Home & Garden

Less-toxic pest management in your home and garden

Use earth friendly products when gardening and around the house

Many common pesticides on the market today are not only harmful to beneficial insects and birds, but also seep through our groundwater and storm drains, and eventually into our waterways. Once in the bay and ocean, they endanger fish and ocean life. Surprisingly, more pesticide pollution results not from agricultural use, but from urban areas. The vast amount of pesticides used in everyday applications in the home, garden and workplace can contribute to poor water quality.

The benefits for choosing a less-toxic approach for pest control are plentiful: a more healthful home for you, your kids, and pets; an ecologically balanced garden where less pest control will be necessary in the future; and a clear conscience from doing your best to reduce water pollution. However, pest management is not just using pesticides. It also includes using physical barriers, biological controls (introducing pest predators or pest-targeting microbes), and cultural controls (good housekeeping and gardening practices).

Today’s marketplace provides many alternatives to harsh chemical pesticides, including bait stations, insecticidal soaps, and microbial insecticides for plants. Identify the pest problem, read the label carefully on any product you are considering, and choose the least toxic solution.


If you have indoor pest problems with cockroaches or ants, deny them access to your home and the food and water they seek. Use these tips to keep them at bay.

  • Store food in the refrigerator or tightly sealed containers.
  • Keep areas clean and tidy. Thoroughly clean counters and floors daily in eating and food preparation areas. Don’t leave dirty dishes out overnight. Remove garbage containing food scraps from the house nightly. Clean recyclables before storing them. At night, place pet food and water bowls in a moat of soapy water.
  • Keep things dry. Fix leaky plumbing.
  • Seal cracks and crevices. Caulk and paint cracks around baseboards, cupboards, pipes, sinks, etc. Use mildew-resistant caulk in moist areas.
  • Weatherstrip around doors and windows and repair holes in screens.


Selecting the right plants is one of the most important preventative steps in the pest management process.

  • Choose plants that are adapted to the soil conditions as well as the sun and shade characteristics of your yard. It’s easier to plant compatible species for your site than to alter the growing conditions.
  • Select pest- and disease-resistant plants.
  • Choose healthy specimens to plant, and care for them properly.
  • Plant a diversity of species so a single pest problem will not devastate your entire landscape.
  • Include a variety of plants that attract beneficial creatures (e.g., dragonflies, ladybugs, and lacewings) that feed on pests. Consult your favorite garden center to assist in your selection.
  • Once you attract beneficial insects, make sure you keep them. Reduce or eliminate the use of broad-spectrum pesticides. Birds, pollinators and other beneficial insects are often far more sensitive to pesticides than the pests you’re trying to kill. Once pesticides eliminate the beneficial insects, pests are free to multiply without a natural check. As pest populations rise, you may be tempted to spray more frequently, but pesticides leave genetically resistant strains of pests to breed, creating an increasingly resistant pest population. The harder it becomes to kill the pest, the more you will need to spray and you will have fewer natural enemies to help you out.


  • Identify the pest that’s causing a problem, and treat only that pest with the least-toxic effective strategy or product.
  • Buy only the amount you need. Avoid concentrates and the large economy size. Some products might not work as well if stored for a long time.
  • Read the label before using the pesticide and follow the directions. You can cause serious injury to yourself, children, pets, and the environment if you misuse pesticides.
  • Keep pesticides in their original containers.


  • Don’t pour pesticides or water from rinsing equipment on the ground or in any type of drain inside or outside the house.
  • Don’t put pesticides in the trash — it’s illegal.
  • Do dispose of pesticides at the San Francisco Household Hazardous Waste Facility (501 Tunnel Road). Call 415-330-1405 for information or visit Disposal is free for San Francisco residents, and in some cases, if you can’t make it to the facility, you can schedule a free pickup.
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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator of Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].