If you’re a land care practitioner still using synthetic chemicals, we hope to persuade you to go organic and equip you with the right information to get started. If you’re a homeowner who receives application services, hopefully this article will clear anything you’ve perhaps previously overlooked regarding what’s being applied on your property and the acute and residual effects chemical applications have.
SYNTHETIC CHEMICALS DEPLETE SOIL BIODIVERSITY
Some of the most detrimental consequences of conventional landscaping are those that arise from synthetic pesticide and fertilizer applications.
Microbial diversity is essential for healthy soil, and as we’ve expressed before on this blog, healthy soil is the cornerstone of organic land care. Every element plays a role in an advanced, communicative system that is very much alive, and also very delicate. When synthetic chemicals are applied, the natural balance of healthy soil is disturbed. Synthetic fertilizers applied over time deplete soil of essential nutrients, bacteria and fungi. This is most obviously demonstrated in desertification of farmland where synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are applied year after year.
SYNTHETIC PESTICIDES HAVE MUCH LONGER HALF LIVES
Pesticides, including organic ones, don’t discriminate. If your yard is being sprayed for flea, tick, or mosquitos, beneficial insects and bees will also be negatively affected. The difference is still major, though – the half life of an organic application is one hour maximum, while synthetic chemical applications can linger anywhere from days to a month, giving insects, bees, birds, and other non-target species that much more time to consume the toxic residuals of the application directly or second-hand. It also drastically increases chances for toxic runoff to end up in our water systems, negatively impacting aquatic wildlife as well.
WHAT PRODUCTS DO WE USE?
All products used by McCoy Horticultural are certified organic and 25 b. EPA minimum risk exempt products and follow the NOFA Standards and The Rutgers Organic Land Care Best Management Practices Manual recommendations.
For general pest control we use IST Organics 1-PHE which contains castor oil, cedar oil, citric acid, garlic oil, and white pepper. We also use products containing peppermint, lemongrass, and other essential oils.
For our organic lawn program, we use corn gluten meal as an organic fertilizer and pre-emergent herbicide to suppress weeds.
For weed control, we use a horticultural vinegar formula made of all organic materials.
WHAT PRODUCTS DO CONVENTIONAL APPLICATORS USE?
Pest control products used by conventional applicators usually contain pyrethroids, or synthetic versions of pyrethrins which are “chemicals derived from chrysanthemum flowers that are toxic to insects” (Mizejewski, Weber). The widespread use of pyrethroids, due to its level of toxicity and its long half life, has done great harm to local ecologies and even entire species populations. For example, thousands of the already endangered monarch butterflies were killed from a single aerial application of pyrethroids over an 100-square mile area in North Dakota.
Glyphosate, brand name Roundup (and others), is still the leading weed control chemical among homeowners, landscapers, and farmers. Although public glyphosate research is rampant with conflicting conclusions, manufacturer Monsanto has paid out billions in court to individuals claiming Roundup-related health damages. Even if, as mainstream research organizations have suggested, glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans, its environmental effect is undesirable, and its benefits are questionable. Along with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, this common herbicide is an enemy to soil biodiversity, and it’s residual effects have reportedly spread to drinking water, aquatic ecosystems, food products, and other wildlife habitats.
UTILIZING CULTURAL SOLUTIONS
Sometimes, with awareness of certain cultural aspects in the landscape that breed pest issues, you can do a lot for pest control without applying anything.
If you have a mosquito problem in your yard, for example, the simplest cultural action you can take is eliminating standing water. Even a small amount held in a standing place can quickly create a breeding ground.
One of our priorities for tick management is to remove Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) from our properties if present. Barberry have been shown to house an abundance of ticks, so removing them can significantly decrease tick presence and risk of lyme disease. Since they are an invasive non-native, our landscapes and local ecologies can also benefit from their removal if we replace them with beneficial natives.
We prefer to let nature do the work. For most properties, this is a longer-term solution, because it requires the reestablishment of biodiversity – but when a desirable balance is struck on your property, you’ll be amazed at the rate at which visitors to your yard regulate mosquito and other pest populations. Native brown bats, for example, are a particularly voracious mosquito predator that prefer to frequent yards with native trees and plants for shelter and food sources.
To reap the most benefits from nature, a conscious, proactive approach to landscaping is essential. Cheap, synthetic solutions designed for the short-term cause more problems than they solve.