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Learn how to keep a healthy yard without pesticides.

How to Create a Beautiful and Healthy Yard Without Pesticides

For city dwellers, nature can sometimes feel like a nuisance: thriving by the roadside, on driveways and in our yards are not pretty flowers and colorful butterflies but tough weeds and annoying bugs. The species we like the least are often best adapted to the disturbed spaces that form our urban environment.

In the city, it’s hard for nature to maintain a healthy balance of plants and animal species.

For homeowners and gardeners, it takes effort to make yards and gardens beautiful. We try to get rid of weeds, fertilize and spray garden plants, and treat unwanted bugs and critters as “pests.”

But this can backfire: instead of an urban oasis, we risk producing a hazard zone.

See the Pesticides Fact Sheet!

Did You Know?

In botanical terms, there’s no such thing as a weed. Weeds are simply plants that grow where we don’t want them. They have adapted to human-disturbed areas such as roadsides, construction sites, lawns, and gardens. Because weeds grow and spread quickly, they may compete with the plants we’ve worked hard to grow. But weeds can be helpful, too: dandelions and clover, for example, attract pollinators, provide living mulch, and improve soil fertility.

The Challenge: Pesticides Harm People, Pets, Plants, and Pollinators

Pesticides are poisons. They are among the most hazardous chemicals we use in and around our homes. What makes them toxic to weeds, insects and other critters also makes them toxic to humans and pets. Some pesticides originated as weapons of war.

Toxic Products to Avoid:

Insecticidal sprays are pesticides designed to kill insects; herbicides are pesticides designed to kill weeds. Sometimes they are combined, and they can also include a synthetic chemical fertilizer, designed to feed plants fast. These products contain hazardous chemicals, such as:

  • Glyphosate (e.g., in Roundup), a herbicide and probable carcinogen

Organophosphates (e.g., in Eraser, Govern, Hatchet), a class of insecticides and a neurotoxin that harms children’s brain development.

  • Neonicotinoides (neonics) (e.g., in Bayer and Ortho products), the most widely used class of insecticides and neurotoxin, a known bee killer. Neonics are banned in Europe.
  • 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), a herbicide used in lawn treatments and a possible carcinogen

The 5 Top Reasons for Avoiding Pesticides

  1. Threats to human health - Pesticides collect in our bodies and can be harmful to our health. Pesticides currently on the market contain around 40 known or likely cancer-causing chemicals. Children are especially vulnerable to toxins, even if their exposure is very small and unintended. Pesticides used in the yard can be carried inside on shoes and clothing and mix with house dust.
  2. Toxic to pets - Many pesticides are toxic to dogs and cats. Dogs walking on lawns or treated soil may pick up pesticide residues on their paws and fur, licking it or tracking it into the house. Studies suggest that lawn chemicals may be linked to cancer in dogs.
  3. Toxic to birds and bees - Most insecticides are toxic to bees and other pollinators, and some are toxic to birds. Insecticides can kill bees directly. Bees may also carry pesticides back to their hives, putting the entire colony at risk.
  4. Water Pollution - Pesticides and fertilizers leach into the soil and groundwater or run off into storm drains and waterways. This harms our environment, including fish and birds.
  5. Pesticides can backfire - Pesticides don’t target only unwanted bugs. They kill beneficial insects too, making the problem worse. They also remove food sources for birds, the natural predators of bugs. Disrupting the ecosystem will increase unwanted bugs and weeds and make them more resilient.

Did You Know?

Most bugs are our friends. Only about 5–15% of the bugs in your yard can cause problems. All other bugs, like ladybugs and praying mantis, will benefit our yards. That’s because they:

  • Eat or deter unwanted bugs.
  • Pollinate fruit trees and berries.
  • Break down dead plants into soil fertilizer.
  • Aerate and improve your soil.
  • Serve as food for birds that also eat unwanted bugs.

ACTION TIPS: Be a Friend to Wildlife ❤ Go Chemical-Free!

