Weeds are growing and insects are flying. Learn to safely control pests in your landscape and protect your family and pets safe with these tips.
What are pesticides?
Pesticides are natural or synthetic products, that are designed to kill, or otherwise control pests. A pest may be a weed, insect, animal, fungus, or other type of living organism. Besides the target pest, pesticides may impact humans, pets, water, soil, and air.
Categories of pesticides include herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, and more. When you see the suffix “cide” it means “act of killing”. For example, algaecides kill algae, and herbicides kill plants.
Pesticides come in various forms, including liquids, powders, granules, traps (sticky, pheromone), and other forms.
Note that products we consider “organic” or “natural” are still pesticides if used to control pests. And all pesticides should be used carefully. For example, vinegar is a pesticide when applied to weeds. Applying horticultural vinegar may kill a weed, but it may also burn skin and eyes.
Simply, pests are living things that occur where they are not wanted. In the landscape, this usually means weeds and insects.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an environmentally sensitive approach to managing pests. The goal is to use the least toxic means to effectively manage and safely control pests.
The US Environmental Protection Agency defines four steps to IPM:
Identify Pests and Monitor
Not all insects, or weeds require control, and some are even beneficial. Identify pests accurately and then monitor them to make appropriate control decisions.
For example, the larval stages of ladybugs look nothing like the adults we recognize. In fact, they’re kind of scary looking. But larval ladybugs are terrific at controlling aphids, so the last thing you want to do is kill them.
Set Action Thresholds
Determine when to take action based on predetermined levels of pest populations. The level at which pests become problematic is critical to decision making. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best way to safely control pests!
For instance, if you control violets in the garden by your front door but allow them to grow in your shrub border, you have set different action thresholds for these two areas.
As a first line of pest control, IPM programs work to manage the landscape, crop, or lawn to prevent pests from becoming a problem. These control methods can be very effective and cost-efficient and present little to no risk to people or the environment.
At GreenWeaver, we design and plant landscapes with enough desireable plants to crowd out weeds. Herbicides become unnecessary when beds are full of flowers!
Use controls only after you reach the action threshold. Then determine the least toxic control method and evaluate both for effectiveness and risk. Choose effective, low-risk controls such as pheromones to disrupt mating, or mechanical control, such as weeding to safely control pests . Employ other methods such as targeted spraying of pesticides if less risky controls are not working. Broadcast spraying of non-specific pesticides is always a last resort.
Tips for using pesticides
- Read and follow all label directions
- Use the most targeted pesticide available
- Wear appropriate clothing (at minimum long pants, closed toe shoes, gloves)
- Apply pesticides when weather conditions are favorable (i.e.: low wind, dry, or as label directs)
- Apply at the lowest functional rate. Do not assume that more product is more effective
- Purchase and mix small amounts and eliminate having excess
- Clean all containers using the triple-rinse method
- Wash exposed skin and clothing when finished
- Store remaining pesticide in the original container with original label and at the appropriate temperature
States require that anyone applying pesticides for a fee is licensed. Certified pesticide applicators must take extensive tests and earn continuing education credits to retain their license. Always ask if your contractor is certified and uses IPM. They should be able to quickly produce an applicator’s license number for you to check.
The best way to safely control pests in the landscape requires consideration and knowlege. So, the next time you notice a weed or insect of concern in your landscape, follow the steps in IPM before reaching for a pesticide. Or contact GreenWeaver for professional assistance.