As a follow up to last week’s article, this week I am writing about better ways to control insect pests. The bright side of pesticides, if you will, on this bright sunny spring day in May.

Last week was about the hidden dangers of broad spectrum pesticides. Broad spectrum meaning it kills good and bad insects alike. Nerve poisons that kill birds, bees, butterflies and even large animals like us depending on exposure and dosage. There are many new pesticides on the market today to kill specific pests without harming unintended victims. These kill discreetly and will not harm any other creature besides the intended pest.

There are specific microbes such as the BTI (bacillus thuringesis israelensis) for mosquito larvae, regular BT (bacillus thuringensis) for caterpillars (all of them), Nolo bait (nosema locustae), a protozoan for grasshoppers and mole crickets plus parasitic nematodes for fire ants, flea larvae, cut worms, and a host of underground soft bodied grubs (including many types of fly larvae.) Yet the nematodes will do no harm to your earthworm populations.

Add to this a staggering number of insect predators such as green lacewings, parasitic wasps, praying mantis, and, of course, your well-known lady bugs. There are so many I can’t list them all but a good insectiary can put you on to a package of different predators depending on what you seek to control. We do not attempt to keep these on hand at the nursery, but we do hand out pamphlets for Kunafin ( located in Quemado, Texas. Kunafin is one of the oldest and most respected insectiaries in the United States.

All of the above are lumped into the category called “biological controls.” The facts are that any and all life forms on our planet have predators and diseases that keep their numbers in check. Mother Nature dislikes overpopulation so any time something (anything) gets out of control She sends Her helpers in to reduce the numbers. Mother Nature does like things to be in balance. Another fact is that if you research the history of pesticides you will find we have never been successful using broad spectrum poisons although these do provide a quick knockdown and short term relief. But, the broad spectrum poison also kills off predators and that will throw things out of balance. What few success stories that are out there have all come from using biological controls. Google it…

Another very good tactic we can use is to increase the odds in our favor is to enhance “biodiversity.” For example, if your landscape is mostly lawn grass, you have only a few types of shrubs, flowering plants, or a backyard full of nothing but roses you are setting yourself up to have some insect and disease problems. This goes double for large areas (acreage) of one single crop. One of the things that makes farming such a challenge.

If we walk out into any truly wild area, we will see great diversity. Many kinds of plants. Many kinds of insects and a fair number of different four legged creatures subsisting on all this diversity and adding to it as they live, eat, die, and procreate their own kind. So, we can increase the biodiversity in our home landscaping by following Nature’s example. We can even increase or decrease the types of insects, birds, and other wildlife that will come to our landscapes by choosing the right types of plants to provide food and shelter. I call this “habitat gardening.” Want to see more birds? Butterflies? Plant for’em.

One more thing, and I say this often, is physical barriers work and generally work much better than any spray or pelletized product that will wash away with the next good rain. Want less deer and wild hogs to destroy your ornamental landscaping? Fence’em off. You will actually find fencing called hog wire, rabbit wire, chicken wire, cattle panels, etc. at your local hardware or homestores.

The other morning, I saw one of my neighbors wearing a hat with mosquito netting hanging from the brim. He was spraying something along his fenceline in the tall grass. I assumed he was after mosquitoes. I just hope he was using the right stuff instead of something that would just kill on contact then wash away.

Yes, the mosquitoes finally showed up out here at our country home. Despite my best efforts to control we have more than plenty. This happens nearly every year (mosquitoes fly) so Nila and I have learned to live with it. We sat outside and cooked last night. I was dressed in long pants, boots, a Tshirt with a long sleeved shirt. Nila opted for an all natural mosquito repellant. We both had to slap a few but I outlasted her. Physical barriers work. And yes, I have my own hat with mosquito netting that hangs to my waist if things get really bad. Biological controls work best. Biodiversity works. Natural controls and repellants work too. No need to poison yourself or pollute your environment… ever. Come see us!!

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