What Are Pesticides And How Do I Manage Them?

Families on camping trips apply mosquito repellent. Homeowners spend Saturday mornings spreading weed-n-feed products on their lawns. A cleaning lady bleaches and disinfects a bathroom. A mother sprinkles a few mothballs into boxes while packing away winter clothing. What activity do all of these people have in common? They are all using pesticides, though they may not recognize them as such.

What are pesticides? Put simply, pesticides are chemical compounds used to control pests of one sort or another. Examples include insecticides, which control insects; rodenticides, which control rodents; fungicides, to control the spread of fungal diseases of plants; and herbicides, which control weeds and other plants.

Pesticides control insect pests and thus prevent the diseases they spread on food and fiber crops. Some are used to control parasites on farm animals and pets. Others help maintain human health; e.g., disinfectants are used to cleanse kitchens and bathrooms of parasitical infestations, and repellents ward off ticks and other pests that carry disease. And most important for our purposes here, pesticides can help control infestations of pests in a lawn area.

Sometimes pesticides are necessary, but not in every situation. Many times, non-chemical control methods may be preferable. It is prudent to know and understand as many available options as possible in a given situation in order to reduce pesticide use whenever possible.

Pest Management

The first step in pest management is to identify the pest that might be causing the problem. Many kinds of insects and pests live in grass and lawns. Some are visible, and some are far too small to be seen. Some are annoying to lawn owners but do little or no actual damage to grass; others can obliterate a once perfectly healthy lawn. Unfortunately, many of the characteristics of a lawn damaged by insects or pests are identical to those of a lawn damaged by disease or neglect. Diagnosis can therefore be quite difficult.

A good pest management strategy incorporates some or all of the methods available to manage a given pest situation. This is called integrated pest management, or IPM. The goal should be to reduce pest populations, thus limiting the damage to your lawn to economically and aesthetically tolerable levels. Complete eradication is not always possible, practical, or even desirable. Judicious selection of pest control methods should be aimed at reducing or eliminating pesticide use whenever possible. This is extremely important because of valid concerns about our personal and environmental safety. The following methods should be considered first when developing a pest management strategy for your lawn.

Exclusion: One of the safest and most effective ways to manage pests is to deny them access. This is called exclusion, or pest proofing, and may be accomplished via one of the following two options.

1. Exclusion by Regulation: Government embargoes and quarantines are designed to prevent the introduction of pests from one country or locality into another. It's unwise to import live plots of sod from states with a different climate from your own. These sod pieces could introduce a pest to your area that has no naturally existing enemy. If there is a different strain of grass you want to introduce into your property, purchase and import seeds, not sod.

2. Mechanical Exclusion. This includes barriers such as fences to keep out rabbits and noisemakers to ward off ground squirrels. When you are seeding your lawn, you can keep birds away with scarecrows and noisemakers.

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