and it’s problem pests.  Carefully follow directions on the label, and apply with rubber gloves (and long sleeves to keep your skin from absorbing toxins).

Author Jonathan McGraw is a natural landscape designer and content contributor for, the go-to source for solving the most complex reclamation challenges. He suggests Buffalograss seed for its impressive tolerance to drought, heat and cold, and Zoysia Grass seed for its drought resistance and tolerance of salty and alkaline soils.

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