Archive for the ‘Alternatives to Herbicides and Pesticides’ Category

Using Clover as an Eco-Sustainable Alternative Lawn

Clover lawns are a sustainable alternative over grass lawns. This post goes on to explain the reasons by incorporating two editorials and two brochures. This content was provided by Steven Daniels and Kelsey Noll, both School of Environmental and Biological Sciences students over at Rutgers University. They have proposed the use of clover lawns at their university to save resources, promote bee populations, and raise public awareness of the benefits of clover. For your convenience, there is a table of contents below to organize the information.

Order of Content:
1. Editorial by Kelsey Noll
2. Editorial by Steven Daniels
3. Brochure for Clover at Home
4. Poster Presented to the Rutgers Energy Institute

1. Consider overseeding your Lawn with Clover
by Kelsey Noll

A picturesque green grass lawn is associated with the suburban dream; it is a symbol of status and good citizenship. However, the maintenance of such a lawn is incredibly timely and costly, not to mention completely unnatural and harmful to the environment. The required input of resources to maintain a green lawn, especially throughout the entire year, is quite large. Watering, pesticide and fertilizer application, and mowing all place a significant time and financial burden on the homeowner while polluting the environment through run-off and toxic emissions.
Foregoing the traditional grass lawn in favor of a more sustainable alternative can alleviate these burdens. Clover is an excellent alternative choice for a lawn; though traditionally considered a weed, clover has many properties that make it ideal for lawn coverage. Its ability to outcompete other species means that herbicides need not be applied. It is also nitrogen-fixing, and therefore does not require additional fertilizer application. Clover is drought resistant, meaning it requires minimal watering to stay green. The deep root system of clover helps alleviate soil compaction, a problem that causes run-off and erosion.

The species recommended for a homeowner looking to grow his or her own clover lawn is White Dutch Clover. This species is a perennial plant that grows to four to eight inches in height, with long roots that grow in moist, fertile soil. One of the interesting benefits of growing this breed of clover is that its pollen attracts honey-producing bees. While bees may be considered a nuisance to some, they are an incredibly important species that is currently in danger due to colony collapse disorder. Once can support this at-risk species by maintaining a clover lawn. However, for the homeowner that would prefer to not attract bees, more regular summer mowing will keep them at bay.

Any homeowner should consider planting a clover lawn over their traditional grass lawn. The planting process is easy, as clover can be seeded over an existing lawn to create a durable grass-clover blend that has many advantages over a traditional lawn. The new clover lawn will require significantly less input of time and resources, making life easier for one’s schedule and budget while also serving the environment.

2. Clover lawns beneficial
by Steven Daniels

A well-maintained lawn is part of the American dream. It’s a symbol of the suburban lifestyle, and it shows off the property owner’s control over nature. A green lawn is a constant battle with the environment, but it doesn’t have to be. Clover is a low-maintenance alternative lawn that retains the green lawn aesthetic, without infringing on your wallet or your weekend while benefiting the environment.

Unlike commercial grasses, clover doesn’t require excessive resources. It produces its own fertilizer. Normal grass fertilizers wash away during the first rain shower. Materials purchased for that lawn are essentially being flushed down the drain. Much of that sewer water then ends up in the local water supply, encouraging bacteria to grow and suffocate fish populations. By using clover, you can save money on your lawn while also befriending the local wildlife.

Clover needs very little water to survive. Often referred to as a weed, clover is extremely resilient to seasonal changes. It can survive both flood and drought and stays green while doing it. Clover is like the camel of lawns — effectively holding moisture, but without the whole spitting-on-tourists thing. The plant’s toughness means that it doesn’t have to be watered by property owners to look great. Without a sprinkler, you can save money on water and save our most essential natural resource.

Clover lawns require less frequent mowing than a traditional grass lawn. While grass grows vertically, clover grows laterally. This means you can expect fewer cuts per year and less spotty coverage with clover. Fewer cuts not only reduce budgets spent on gas, bags and repairs, but something even more valuable: time. With that extra time, a homeowner might actually be able to appreciate the lawn they’ve sculpted by playing catch or relaxing in the shade.

