Alternatives to Pesticides

Alternatives To Pesticides
(Less Toxic Ways to Manage Pests)
by Priscilla Stevens

APHIDS: Unless aphids attack in great numbers, they can be ignored. They have many predators who will show up to eat them in a fairly short amount of time, especially if you provide habitat for aphid enemies. In an emergency use a soap spray. Learn to recognize and encourage aphid eaters to prevent the next emergency. You can purchase aphid predators from garden supply houses.

GRASS DISEASES: Choose grasses that are known to thrive in our area and particularly in shade situations. Mow high (at least three inches). A sharp mower blade gives a clean cut and makes the grass disease resistant. Encourage deep root growth by not watering too often, one good soaking per week, of course taking into consideration that rainfall is better than several light waterings. You can also contact the Rachel Carson Council for the booklet Alternative Pest Controls for Lawns and Gardens.

JAPANESE BEETLES: Adults can be hand picked and dropped into a pail of soapy water. Two biological controls, Milky Spore Disease (Bacillus popillae) and a kind of nematode (Steinemena glaseri) can be used in combination on lawns to control beetle grubs.

MOSQUITOES: The freshwater mosquitoes that trouble most homeowners breed in standing water. Make sure rain gutters are clean and drain well. Empty bird baths every few days and remove or cover outdoor items that can in anyway catch water. Mosquitoes can breed in tree holes, stumps, and leaf-filled drains. Migratory birds and bats are a natural defense against mosquitoes. Some species of bats eat 500 mosquitoes in an hour. Among aquatic organisms that feed on mosquitoes are ants, crabs, dragonflies, fish, frogs, ground beetles, mites, parasitic nematodes and spiders. Mosquito and black fly larvae can be killed by the bacterium Bacillus thurigiensis israelensis (Bti) products applied to the water in which they live. Bti is marketed as Teknar, Bactimos, and Vectobac and is considered to be relatively safe, as it is highly selective. Bti does not last beyond a few days; it must be released more frequently to be effective.

Mosquito repellents, which contain DEET (diethyltoluamide), have caused poisoning and allergic reaction in children. Luckily, there are more natural products on the market that are DEET-free. Herbal oils are used in place of synthetic pesticides; however, use caution when applying even natural repellents. Essential oils can affect some children and pets, particularly when used around the mouth or eyes. Ultrasonic emitters, particularly those that mimic the sound of beating dragonfly wings can be helpful. Untreated mosquito netting is readily available.

SNAILS AND SLUGS: An empty tuna or cat food can buried at ground level and, filled with beer, will act as a trap for slugs. Diatomaceous earth dust (from a garden supply store) can also be used, but protect your lungs with a facemask when you apply it.

TENT CATERPILLARS: Although they are a bit alarming and unsightly, unless they arrive in sufficient numbers to defoliate most or all of the tree, they are not a true threat, and migratory birds eat them. Birds have also been seen using the "tent'" material for nest building. Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis var.kurstaki) can be used but should be confined as much as possible to the target tree, since it can kill other types of caterpillars.

WEEDS: Mulching heavily (3 or more inches deep) around desired plants can prevent most weeds from getting started. In the lawn, certain germinating weeds (dandelions, crabgrass, creeping bentgrass, foxtail, lamb's-quarters, and purslane) can be killed using corn gluten in the spring and fall; this works very well. As it suppresses weeds, it slowly releases nitrogen into the lawn. Corn gluten should be applied in the early spring, about the time the forsythia begins to bloom, and in the fall (mid-August until first hard frost). Do not use on recently sown grass.

YELLOW JACKETS: To keep them away from your outdoor event, place yellow jacket traps around the outside of the area you plan to use a few hours before the start of your activity and check to see that they are attracting the insects away from the area.

Alternative pest control products are available from Gardens Alive!, a mail order garden supply house (812-537-8651) or Bioganic Safety Brands.

Resources for this article include: A Pesticide Alternative Sampler from the Rachel Carson Council, Creating A Healthy Household by Lynn Marie Bower and Common-Sense Pest Control by Olkowski, Daar and Olkowski.