If you are new to backyard gardening, the sight of a beetle or a strange worm crawling across your plants can be alarming. Is it friend or foe? Will it hurt my plant or eat my vegetables, or is it just a friendly visitor passing through?
Before you pull out the spray bottle, take a few minutes to consider the effects of synthetic pesticides on the plants you’re growing. Will the chemicals linger? Do they break down in the environment? Will those chemicals cause unintended harm to other animals and plants?
That last question is especially important: Indiscriminate use of pesticides kills beneficial insects as well as harmful ones. Beneficial insects such as bees, spiders – yes, they’re good – and various predatory insects such as ladybugs, praying mantids and some wasps can be quickly killed with many general-use pesticides. The effects of pesticides, whether they are used to protect plants or directly target insects, can be devastating because they often kill all the insects in the area, not just the harmful ones.
It’s important to understand that the good bugs keep the bad ones in check far better than you can do so without them. When the balance is right, the good guys do their job – feeding on the invaders that threaten your plants. While you may have some chewed leaves or lost fruit, overall, your garden will benefit. The army of destructive insects won’t conquer the garden when it’s properly supported by a legion of helpful insects.
For your part, know that a new gardener needs to learn how to separate the pests and the good bugs, and then choose the right methods for control to adhere to organic standards. By learning these procedures, you will be working in concert with nature and helping the beneficial insects do their job even more efficiently.
How Pesticides Work
Pesticides poison insects or disrupt their lifecycle in some way, which ultimately results in their death. Picking the right pesticide can be difficult, though. A pesticide that kills the Colorado potato beetle may also spell the end for helpful beetles, such as ladybugs. Most of us know that ladybugs are harmless, but not everyone realizes that they’re incredibly helpful garden insects, often targeting aphids and other small insect pests.
Effects of Pesticides on Plants
General, synthetic pesticides pose another less obvious danger – they don’t break down very quickly. This creates a “killing blanket” over a treatment area. Basically, once applied, the pesticide lingers in the area, killing off any insects that wander into the area.
The result? The insects will suffer and your garden will suffer, too. This happens because your plants can’t get their normal benefits – namely pollination – from beneficial insects that regularly visit your garden and flowerbeds. Even as weeks and months go by, the effects of synthetic pesticides may linger and leave your plants struggling.
Most gardeners are familiar with the unintended environmental consequences of pesticides. Since the 1950s, the widespread use of arsenic-laced pesticides and chemicals, such as DDT, have harmed important players in the environment. DDT is a chemical that doesn’t break down well and it worked its way up the food chain until it threatened the eggs of eagles, hawks and other birds of prey.
Arsenic-laced pesticides proved troublesome as well. The heavy use of this chemical has been linked to the rapid decline of honeybee colonies throughout North America, too. Honeybees, of course, are vital pollinators for farm crops and backyard gardens.
As gardeners and farmers learned of the dangers of synthetic pesticides, more turned to organic gardening methods. They began to seek out horticultural practices that work with nature and not against it. Along with seeking out pesticides compliant for use in organic gardening, they sought ways to better use predatory insects in their battle against pests. The ultimate goal: To keep the ratio between beneficial and harmful garden insects in balance.
A City in the Soil
Another, lesser-known, yet noteworthy unintended consequence of using pesticides is harming the so-called “city in the soil.”
What’s the city in the soil? You have many such metropolises toiling away in your yard, garden and flowerbeds right now! These cities can be found inside every teaspoon of garden soil found on your property. Inside that scoop of dirt lives a thriving community of thousands upon thousands of beneficial microbes, which include bacterium, fungi, nematodes and arthropods. These microbes scavenge through the minerals in your garden soil as they search for the organic compounds left by decaying plants. Some of these microbes digest food particles and excrete the nutrients your plants need to thrive: nitrogen, phosphorous, potash. Others attach to plant roots so plants can readily and easily absorb nutrients from the soil. In total, these microbes create the healthy soil that boosts the productivity of your vegetable patch, flower bed and lawn.
When you use synthetic pesticides or harsh fertilizers, you risk wiping out those colonies of beneficial microbes. Pesticides can kill them just as easily as the large insects you can see.
To help your soil flourish with these microbes, you can regularly mix compost into your garden soil. Compost that begins with Safer® Brand Compost Plus gets a kick-start of its own, thanks to the range of microorganisms it fosters within the compost. Once your compost has completed its transformation, add it in layers to your garden or flowerbed and you’ll see the results in the coming season and your city in the soil will be stronger than ever.
Safer® Brand Insecticides Offer a Good Solution
Safer® Brand’s variety of products offer gardeners a great alternative to synthetic pesticides. These OMRI Listed® insecticides treat aphids, grubs, stink bugs, Japanese beetles and more while remaining compliant for use in organic gardening. Other options for insect control include diatomaceous earth, a mechanical insecticide, or neem spray, which harms only the intended insect victim. The result is a garden that gets help for problem pests without killing off beneficial insects, too.
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