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Marin IJ Articles

Are gardeners using less pesticide?

  • D.F. Braun
  • by D.F. Braun

    Early this spring I participated in a number of gardening events where information on the IPM ( Integrated Pesticide Management) program was promoted. For those of us who have helped this program in the past it was encouraging to find that local gardeners are far more informed and sensitive to the necessary steps in maintaining a healthy garden. Gone were comments such as, “It takes too long. I just spray!” or “What do you mean, ‘Good’ bugs!”
    I.P.M. has mistakenly been interpreted as anti-pesticide of any kind. This is simply not true. The program is an effort to encourage gardeners to seek the safest means of ridding their gardens of harmful and toxic substances. It urges careful choices of pest control methods through identification and timing of applications.
    At one time gardening catalogs contained much more than lists of seeds and sundries. They were also vehicles for peppery disputes between gardening enthusiasts who engaged one another in successive issues. These catalogs made splendid reading, often giving warning of plants susceptible to pests and diseases, as well as remedies. Today’s nursery and seed merchants produce glossy, colorful catalogs lacking the eccentric evaluations but for tiny icons indicating needed sun exposure or numerical growing zones. Few offer any other suggestions for success or cautionary steps. Of the many catalogs I received this year only one, Spray-N-Grow, contained a goodly number of garden products “safe for people, plants and pets” with practical suggestions for their use.
    A recent trip to several local nurseries and garden supply stores proved to be a bit disappointing as there were few new products featuring the blue safe logo, “Our water, Our world.” However, there are choices among the makers of dormant sprays, fungicides, insecticides/miticides for safe use after identification of the culprits.
    An easy, inexpensive way of identifying the species doing damage is a magnifying glass and Mac’s Field Guide, a chart carried now in some nurseries that illustrate the good bugs as well as the bad. (You may be surprised at how many “beneficial” bugs there are.)
    Even though it is desirable to control some pests early, you can tolerate a small number of invaders to provide food for the “beneficials.” This can be done by sacrificing a small number of plants by not applying a pesticide. Spot application is usually best anyway and especially so when avoiding harm to beneficials.
    Lastly, remember that pesticides are chemical substances. Home gardeners often use more pesticides per square foot than commercial farmers. The “if-a-little-is-good, more-will-be-better” attitude has lead to serious misuse. Gardeners should read labels and follow the directions carefully.
    Again there is reason to be encouraged by the growing awareness of gardeners sensitive to the dangers to their gardens. Perhaps consumer insistence on safe remedies and refusal to purchase harmful pesticides will lead to a healthier environment.
    For everything you need to know about integrated pest management and a phenomenal tool for identifying pests and weeds in your garden, go to: www.ipm.ucdavis.edu.