How to create a chemical-free garden
Australia has some of the most diverse wildlife in the world. In fact, more than 90 per cent of our plant species are endemic to the country and 87 per cent of our mammals are found nowhere else in the world.
However, unfortunately, we also have the worst record for vascular plant and mammal extinctions in the world. According to Australia’s biodiversity summary report, we have sent 126 species of plants and animals out of existence in just 200 years.
By adapting some simple conservation behaviours in your daily life you can do your bit to look after the wildlife around you, starting from your very own backyard! Ian Darbyshire, the CEO of the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife, shares some simple ways you can create a sustainable and eco-friendly garden, chemical-free.
Ditch the chemical sprays
While chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers seem to be the modern-day solution to your garden pest woes, they are actually filled with varying harsh substances that can cause unseen damage to surrounding wildlife and may not be the most sustainable option – especially in the long term.
Think of it this way: When you spray to kill those “bad” bugs you also ending up killing “good” bugs too. A bird may then eat the poisoned bug and, over time (as they continue to consume these insects), the poison builds up in their body, which may later cause the bird to become sick or die. When toxins build up in a food chain, also known as bioaccumulation, it can throw your garden's ecosystem out of balance.
The best way to minimise the migration of these toxic chemicals into our natural environment is to reduce or eliminate their use. Darbyshire suggests opting for organic pest controls and natural fertilisers.
Attract the right insects
There are a number of insects that can help create a balanced garden. Darbyshire encourages gardeners to welcome the harmless, natural predators of pests.
Introducing lacewings to your garden can be a cost-effective way to control some of the pests in your backyard
“If you attract the right insects they will feed on the insects that you don’t want in your garden… You can put nest boxes in and [plant] some native trees to attract some of the birds that will eat the unwanted insects as well. So you can actually create quite a nice ecosystem in your back garden that looks after itself,” says Darbyshire.
Ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies feed on bugs such as aphids and these friendlier insects are able to thrive when you step away from pesticide use. Darbyshire says that these tiny critters can also be encouraged by purchasing their eggs and placing them in your garden.
Opt for native plants that are indigenous to your area
Introducing these species will take some time, patience and a bit of research, but the end results will speak for themselves! The Backyard Buddies website is a good place to start.
Darbyshire says that you need to plan carefully when introducing plants and the best way to help out the local ecosystem is by opting for plants that are indigenous to your area.
“Some plants work well together where the leaf-fall from one plant might be the nutrient for another plant. So again, put some native species in, understand the native species that suit your area – councils are usually very good at telling you that – and you’ll find that you don’t need to start putting so much help into the garden. It will start to look after itself.”
But what about weeds?
“There are some pretty noxious weeds that have moved into Australia. And if you do have to use chemicals, what I would advise is (and this is what I do for myself) is to just apply a gel to the leaf to kill the roots rather than spraying, which damages native plants as well as the ones you are trying to get rid of,” says Darbyshire.
Mulching and composting
Another alternative to chemical fertilisers is using mulch, which can organically be made from leaf litter of deciduous trees. Mulching helps keep soil moist and its temperature constant while adding a nutrient-rich fertiliser for your plant’s sustained health.
Switching to an organic mulch adds nutrient-rich organic matter to the soil
“So rather than applying lots of nitrates, let the ground recover by applying organic mulch,” says Darbyshire. “You can actually produce your own through composting. That is actually the best way of feeding plants in your back garden.”
Not only that, it can save water as well as suppress weed growth – bonus!
How have you attracted birds into your garden? Share your tips below.