Reduce Pesticides

Dandelion in grass.

Adopting an integrated pest management approach to pest control can help reduce or eliminate our dependence on pesticides in the home landscape.

Pesticide use is one of the leading causes of insect decline around the world. Estimates suggest that homeowners apply more pesticide per hectare than is applied in agricultural production. In other words, we are poisoning the environment to maintain a monoculture of turfgrass in our landscape. But adopting an integrated pest management approach can help alleviate the impact of pest control.

Man applying pesticide to garden, which can be a part of a integrated pest management approach.

What is a Pesticide?

By definition, a pesticide is a substance intended to kill a pest. The term pesticide is an umbrella term used to describe insecticides, rodenticides, herbicides, and fungicides among others. While some pesticides kill specific organisms (selective pesticides), many affect a broad range of organisms (broad-spectrum pesticides).

Pesticides – especially when applied, stored, or handled irresponsibly – can affect non-target organisms. A non-target organism is one not intended to be harmed by the pesticide. Predators that eat organisms whose tissues contain traces of pesticides can be adversely affected as can organisms that live in environments into which polluted soils or waters runoff. Stream environments are particularly sensitive to polluted runoff.

Integrated Pest Management

One of the best ways homeowners can support the balance of nature is through integrated pest management. Integrated pest management, or IPM for short, is a pest management approach that combines biological, cultural, mechanical, and chemical (if needed) approaches to managing landscape problems. IPM advocates for a balanced approach to pest management and landscape stewardship. 

Use the following guidelines to help make informed decisions about pest control:

Inspect – Scout for pests and problems in your landscape on a regular basis. Consider keeping a journal of your observations. This written record will help you identify temporary or isolated issues as opposed to ongoing issues that might need a bit of management.

Detect – If you notice an emerging issue in your landscape, take time to identify the root cause of the issue and research management and control recommendations. 

Connect – When needed, consult with local experts who can help with identification and management recommendations. Online communities like iNaturalist or BugGuide are great platforms that help connect you to experts and citizen scientists who can provide insect/spider identification.

Reflect and Correct– Now that you’ve identified the pest problem, it’s time to consider your control and management options. Using biological, cultural, or mechanical means to correct the issue are preferable to chemical treatment.

Methods of Control Involved in Integrated Pest Management

  • Biological control: the use of other organisms to control pests
  • Cultural control: the use of best practices that reduce pest establishment, survival, or reproduction
  • Mechanical control: the use of physical methods of control like traps or screens to remove or kill pests
  • Chemical control: the use of pesticides to control pests

During this phase of treatment, it’s important to continually observe your garden and landscape to ensure your control measures are working as intended. In summary, always identify and reflect on a pest problem before deciding to treat. You might find that what you thought was a problem wasn’t a big issue after all. 

Sometimes, we need pesticides in a home landscape to control unwanted pests. Managing termites, for example, is necessary to maintain the structural integrity of our homes. But America’s obsession with killing every insect, every spider, and every herbaceous plant that isn’t turfgrass has caused significant damage to natural systems and wildlife populations.

How Integrated Pest Management can Promote Harmony Over Harm

Promoting ecological harmony, or balance, can help reduce the likelihood of needing pesticides in your home landscape. Rather than apply harmful chemicals, promote beneficial predatory insects in the garden. For example, lady beetles and lacewing larvae can help control pests like aphids. Eliminating standing water problems can help control mosquito populations.

And keep in mind that not everything is cause for concern. Sustainable landscape management encourages increased tolerance for an imperfect yard. Those round holes in your leaves make a lovely nest for leafcutter bees. The clover and dandelions bespeckling your otherwise green lawn provide food for pollinators. The caterpillars you find munching your vegetables provide food for nesting birds and their babies. So, revel in the trails and traces the insects in your landscape leave behind and take pride in providing food and shelter for your wild neighbors.

Katydid nymph eating flower.

What you can do:

  • Observe and record landscape issues
  • Properly identify potential pests before attempting a management protocol
  • Practice integrated pest management by employing biological, cultural, and mechanical methods of pest control before trying chemical control
  • Talk with local experts who can help identify landscape issues and offer recommendation for control. Your local county Extension office is a great place to start.

Additional Reading and Resources

Garden IPM (National Pesticide Information Center website)

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