Compared to grass, clover is an easy, cost-reducing way to enjoy your lawn. It leaves more money in your pocket, is less of hassle to maintain, and as a nice side benefit, is a more sustainable practice. When we think of sustainability, we tend to think in terms of large complex objects and technology. Businesses and homeowners are offered incentives to install expensive solar panels on their properties, and automobile manufactures offer more hybrid and electric alternatives, for a price. These are steps in the right direction, but truly effective environmental changes will occur more subtly. Much like re-engineered water bottles and cloth grocery bags, alternative lawns represent a small change that can provide substantial gains.

3. Clover at Home Informational Brochure
PDF Attachment: Clover Brochure
Clover at Home pg 1 Clover at Home pg 2

4. Rutgers Energy Institute Poster
PDF Attachment: Rutgers Energy Institute Poster
Rutgers Energy Institute Poster


Organic Farming & Integrated Pest Management – How they Limit Pesticide Use

What is Organic Farming?

Organic Farming systems try to minimize off farm input (which can include fertilizers, and pesticides). It also frequently employs various pest management tactics (IPM) which do not involve pesticides. Genetically modified crops (GMO) are not used in organic farming. Soil fertility is maintained through crop rotations (which employ nitrogen-fixing legumes), and these can also have pest-management benefits.

Benefits of Organic Farming to Pollinators

A Swedish study found that organic farming had better pollination. The crop they used to measure this was Strawberries and the study included 12 farms. Farms were grouped into 3 categories: Established Organic Farms, New Organic Farms, & Conventional Farms. New organic farms showed the same amount of pollination success as established farms and both had greater success than conventional farms.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

IPM is a system of pest management that employs several pest management tactics (mulching, natural enemies etc.). Some pest damage is considered acceptable and there is an economic threshold above which the damage warrants action. Pesticides are considered a last resort and there are restrictions on which ones can be used.

IPM Pesticides
Qualities of a Good IPM Pesticide

  1. Selective: Only affects intended target or a narrow range of things.
  2. Not Persistent: Does not linger in the environment for a long time.
  3. Minimal Environmental Impact

Unacceptable Pesticides

  • Pyrethroid Insecticides or Acaricides
  • Organochlorine Insecticides & Acaricides (if safer alternatives exist)
  • All Acaricides that are toxic to Phytoseiid Mites
  • Toxic, water-polluting or very persistent Herbicides

Pesticides Allowed with Restrictions (When no safer alternatives exist)

  • Broad Spectrum Organo-Phosphate & Carbamate Insecticides
  • Acaricides harmful to Phytoseiid Mites
  • Dithiocarbamate Fungicides
  • Sulfur & Copper
  • Fungicides with high potential for resistance

Preventative Methods Against Insects and Weeds: “Cultural Controls”

Mixing up Lawn-care Practices

Planting a combination of tradition turf grasses and other low growing species like clover, rye grass, and trefoil can make lawn maintenance a much more simple, low input task. The roots of clover and trefoil species (legumes) are home to beneficial microbes that have the ability to fix nitrogen, that is, to fertilize your lawn naturally and reduce the need for high nitrogen fertilizers. Adding some variety with these plants which are commonly considered “weeds” can help to minimize groundwater pollution from excess fertilizer use, and also provides a better home and food source for bees and other beneficial insects.

A mixed bag of plant species also means less susceptibility to many common pests of turfgrass, such as the infamous soil dwelling “white grubs” and other insect larvae that may hurt your lawn and be destructive in their adult forms. Limiting the use of high nitrogen fertilizers and making use of the fertilizing properties of nitrogen fixing plants can allow your grass to devote more of its energy and nutrients to developing a robust root system, which makes a less desirable habitat for many of these soil dwelling pests, and cuts down on the need to use traditional, harmful insecticides to keep the bugs at bay. A mixed lawn can also be more effective at crowding out undesired weeds than a bed of single seed turf grasses.

