How to Reduce your Pesticide Use
Public institutions bring beauty, history, wildlife and animals to their guests, but they have a responsibility to do so safely. Pesticides are extremely dangerous to human health and the ecosystem. Most non-organic pesticides and fertilizers are fossil fuel-based and they impact climate change at every step of their lifecycle, from manufacture to transportation and application. This issue is most pronounced in commercial agriculture, of course, but at the level of museums, gardens and zoos, we can make changes that our guests can see, learn from, and demand from other industries. We are trusted resources and are in a position to lead by example, and Integrated Pest Managers, by exhibiting best practices and explaining those best practices, can play an essential role in that leadership.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Integrated Pest Manager Braley Burke has created a guide to reduce your pesticides safely and carefully! The key is to take it one step at a time. This guide breaks down reducing pesticide use into a few key categories, then goes into some detail about what the categories entail. For your reading convenience, she has also provided a checklist for you to download and keep handy as a reference.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Checklist– Recommendations from Braley Bruke, IPM Specialist at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Prevention is Key
The first step to reducing pesticide use is to consider how you can change your environment or practices to keep plants healthy and make pests unhappy. Some tips for changing your environment are installing screens, changing watering frequency as needed, using slow-release fertilizers, increasing ventilation, and spacing out your plants. When plants are stressed, they give off chemical signals that attract insects. Making sure plants are getting what they need is a great start to keeping pests away.
Certain growing environments make plants more likely to get pests or diseases. For example, plants grown in moist conditions with little air movement are more likely to get fungal infections. In landscapes, it’s important to ensure plants are getting proper drainage and aren’t planted in areas with low air movement, especially if the plants are prone to fungal diseases. In greenhouses or agricultural areas, it can be useful to irrigate without getting leaves wet if foliar diseases are an issue. In all situations, keep your spaces clean! Plant debris, old soil, and weeds can all harbor pests and should be kept away from healthy plants. Other tips for keeping your space clean are removing all weeds, plant debris and plant waste every day. Keeping your space clean and considering your environment can significantly reduce the pests on your site.
Get the Facts
You’re ready to reduce your pesticide use, but how do you know where to start? I strongly recommend using your pesticide records to calculate how much pesticide you’ve been using. You can even make it into a handy graph! Keeping a record will give you a starting point and help you make realistic goals.
Along with this, record-keeping in general is extremely valuable. Having a pest log to indicate what pests affected your plants is extremely important. The more information, the better. At least keep track of the pest, where it was found, the date, and what was done to manage the pest. These records can help you prepare for future issues, and it may help you identify the pest if it reappears.
To keep these records, you’ll need to make sure you’re monitoring and properly identifying pests. Identify the insect to the best of your abilities (or get advice from a specialist), and DO NOT apply pesticides without identifying your pest. It may not be a pest, or the treatment you use may not affect it. When monitoring for pests, inspect your plants and the surrounding area regularly, looking at the whole plant, including the new growth, under the leaves, where the stem meets the leaves, and any good hiding places for pests. You can also use yellow (or blue for thrips) sticky traps to monitor flying insect activity.
Use Pesticides Responsibly
***Always read and follow pesticide labels when using pesticides***
When pesticides are needed, it’s useful to consider if you’re using them as efficiently as possible. If you’ve ever used a pesticide, you’ve read the label. It’s often very long and has a lot of information. Of course, following the label is the law, but the label can also give useful information on increasing the effectiveness of the pesticide. For example, Molt-X (active ingredient: Azadiractin) recommends mixing with water with a pH range between 5.5 and 6.5. When you mix it with water that has a pH of 7.5 it decreases the effectiveness of this chemical. Some other tips are to consider your pesticide usage rate, use pesticides that are compatible with biological control and natural enemies, and to use selective pesticides. Read your labels and any other supplemental material for your pesticides thoroughly to ensure you’re not wasting time or chemicals.
Consider Alternative Strategies
Integrated pest management (IPM) is the use of multiple tools and strategies to lower pest populations while keeping the greater ecosystem in mind. There are many different strategies that can be used together to manage pests. The fan-favorite of IPM is biological control. Often, people think of releasing ladybugs in gardens to reduce pests, but there’s more to it. There are many different kinds of biological control organisms that specialize in different ways – from nematodes to fungi to wasps. They can be released for biological control or plants can be grown to increase the already present pest predators. For example, ornamental pepper plants are known to be a supplemental food source for pirate bugs (thrips predators). Starting biological control can be daunting, but it is rewarding and effective if done properly.
Aside from biological control, having employees or volunteers hand remove, spray off, or scrub off pests has worked well for Phipps. We also use netting with some crops to keep pests away, such as netting our ornamental kale in the greenhouses to keep caterpillars off the plants.
- USA National Phenology Network
- Growing Degree Days… another tool for plant health care (Purdue University)
- Natural Pesticides (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)
- Eco-Friendly Pest Management Guide (Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens)
- IPM Success Story: The San Francisco Botanical Garden (Pesticide Research Institute)