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Alternatives to Chemicals

Mallard duck in wetland

By using fewer chemicals and relying on natural pest control measures, you help protect our surface waters by reducing the potential for chemical discharges.   

10 Alternatives for Chemical Pest Control 

  1. Keep yard as natural as possible by using less grass, more trees, ground covers, flowers, and mulches. 
  2. Choose plants that are native to this region. These plants are heartier and more resistant to pests and diseases than exotic varieties. Native Tree List  (NOTE: This document is an Adobe PDF and requires Adobe Reader to view. You may download a free copy by visiting Adobe.com.)
  3. Use plants that are well suited to your yard's habitat. Consider drainage, sun exposure and soil type when making your choice.
  4. Prepare a healthy soil base.
    • Test your soil for pH and nutrients. A soil test kit can be picked up at the County's Cooperative Extension office. Add what is needed based on results.
    • Add compost and organic fertilizer to your garden each year.
    • For lawns, aerate soil, overseed, and top-dress with compost.
  5. Maintain the health of your plants and lawn:
    • Prune plants to optimally utilize plant's energy sources.
    • Shear off dead or diseased portions since they are more attractive to pests.
    • Mow no more than 1/3 of grass blade and leave clippings on lawn.
    • Water deeply but less frequently.
    • Use only slow-release fertilizers.
  6. On sloped areas, plant ground covers instead of grass to alleviate mowing and control erosion.
  7. Use physical controls to exclude pests:
    • Mulch
      • Compost
      • Bark
      • Grass Clippings
    • Traps
      • Sticky Wraps
      • Pheromone Bags
    • Barriers/Screens
      • Floating Row Cover
      • Seedling Collars
      • Cheesecloth
  8. Use biological controls. 
    • Natural diseases such as milky spore disease. A microscopic pathogen that attacks Japanese beetles and is available at hardware and garden stores.
    • Beneficial insects include ladybugs, green lacewings, predatory mites and parasitic nematodes. Beneficial insects cannot be used in combination with a pesticide.  Check the NC Cooperative Extension website for more information on insects. 
  9. Use natural pest control products.  Most can be found at a local nursery or hardware store. 
    • Horticultural oils.  A safe alternative that has been used since before the pesticide revolution. It is popular for controlling pests on ornamental plants.
    • Insecticidal soap. A safe chemical for controlling aphids, mites and whiteflies used by many greenhouses. It works by impairing the waxy layer of the insect's exoskeleton and eventually kills the insect.
    • Neem seed extract. Derived from the Neem tree in Africa, it works as a repellant, growth regulator and insect poison.
    • Diatomaceous earth. Derived from fossil remains of algae, it is used for insect and mite management.
  10. Practice cultural controls.
    • Hand pick weeds.
    • Till soil in areas of weeds rather than applying herbicides.
    • Practice landscape diversity. A pest that likes a certain type of plant is less likely to spread if other species are planted in between.