A chemical-free yard will benefit your health, provide a refuge for birds and bees, and keep toxins out of our soil and water. Here’s what you can do to go chemical-free.

Fun Fact

Purslane, also called pigweed, is a drought-resistant “weed” we find in sidewalk cracks, yards, and open areas. It’s a highly nutritious leafy vegetable that’s also for sale at farmers’ markets. Purslane tastes a bit like spinach and watercress – wash and add it to your salads and sandwiches. You can get a third of your daily recommended amount of Vitamin C in just one serving of purslane!

The words Tip #1

Choose the Right Plant for the Right Place

Unwanted bugs and weeds are often signs that your yard or garden is not getting what it needs to stay healthy. Plants in the high desert can easily get stressed due to inconsistent watering, high heat and drying winds, and weak plants are at greater risk.

  • Identify the problem: Whether it’s a bug, disease or weed, to manage it you need to know what it is. The cause of ailing plants may not be bugs but soil, light, or water. If you see bugs, find out first whether they may benefit your yard.
  • Choose native plants: plant a variety of native species to increase resilience and attract more beneficial insects.
  • Be water-wise: use plants with low water needs and replace high-maintenance lawns with native wildflowers. Collect and water with rainwater – plants will grow better!
  • Build healthy soil: use compost to improve soil and mulch to keep water in and suppress weeds. If you have disturbed or bare soil, plant ground cover with native species.
  • Buy organic plants or grow from seed: avoid bringing plants into your garden that were sprayed at the nursery and are less robust.

The words Tip #2

Control Unwanted Bugs Naturally

  • Grow plants that deter unwanted bugs: plants of the allium family (onions, chives, garlic, and leeks), as well as mint, cilantro, and lavender repel unwanted bugs, such as aphids, spider mites, and flies.
  • Grow flowering plants that attract beneficial bugs, pollinators, and birds. Ask your local plant nursery about native plants that may be good for your space.
  • Give nature time to work: Natural predators often bring unwanted bugs under control, but they need time to work. Plants that are otherwise healthy may outgrow the problem.

The words Tip #3

Use a Little Elbow Grease

  • Hand-pull weeds before they go to seed.
  • Use long-handled weed pullers that easily pop out deep-rooted weeds

The words Tip #4

Use Non-Chemical, Least-Hazardous Methods

If you’re not ready to stop spraying, use non-chemical alternatives like organic soap or oil-based sprays. These may still harm beneficial insects, so they must be applied in the early morning or evening when pollinators are less active.

  • A no-soap, water-only spray will help remove aphids and spider mites; they don’t like getting wet.
  • A garlic tea spray made from garlic cloves steeped in water will deter bugs; use it to mist plants regularly as most bugs don’t like garlic.

A soap and water mix can be sprayed on infected surfaces of plants; adding chile pepper powder will make it more powerful (but also more harmful).

Troubled by Aphids on Your Roses?

There are good reasons for letting some bugs be, even if they feel like a nuisance. Without the less appealing bugs, we wouldn’t have pollinators and birds either. Aphids, also known as plant lice, are the basis for many food chains in our gardens. Countless insect species eat aphids, and if aphids aren’t around, neither will they be. A diverse insect population helps us create a balanced garden where different wildlife species keep each other in check. Let’s leave it to our insect friends to manage those aphids!

Just Ask: Need Help?

Be a Friend To Wildlife ❤ ABQ Wildlife Coexistence

Albuquerque is home to over 850 animal species, many of whom roamed these lands long before our city's founding. They are important city residents who help maintain healthy local ecosystems. Always Enjoy Wildlife from a distance.

Be a Friend to Wildlife: Dos & Dont's

Don't feed wildlife (except songbirds)
Don't feed pets outside
Don't leave pet waste
Don't use chemicals or poisons

Do keep your distance
Do seal garbage &compost
Do plant native flowers
Do supervise your pets
Do stay on trails