Here are a few straightforward, low-impact pest management techniques that our horticulturists employ in the Garden. You can replicate these in residential neighborhoods and at business properties throughout Southwest Florida.

Herbicide alternatives

1. Groundcover plants & mulch

Cover bare soil with mulch or groundcover plants. Some that thrive in Southwest Florida include Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), golden creeper (Ernodea littoralis), and for full sun, the inch plant (Tradescantia zebrina). Nature is all about competition, and you can use it to your advantage by letting mulch or groundcover plants outcompete weeds for sunlight.

2. Resist the urge to prune shrubs

While gardening trends over the past century have leaned toward trim, tidy, and neat, it may behoove us to rethink our collective gardening mindset. By taking a natural approach and allowing shrubs to grow freely, the plant retains more leaves vital to photosynthesis and casts a wider shadow, reducing the soil’s exposure to sunlight, and with it, weeds.

3. Let fallen leaves lie

Speaking of aesthetics, it’s time to revisit our handling of fallen leaves. While it looks tidy to rake and bag them up, nature has a purpose for tree “debris.” The leaves decompose and nourish the plants around them. Plus, the leaves act as a natural mulch, inhibiting weeds.

4. Get your hands dirty

While a deep dive into your home garden may be in order, grabbing even a handful of weeds as you notice them can make a dent in weed growth over time.

Lower-toxicity pesticides

1. Soaps & oils

Insecticidal soaps and neem oil are two quick, easy, and low-toxicity options to control an array of pests (think immature, soft-bodied insects such as whiteflies, spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs). Neem oil, used in organic gardening, is also effective with some fungal diseases.

2. Mechanical means 

When you see aphids and mealybugs on the tips of our plants, breaking out a chemical spray isn’t the only course of action. You can also trim that section and enclose it in a bag so the pests don’t spread. Or, opt to spray pests away with a high-powered hose. That in and of itself can solve the problem.

3. Resist the urge to wipe out natural predators 

Once you wipe out predators, you wipe out that natural life cycle.

This article originally appeared in the 2022 issue of Conserve.

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