Other methods that can be employed to reduce the risk of weed and grub infestation in the lawn, and limit dependence on chemicals include:

  • Mowing higher and less frequently to decrease the amount of exposed soil
  • Watering less frequently (~once a week), but thoroughly and deeply to ensure strong root growth, and avoiding watering when precipitation provides sufficient water supply
  • “Over-seeding” lawns with mixed seeds in early spring or fall to reduce bare spots
  • Leaving a portion of grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and maintain balanced, steady nutrient levels

Mulching and Sheeting (Weed Barriers)

Aside from providing a clean and appealing look for flower beds and gardens, proper mulching around plants can:

  • Return organic nutrients to the soil
  • Prevent implantation of weeds
  • Help retain moisture in soil
  • Keep soil cool

Some environmentally friendly mulches to help prevent weed growth and eliminate herbicide use in your garden:

  • Brush, wood-chips, and sticks from around the yard (makes use of material that would be otherwise disposed of, NO COST)
  • Pine needles/straw and pine bark
  • Cocoa shell mulch (by-product of cocoa manufacturing, insect repellent properties, WARNING: Poisonous to Dogs)
  • Agricultural by-products (peanut shells, corn husks, etc)

Weed barriers are sheets that can be applied below mulch, around plants, to keep weeds from gaining a root foothold. Common weed barriers are made of plastics, but biodegradable materials such as old newspapers, and recycled cardboard sheets available commercially do the job quite well.

Companion Planting to Deter Insects

Many plants, specifically aromatic herbs, can be planted along with garden vegetables in order to deter pest insects including mosquitoes, flies, fleas, ticks, caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and others including:

  • Broadleaf sage (also covers ground area to limit weed growth)
  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley
  • Mint / Catnip
  • Thyme

Home Remedies for Insecticides and Herbicides

There are many popular home remedies for dealing with pest weeds and insects that are often times safer than their chemical alternatives.

Home Brew Insecticides

Garlic, Onion, and Pepper sprays prepared at home often times work as a wonderful insect repellent for gardens and flowerbeds, since leaf consuming insects do not find the mixture palatable and tend to stay away. Recipes vary by personal preference, but general guidelines suggest using the following:

  • A few cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • A small onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 tsp of hot pepper, or fresh chopped hot pepper
  • ~1 qt warm water
  • Allow the mixture to steep in a mason jar or container for up to two days, strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth, and apply with a spray bottle to leafy surfaces and stems of garden plants

Some recipes choose to include a few teaspoons liquid hand soap (potassium salts of fatty acids) to the mixture, but this can be harmful to some beneficial insects and sometimes the plant surfaces themselves, especially if the wrong kind of soap is used. Added benefits of including the soap include death to soft bodied pests, and more staying power on the plant surface. Spray concoctions without the soap need to be applied fairly regularly, especially after rain, to remain effective.

Oil Based Home Remedies

Other home remedies suggest using vegetable oils mixed with water, and garlic or hot pepper, however these treatments offer many of the downsides that the soaps do, depending on the situation.

Beer and Slugs

A common home method for dealing with slugs in the garden is to use beer in the corners of yards or around problem areas to attract the slugs and drown them. Some guidelines for using beer as a safe alternative to commercial pesticides:

  • Partially bury a wide, open container so that the rim lays near the ground surface
  • Add liquid hand soap to improve effectiveness when slugs contact the beer
  • Prop up a small cover above the container to reduce dilution by rainwater, with ample room for the slugs to enter underneath

Other effective methods for “slugicide” include dilute alcohol sprays, salt, or removal by hand.


Home Brew Herbicides

Common alternatives to synthetic herbicides like Roundup for weed killing include:

  • Equal parts water and vinegar spray
  • Boiling Water

These methods, however effective, are general to most plants, so will often times harm the plants you desire to keep. They should probably be reserved for weeds around rock beds, driveways, and sidewalk cracks.

Mosquito Control Without Chemical Insecticides

Most municipalities no longer conduct widespread, preventative spraying for adult mosquitoes, which is largely ineffective. Larval control mechanisms, and minimization of standing water for breeding are the main effective controls against mosquito populations.

In Bucks County, when problem areas arise due to inefficient breeding control, adult spraying is conducted, usually with Ultra Low Volume spray (fogger) application of Pyrethroids, such as Permethrin and PBO mixes, which are highly toxic to bees, other beneficial insects, and water-dwelling critters. There are many home methods that can be undertaken to reduce the risk of mosquito outbreaks, which are risk factors for diseases such as West Nile Virus.

