The Iowa Gardener: Why I’m giving up on insecticides

In this file photo, Cardinals and Yeffinchs gather at a bird feeder in Marion’s backyard. Killing larvae with pesticides can harm the birds and pollinators that gardeners are trying to raise. (James Durbin)

I’m not an organic gardener, but as a former farm kid, I have a deep respect for Mother Nature.

Some of them are organic. Here’s why: Pesticides, organic or otherwise, kill insects. lots of insects. All pesticides are fairly indiscriminate — they kill beneficial insects, including bees, along with problem insects. There is a nature.

Few, if any, insecticides are highly selective and kill only one problem insect. For example, applying an organic insecticidal soap spray to tomatoes in a greenhouse with spider mites could, ironically, also kill Phytoseiulus persimilis, the beneficial spider-eating mite.

Other popular insecticides such as imidan, malathion and sevin have been demonstrated after research to be harmful to a wide variety of insects, including our beloved bees and other important pollinators.

Insects aren’t the only ones affected by pesticides. Case in point: For years the grub has been damaging parts of my backyard lawn. They may also be killing beneficial beetles and fireflies. But its impact goes further. Sparrows, robins, other birds and other wild animals love to eat their larvae. In fact, when I was a kid he recently came across the statistic that since 1970, North American bird populations have declined by 30%. My attempts to kill the larvae are probably harming the birds, so I’m trying hard to grow them with bird baths, bird feeders, and purple cornflower and sunflower plantings.

There are many other ways to control destructive insects that don’t kill the beneficial insects.

  • Avoid plants that are susceptible to pests. When in doubt, choose someone from Iowa. They’ve been around for centuries, evolved to fend off localized insect attacks, and are generally all-purpose.
  • Follow good garden practices. Make sure your sun-loving plants get plenty of sunlight (weak and limber magnets for predatory insects). Keep all plants weeded so they are not undermined by competing plants. Mulch to retain moisture and prevent soil-borne diseases from spreading to stems and leaves. Add a generous amount of compost to the soil each year to keep your plants strong and attract beneficial earthworms.

At least giving up pesticides makes me cheap and lazy. I don’t need to spend money on them. No need to spend time researching, buying, or applying repeatedly. And you don’t have to worry about how to dispose of leftovers in a responsible way. Helping nature can win, win, win.

We are confident that you can have a well-kept, beautiful and well-kept garden without using pesticides. Besides, my garden and yard are not my livelihood. There are no significant plants. The worst thing that can happen is that your neighbors might frown on patches of lawn damaged by larvae or zucchini plants attacked by pumpkin bugs.

The bottom line is that I garden not because I want to poison nature, but because I enjoy nature.

Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of the Iowa Gardener website

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