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Pesticides-Not always the Answer

Pesticides can be referred to any chemical such as herbicides, insecticides and fungicides that control or kill pests in the landscape. Pests can be defined as are any organism that invade the landscape. There are two common misconceptions when it comes to landscaping; all insects/bugs are pests and that chemicals are the answer to all pest problems. Researchers have proven that more than 99 percent of insects in the world are beneficial insects. This means that only a small fraction is a pest. Also, one thing we should remember is that urbanization has disrupted their habitats and they must find somewhere to live and something to eat. Sometime that place is in our homes and they feed on our plants.

Often, most insects in the landscapes are beneficial to the ecosystem. Beneficial insects feed on other insects that feed our plants. There are also beneficial insects like bees and butterflies that are pollinators. Pollinators play a vital role in fruits and other food production. Before applying pesticides, it is important to accurately identify the target pest. There are many insects that are imposters and mimic others or that just look alike. Therefore, if pests are not properly identified, beneficial insects can be killed.

My next main point is that pesticide use should be the last resort. This approach is referred to as integrated pest management (IPM). Pesticide is not always the answer to pest problems. For example, if the lawn is infested with dollar weed, it is highly likely that there is too much water in that area of the landscape. Hold on the herbicide application; inspect the landscape for irrigation leak and drainage problem before applying pesticides. Another example, there are weeds growing in the flower bed, use a garden rake to turn over the weeds and then apply a three-inch layer of mulch. Where pest population is low, you can pick them off the plant, crush them or even use water from a garden hose to beat them off the plant. If mechanical (garden rake) or cultural practices (mulch) do not work, then you can apply herbicides. A few insects in the landscape does not mean there is a problem or an infestation. Having insects in the landscape could be an indication that the ecosystem is diverse and healthy. I am not suggesting that you should not use pesticides. Using pesticides can be beneficial if it is used correctly.

There is also a notion that more is better, if a little kill some then more pesticides will kill them all. It is always important to follow the pesticide label. Not following the label can cause harm to people and the environment. In addition, do not use pesticides if rain is in the forecast within 24 hours. Finally, when applying pesticides, it is important to wear the proper personal protective equipment.

For more information on pesticides and other related horticulture topics, contact Grantly Ricketts, UF/IFAS Extension in Osceola County at gricketts@ufl.edu or call 321-697-3000.

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