Common maintenance procedures on many residential sites utilize relatively large volumes of toxic chemicals as a means of making them appear “healthy.” These chemicals are often hazardous to people, plants, and wildlife while giving the false impression of a wholesome environment. Perhaps the most effective means of reducing this chemical dependency is to create a landscape that is vigorous enough on its own to resist pests and diseases. This can be accomplished by establishing deep, properly composed soil and specifying the right plants for the region and specific site locations. Vegetation, including lawn, growing in the correct location, in healthy soil, and supported by proper fertilization (discussed next) needs minimal, if any, pesticides to grow well.
An “integrated pest management” program should be used if additional support is required for plant materials to flourish. Integrated pest management uses biological controls such as predator insects and scent traps in combination with nontoxic chemicals. The chemicals are applied in low volumes to specific locations at the appropriate time to affect the insect or pest when it is most vulnerable. Integrated pest management requires knowledge of insect life cycles and weather conditions to properly apply chemicals.
Fertilizer application is another maintenance practice that needs to be considered for a healthy residential site. Most commercially available fertilizers actually do as much harm as good. Fertilizers applied to the residential landscape are in fact one of the major contributors of pollution in streams, rivers, and lakes. The added fertilizer loads in waterways contribute to algae growth that in turn depletes the water of oxygen, as previously discussed (see “Select Plants for Regional Precipitation” in “Natural Events and Cycles” in this chapter). Fertilizers also possess among the largest quantities of embodied energy of all landscape materials. Again, providing the right soil on a site can do much to minimize the need for fertilizer. If fertilizers are to be used, then organic fertilizers, manure, or compost should be used to supplement the soil. Some organic fertilizers have an added advantage because they use recycled material such as sewage sludge.