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Pesticide-free ways to keep lawn, garden healthy

By Elaine Carey

The Toronto Star
Thu 20 May 2004

You aren't seeing many of those little red and white pesticide warning signs on Toronto lawns these days.

That's because the city, along with dozens of municipalities across Canada, has passed a bylaw prohibiting the use of pesticides for cosmetic reasons on home lawns and gardens.

The bylaw, being reviewed by council this week, allows residents to report neighbours if they see a pesticide sign.

But offenders will only be issued a warning until September, 2005, when fines will go into effect. Call the city's Public Health Inspectors office at 416-338-7600 for more information or to report pesticide use.

But why not first try some common sense and pesticide-free alternatives?

The Ontario College of Family Physicians recently warned people to avoid common household chemicals in any form because of a link to birth defects, neurological damage and some of the deadliest cancers to merit the warning.

Environment Canada says there are natural alternatives to pesticides Overseed every year to create a dense lawn that will crowd out weeds.

  • Fertilize naturally with manure and compost.
  • Mow less often. Set the mower blade higher and keep grass 6 cm long to encourage longer roots and crowd out weeds.
  • Water less often, but longer, to build deep roots.
  • Rake out thatch to discourage pests. Dig out weeds by hand.

If that fails, Canada's first non-chemical weed control was registered last month with Health Canada and is now available in retail stores. Turf Maize is a plant-based product that works by inhibiting the seed germination of weeds such as dandelions and crabgrass. For more information, go to www.turfmaize.ca or call 905-571-5047.

A host of organic pesticides can be bought at lawn and garden centres or you can try making some from ingredients in your own kitchen.

Ed Lawrence, the chief of grounds and greenhouse operations for the official residences in Ottawa, offers the following recipes

  • Slugs: Mix 10 parts water with one part ammonia. Spray or water over the crown and around the plant before the foliage opens. If you spray on open foliage, rinse with clear water.
  • Black spot: Mix 100 parts water with one part baking soda and one to two drops of dish soap. Spray on plants.
  • Aphids: Mix 40 parts water and one part dish soap. Spray on plants. Or steep six rhubarb leaves in three litres of boiling water.
  • Ants: Bait them with a mixture of 1 tsp. boric acid (available at drug stores) and 6 tbsp. white sugar, added to 2 cups boiling water. Stir well and let cool. Dip cotton balls into the solution and drop into a plastic container that has holes punched into the sides along the bottom. Put the lid back on to keep out wasps and prevent evaporation. Place the container along the ant pathway.

Other insecticide recipes

  • Garlic and soap: Combine in a food processor two whole cayenne peppers, a large onion and a whole garlic bulb. Pour into a large container, cover with a gallon of water and allow to stand for 24 hours, then strain. Spray daily on roses, azaleas and vegetables to kill an infestation of bugs. Pour the leftover mash around plants.
  • All-purpose weed killer: Add 2 tbsp. salt and 5 tbsp. vinegar to a litre of boiling water. Pour directly on weeds in cracks between sidewalks and driveways while still hot.
  • White flies: Steep one part crushed mullein leaves (a common herb) with five parts water.
  • Spider mites: Mix 28 grams of table salt in 4.5 litres of water.

Rough Conversions:
1 litre = 4 1/4 cups
28 grams = 10 ounces (1 1/4 cup)