KC Gardens

Think twice before you reach for the pesticides

Remember that insecticides that kill destructive bugs also kill good guys like monarch butterflies.
Remember that insecticides that kill destructive bugs also kill good guys like monarch butterflies.

Who doesn’t love nature? Strolling along paths, playing in parks or just relaxing in our backyards, we have great places in the Kansas City to sit back and take in the many sights and sounds. Just think of the things we might see and hear: birds chirping, the flitting of a butterfly or a lightning bug glowing in the darkness. Do you realize that your actions have profound effects on these beauties of nature?

Many homeowners use pesticides to control unwanted visitors. This year we have seen a number of destructive insects — bagworms, Japanese beetles and rose slugs, to name a few — that have fed extensively on our most desirable plants. And insects feed on us as well. This year is no exception, with large numbers of ticks and mosquitoes.

But most of the insecticides used to control harmful insects also wipe out the good bugs we enjoy or need for survival. Of the thousands of insect species, it is estimated that only 5 percent are considered harmful, cause damage or are life-threatening to our crops. That means most insects are valuable and beneficial, controlling unwanted pests and pollinating the vast majority of food crops we consume.

Next time you reach for that bottle of insecticide, think twice about what else you might be killing. Here are some tips for protecting the good bugs:

Monarch catepillar feeds on Asclepias tuberosa plant
To protect caterpillars and other beneficial or harmless bugs, think before you spray.

▪ Reduce usage. Tolerate damage; your plants don’t need to be perfect.

▪ Target only infected plants. Do not spray areas not infected.

▪ Don’t spray plants that are in flower to protect bees and other pollinators.

▪ Spray in the evening instead of morning. There’s less pollinator activity.

▪ Use insecticides only at labeled rates and application methods.

▪ Spray on cooler days with lower wind speeds to reduce drift.

When it comes to mosquitoes and ticks, think twice about your approach. The best way to guard against bites is to wear appropriate clothing to reduce exposure, limit time outdoors and apply insecticidal repellents directly to the body. These options are better than having the entire yard and garden fogged or sprayed to reduce the pest problems.

Just as with sprays that target plants, this global approach to treating the yard can kill the beneficial insects. Even organic or natural-based insecticides can wipe out the good guys such as monarch butterflies.

These are simple tips to follow. Before any pesticide is sprayed, ask yourself if it really needs to be treated. And if it does, what is the best method of treatment? And keep this thought in mind when you do spray: “It is not just bad bugs I am killing but also the good ones.” That thought will certainly make you think twice before you pull the trigger.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.