gallery With spring comes the backyard toxins

Fertilizer seems so innocent, yet most of the fertilizer used and applied in the United States is contaminated with toxic heavy metals and hazardous waste. Popular “weed and feed” fertilizers even contain atrazine, a super dangerous herbicide that now contaminates the majority of our waterways and drinking water sources. In addition to altering aquatic environments, Atrazine also kills trees; so if you have trees dying and you don’t why, it might be due to fertilizer.

Instead of toxic fertilizers and pesticides, consider using natural methods for deterring bugs and weeds while encouraging desired plant growth.

Fertilizer Options include:

  • Companion planting
  • Composting
  • Biodynamic preparations
  • Wood ash:  Only use ashes from wood that is free of chemicals. No pressure-treated wood, not particle or press board (both contain glue and may be treated), no painted or stained wood, charcoal, briquettes, or commercial products like slow-burning wood logs.

Pesticide options indoor and outdoors:

  • Consider making your own homemade harmless-to-people-and-pets pesticides with ingredients like apple cider vinegar, castile soup, essential oils, baking soda, borax. Check out life hacker  or doityourself for ideas. For fruit flies, pour vinegar in the drain where they like to breed. For ants, apply clove oil near walls and baseboards, wash countertops with vinegar, and try to find where they’re getting in, seal any cracks or openings that allow them easy access indoors. Some insects you may not like too much, but keep in mind spiders are generally good at eliminating other bugs, and while wasps generally aren’t too popular, they get rid of ticks–the bugs that spread and carry lyme disease.
  • Consider companion planting. Check out the chart above or here for more ideas.
  • Consider creating a tiny garden insectary to attract beneficial insects, believe it or not there are many!
  • Consider creating a wild garden that doesn’t require intense maintenance, mowing grass or any chemicals.
  • Consider planting these easy growing plants that deter mosquitoes and provide you with fresh ingredients that smell great and some are delicious additions for tea, salads and more:  citronella, basil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, peppermint, lavender, catnip, geraniums, marigolds, pennyroyal, lemonbalm,
  • Consider Reducing Your Lawn. From everyone’s favorite, This Old House

“According to the National Wildlife Federation, about 20 million U.S. acres are planted as residential lawn. That’s not good news for the environment. All that lawn eats up 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides annually, contaminating wildlife food sources. “Trace pesticides in insects, including caterpillars and butterflies, can harm the birds that depend on those populations for nourishment,” says Steven Saffier, the coordinator of the Audubon Society’s Audubon at Home program. Lawns are also water wasters. According to The Handbook of Water Use and Conservation, roughly 2 trillion gallons of water are used on lawns annually. Half of that is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or run-off caused by overwatering. Finally, lawnspace provides none of the cover, fruiting and seeding plants, or nesting sites that birds and other wildlife require.


A wild-life friendly habitat garden replaces manicured lawn with plants that attract native and migratory birds, butterflies, and other wildlife seeking food and cover. Habitat gardening essentially replicates pre-development land conditions. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What is my ecological address? What plants were here before this house was built?’ Then try to replicate that,” advises Saffier. You can learn about your property’s natural history by visiting a local nature center or contacting your local native plant society. Ask for specific forest type or dominant habitats to mimic in your backyard. “If someone learns that, historically, their house sits on what once was maple-beech-hickory forest type, they wouldn’t want a sabal palm or magnolia because those have native ranges far outside an MBH forest,” explains Saffier.


You should also eliminate the use of wildlife-harming chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and employ organic gardening solutions instead. “The idea is to encourage biodiversity. Birds eat insects, and insects eat plants,” explains Saffier. “So, habitat gardeners are just going to have to expect some imperfection in their gardens.” In return for that imperfection, you’ll not only enjoy the birds and butterflies; you’ll also save the time, money, and water it takes to keep that part of the lawn pristine.”