Eliminate standing water from your property:

  • Drain pools when not in use, support with floats to minimize water accumulation on top of covers
  • Clean gutters regularly
  • Provide adequate drainage for all gutter outputs and flood areas
  • Provide adequate circulation for garden ponds
  • Cover trash receptacles and drill holes in bottom to provide drainage
  • Do not over-water lawns and garden beds
  • Replace water in bird baths and rain catching buckets regularly

Stock isolated, man-made ponds with insect consuming fish such as goldfish, koi, and mosquito guppies. Reduce fish feeding to encourage mosquito larvae as alternate food source.

When standing water cannot be eliminated, use safe, species-specific controls against larval mosquitoes such as commercial products containing Bti (Mosquito Dunks, etc.) to treat these potential breeding grounds . Birds and Bats can also provide a good source of control for adult mosquitoes. See Biological Controls for More Information

Minimizing Mosquito Bite Risk

  • avoid being outdoors between dusk and dawn
  • wear long clothing to cover exposed skin
  • use mosquito nets/screens or tents on porches and decks
  • use a personal insect repellent (Lemon Eucalyptus formulas are some of the most effective natural repellent alternatives to DEET formulas)

Biological Controls of Insects Pests

Of the many alternatives to synthetic chemical insecticides, biological controls are arguably the best for the environment. Introduction of natural predators of common pests can help to restore ecological balance, and provides a relatively risk free way to deal with your pest problem.

Birds and Bats – Natural Insect Predators

Birds and bats are two common controls for pest populations, like mosquitoes. Insectivorous bats and birds offer a double whammy in pest management, because they often act as pollinators just as bees and butterflies do.

Common birds used as biological controls for mosquitoes and flying insects are various types of swallows and purple martins. They can be attracted to the home by providing a risk free habitat and nesting site.

Many people create both bird and bat houses on their property to achieve this goal. In the case of bats particularly, making use of these practices can help to make up for lost habitat and population declines.

Bat houses should sit high above the ground, get plenty of sun for warmth, and be built close to a water source such as a lake, stream, or home pond.

National Wildlife Federation Web Producer, Carla Brown, built her own bat house using the Small Economy Bat House Plan from Bat Conservation International’s website, and you can too!

Building a Bat House

Microbial Insecticides (Neem Attack, Mosquito Dunks, etc.)

When problems with pest insects really get out of hand, a broad spectrum, synthetic chemical application is not usually necessary. Identification of the pest at hand, and what type of damage it may cause is always the first step, and then, a variety of microbial insecticides may be of use. Most microbial insecticides are very pest specific, and do not pose much of a threat to humans, pests, and non-target insects. Careful when using them on grubs and caterpillars though, those little bugs may be slated to morph into a harmless, pollinating moth or butterfly!

Bacteria of the Bacillus variety are some of the most common microbial insecticides, and most are quite safe. Different species and strains can target different insect pests. Common targets include mosquito and blackfly larvae, Japanese beetle grubs, and various grub and caterpillar species.
Some useful information that can get you on your way to identifying and purchasing the best Bacillus strain for your needs, can be found in  Microbial Insecticides, Published by R. Weinzierl, T. Henn, P. G. Koehler and C. L. Tucker at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The full fact sheet is available here.


Nematodes are roundworms that are hosts to bacteria, and can parasite pest insects in the soil and in some cases on leaves and plants. They are particularly useful in home lawn management and in gardens.

The Cornell University Department of Entomology offers a great resource through their biological control webpage, on different varieties of nematodes, insect pests they can help to control, and various commercial products and distributors of nematodes.

Tonight (Tues 9/13@7pm) Honeybee symposium


Tuesday, September 13, 7:00 PM

 Guest speaker: Maryann Frazier, Senior Extension Associate, Dept. of Entomology, Penn State University

 Topics: 1) Pollinators & Pesticides &

2) How to Protect Your Honeybee Colonies

 Location: Delaware Valley College, Room 114, Mandell Hall

 Sponsors: Bucks County Beekeepers Association and Delaware Valley College in cooperation with Penn State University

 Admission is free.

 Beekeepers, people interested in honeybees, 4-H & FAA members who have honey projects, high school and college students with interests in apiculture or with honeybee assignments are all welcome to join us.


 Delaware Valley College
700 East Butler Avenue
Doylestown, PA 18901

Directions to Mandell Hall from Rt 202