Beautiful Native Plants

Blog HOME ***Our team of bloggers writes about all aspects of ecosystem gardening, from native plants to pollinators and wildlife.***

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A poison is a poison is a poison

A working ecosystem means that 
you encourage Mother Nature's predators. 
Here, a garden spider captures
 a polka-dotted wasp moth.

The Poison Cycle

In a balanced ecosystem, predators will be in the minority. In other words, in a natural environment, there are many more prey organisms to ensure a continuous food supply for the predators. In such an ecosystem, there are huge numbers of prey including, aphids, white flies, cabbage worms, leaf miners, mole crickets, spider mites, and others that may be eating your crops, lawns, and landscape plants, but relatively few predator bugs such as praying mantids, assassin bugs and relatively few bug predators such as lizards, toads, birds, and bats.

Let's consider what happens when you attempt to poison pests. A general insecticide (organic or not) will kill the majority of bugs in an area, but more than 90 percent of them were beneficial or benign. Predators such as bats, frogs, lizards, and birds will go elsewhere to feed and even the microbes in your soil may die.

A praying mantid: A general landscape-wide
 insecticide will kill this wonderful predator.

As your landscape recovers from the poisoning, bugs will begin to multiply again, but since you've killed off the beneficial insects that used to keep them under control, the birds, bats, lizards, and the toads that survived the poisoning have moved away to areas where they can make a living. Many harmful bugs, possibly including new pests that were previously controlled, will recover in even greater numbers than before. You spray again and the process repeats itself and each time the most damaging pests will recover in ever increasing numbers. Repeated poisonings often foster resistance to that pesticide, and people then switch to even stronger poisons in higher concentrations. It's time to break that cycle of poison escalation and manage your landscape as a complete ecosystem by using Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Relying on insect predators and other eco-friendly strategies to control your pests is not a matter of sitting back and doing nothing. As with any other effective gardening method, it requires awareness, education, experimentation, effort, and patience.

While it’s easy to recognize the larger pest predators, identifying the good, the bad and the bugly bugs is more challenging, but it’s a vital step for ecosystem gardening.

A major sponsor for the garden writers gathering...

Poison propaganda...

A while back, P. Allen Smith invited some garden bloggers to his place in Arkansas.

There was a post to his blog written by one of the event sponsors, Garden Safe, but this post has been removed.

This screen shot from the post shows Smith eating a carrot that had just been sprayed with insecticide.

Their claim is that it’s perfectly safe for edibles, because it’s made with pyrethrin, a botanical extract of the chrysanthemum flower. While it’s not particularly harmful to humans, it affects the nervous system of insects and kills them on contact. It's organic, but it is still a poison.

I’d read a couple of posts from the invited bloggers saying what a great time they’d had and how much they had learned, but were they convinced by the sales pitch on the poisons? I do understand that sponsors are necessary to make money and hold events, but maybe poison companies are not such a good choice.

My Swiss chard looked like Swiss cheese, but what ate it?

I understand that in some cases poisons may be an appropriate measure, but we MUST do our homework before applying any poison.

Case in point: A few years ago my Swiss chard looked like Swiss cheese! I don’t know what ate the chard, but I’d guess slugs. In this case would that insecticide have done any good? Probably not. I’d have been better off with some beer-filled dishes in the area to trap those pests.

So before ANY poison is applied you must determine if it will actually be effective against your particular pest.

What to do from here?

I think we, as environmentalists, need to respond with scientifically sound and unemotional arguments when someone touts these poisons as being "a good thing" in the garden. If we are to support wildlife, we must first support their food sources—the bugs! We do not need to support chemical companies’ bottom lines.

Here was one of the comments to the P. Allen Smith blog post:
Louis L: i have a “question”—i have 3 butterfly bushes in full bloom-i have a water feature to supply water they need.why is it that i do not see butterflys arround my bushes??????-last season they were “loaded!!!
He may have been playing dumb to see if he could get a rise from someone, but I would have responded:

Dear Louis L., If you’ve been spraying your landscape with these poisons, you’ll kill the butterflies and their larvae. It doesn’t make any difference how cute the container is. A poison is a poison, organic or not.

No matter how pretty the container, a poison is a poison is a poison…

As wildlife gardeners,
 we hope for a moth (and butterfly)-eaten landscapes!

Also see my article, “Just Say NO to Poisons.”

© Ginny Stibolt