Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Six Ways to Reduce Your Pesticide Use

It's the New Year ~ that time of year when many people resolve to do something better in the coming year, than perhaps they did in the past year.  Most resolutions have to do with getting healthier in some way, shape or form ~ whether it our physical health or our financial health.

In case your resolution has to do with your garden's health, I thought I would offer up XX ways that you can work towards reducing your pesticide use.  Some of these approaches require nothing more than a shift in perspective.  Others will take more time and effort.  But all are capable of having the effect of reducing pesticide use ~ which is generally good for the health of our environment, pets and families. 

1. Stop acting like organic pesticides aren't pesticides.  Many people believe that anything labeled with the term 'organic' equals 'no pesticides'.  They mistakenly believe that organic produce hasn't been sprayed with pesticides.  They mistakenly believe that they can use a pesticide labelled as 'organic' with total impunity.  And unfortunately, some folks tend to use more pesticide, simply because the pesticide is labelled as 'organic'.  As a general rule, pesticides ~ including organic pesticides ~ are formulated to kill or deter something.  Stop spraying it everywhere, thinking it's safe.  All pesticides should be used judiciously and thoughtfully ~ taking care to limit use only to when and where needed.
Organic pesticides are still pesticides ~ formulated to kill something.  Use judiciously.

2.  Make peace with spiders.  I adore spiders.  I think they're absolutely adorable!  If you have a chance to look at them under a microscope, you'll see that they're cute and fuzzy ~ not unlike a teddy bear.  And, they're great allies in natural pest control.  But I get that some people are seriously arachnophobic.  If you simply can't tolerate spiders, please don't reach for a pesticide.  The thought simply breaks my heart.  Instead, try to get the spiders to relocate.  If they're on your porch, try installing an ornamental porch bracket that will take away anchor points from web-building spiders.  Or, consider installing a yellow-hued porch light.  Yellow lights attract fewer night-flying insects, which will attract fewer hungry spiders.
Lynx spider in an azalea blossom.
Porch brackets can take away web-building sites for spiders.  Source of image:
3.  Build diversity into your garden.  Diverse gardens, with an array of plant families, shapes, colors, sizes, and bloom times also tend to have a diversity of insect herbivores (sometimes called pests).  But, the trick is that even though diverse gardens tend to have a greater diversity of pests, these pests tend to be at lower abundance!  Why?  It may be that a diversity of natural enemies keep them in check.  It may be that a diversity of plants keeps them from exploding in abundance on a single plant type.  Or, it's more than likely a combination of these factors.

Marion Garden in Salem, OR.
Marion Garden in Salem, OR.

4.  Rethink your approach to early-season lawn weeds.  Are dandelions really all that bad?  Not if you love bees.  Our research has found that gardeners who tolerate early-season lawn weeds are likely to have a greater diversity of bees than those who keep totally pristine lawns.  Why?  In early spring, very few flowers are in bloom that offer spring pollinators access to nectar and pollen.  Dandelions are one such flower that helps early season pollinators get a jump on their season.  If you want to keep your lawn dandelions in check, try to dig this perennial weed out, so that you get the entire taproot.  Target young dandelions before they set seed and before they have a chance to grow a large taproot that will nourish them for many years.  Make sure your lawn is healthy and full, to crowd out dandelions.  Or, plant a dense flower bed, with no bare spots where dandelions can flourish.  Or, adjust your tolerance, and recognize that a dandelion isn't the worst thing that could grace your garden.  Invasive plants, such as cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), English Ivy (Hedera helix) or butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) are much more damaging to the environment and to local economies than are a few dandelions.  It would be much better to target your weed-hating energy towards these plants, than towards dandelions.

5.  Take regular walks in your garden.  This will help you notice when things 'don't look quite right'.  Regular walks in your garden are not only good for the soul, but their good for an IPM approach to managing pests in your garden.  When you notice that something doesn't look quite right, stop and take a closer look.  Often, you'll catch a pest problem in its early stages ~ when it will be easier for you to manage the problem.  Problems caught early usually require fewer (or no) pesticide, compared to those that are allowed to grow out of control.  A corollary to this suggestion is to keep a garden journal.  This will help you track (and remember) the seasonality of pest problems in your garden, so that you'll be better poised to respond quickly.

6.  Talk to the professionals who maintain your lawn and garden.  Ask them if they use an IPM approach to pest management.  Ask them if their staff are up to date on certifications and continuing education requirements.  Ask them what the major pest issues are in your lawn and garden.  Discuss non-chemical options for managing these pests.  If they don't know about IPM, and aren't aware of non-chemical options for dealing with common garden pests, you might want to look for a better-educated lawn care company.


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