Battle of the Bugs: Insect Control Alternatives to Broad Range Insecticides
By George Giltner, Beauregard Parish Master Gardener
Friendly insecticidal oils & repellents
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly
One mistake of novice home gardeners is to use the most lethal, broad range insecticides on the market. Vendors readily advertise on their products of all the insects and arachnids that they destroy. However new approaches to insect control are similar to modern-day warfare, where precise targeting is used instead of inaccurate carpet bombing with extensive collateral damage. Welcome in the new age of Integrated Pest Management, IPM, which utilizes multiple approaches to target specific insect pest without harming beneficial bugs and soil organisms.
A small investment of time is required to learn about IPM – beneficial insects, pest resistant plants, physical controls, biological controls, barriers, repellents, and traps, cultural controls, etc. Beneficial insects can easily be destroyed by a broad range insecticide like carbaryl (Sevin). Organophosphates, another group of broad range insecticides, can also harm the nervous system of animals and humans. Also insects are becoming more resistant to routinely used chemical insecticides. Use of some insecticides will just enhance the spider mite damage to plants, which is controlled best with biological predator control.
An example of using IPM with spider mites would first include an ID of the pest. Check out: www.ipmimages.org, www.insectimages.org/support/findingimages.cfm, or http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/crops_livestock/crops/Ingetrated_Pest_Management/ or use a book reference like “Organic Gardening for Dummies” for a fun read. You’ll find that spider mites are very active in dry weather like last summer. Control measures include washing plants with a blast of water, using dormant oil in early spring, and spraying plants with light horticultural oil or insecticidal soap in summer. Encourage beneficial insects that prey on spider mites by planting attracting plants like yarrow and alyssum.
Another example of IPM control – this time use a physical control measure of vacuuming to collect difficult to chemically kill, leaf-footed bugs in the garden. The trick is to find a vacuum that is not too strong that damages plants, and one that is not too weak to suck up the bugs. Personally I have found a portable 18 V DeWalt vac that is perfect. For the time of your life, find a young gardener to challenge with “vac-bug control”. In 10 minutes, a 300 sq ft garden can be swept clean of harmful bugs and your help will be begging to do it again the next day. Beneficial insects like lady bugs, lacewing bugs, minute pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, and parasitic flies are left unharmed.
So the message of IPM is to first use the best and least harmful method of insect control. The tunnel vision of harmful and expensive chemical control first, usually leads to more problems later. The butterflies and beneficial insects will reward you with their beauty, pollination activities, and a sustainable and safe garden.
“The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway” Michael Pollan.
Editor’s Note: Mr. George Gilter is a Master Gardener in Louisiana, and he writes the “Battle of the Bugs” articles regularly for the Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners community Newsletter.
Also, the use of product names and images is intended for educational purposes only, and is not a product endorsement by the LSU AgCenter.