Bee sitting on top of a pink verbena flower

Avoid using harmful chemicals

Toxic chemicals used to kill weeds, diseases and pests can damage the health of your growing area, and all the life forms within and beyond it.
To many people this is the most obvious organic gardening practice – avoid using toxic chemicals.

In truth, if you follow the other four principles you will naturally find that you neither need nor want to use harmful chemicals in your growing area. However, persistent pest and weed problems may tempt you to reach for the poison.

Here are two main reasons why not:

  • Pesticides and weedkillers, such as glyphosate, can also destroy other life forms. We know that neonicotinoids (that are used to kill insects) also affect bees and other pollinators, and toxic weedkillers can harm soil life and create residues in the soil.
  • These chemicals can cause serious pollution – either in their manufacture or from their own residues.
  • Research suggests they herbicides, in particular, may decline and become ineffective over time, or if used in large quantities.

The organic gardener will tolerate, not obliterate. For instance, some weeds – such as dandelions – are beneficial to pollinators. Others, such as nettle leaves, provide nutrients for the compost heap and can be used to make organic plant feed. Insect 'pests', such as aphids, are food for beneficial insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds. And even the slug is nutritious for thrushes and ground beetles.

In this chapter of The Principles of Organic Gardening - Avoid using harmful chemicals, we look at:

Organic Weed Management

  • Clearing weedy ground i.e. in a new allotment or garden
  • Ongoing weed management – in beds, paths and lawns

Managing pests and diseases

  • Physical methods – barriers, covers, general maintenance
  • Sprays and powders
  • Rodent control

Download booklet 4

Butterfly in the garden
Pesticides and weedkillers can also destroy other life forms such as butterflies