At Coronado, we pride ourselves on our beautiful gardens. But at what cost ? Lately, many of us are noticing fewer bees in our gardens. I found dead bees on my driveway and this week I found a dead hummingbird.
Annoying and troublesome summer pests such as pepper thrips, spider mites, rose slugs, caterpillars and whiteflies are or soon will be in full force and many breed quickly in hot weather. Many homeowners or their landscapers will immediately seek out pesticides. Most insects in our gardens are not destructive pests. Some of them are harmless, and many are not only helpful to our plants, but essential to keeping our gardens healthy and thriving. Predatory and parasitoid insects such as lacewings, dragonflies, assassin bugs, tiny pirate bugs, damselfish bugs, lady beetles and hoverflies and their larvae feed on other insects and mites. This group of insects (along with spiders and birds) are our friends in our gardens and without them we would have greater pest problems. Pesticide sprays and systemic pesticides can endanger and kill harmless insects and beneficials. Organic pesticides such as Neem oil and Spinosad are toxic to bees present when sprayed. Spinosad has a label warning that it is toxic to bees exposed to treatment for 3 hours after application. This means that the spray should be done in the evening after the bees have finished working for the day.
Bees are disappearing at an alarming rate. The same goes for our other pollinators. All of us, young and old, love butterflies. These adorable adult bugs get their brand new bodies through magical caterpillar metamorphosis. Clearly something to behold when spraying to kill caterpillars. Hummingbirds are also important pollinators. They feed on nectar, but much of their diet consists of insects, including ants, aphids, fruit flies, and gnats. Hummingbirds delight us and no one would deliberately harm them, but we run that risk when we lose sight of the bigger picture and spray our gardens with toxic chemicals.
We can feel powerless in the face of many environmental issues like climate change. But we can make a difference for the environment by taking the simple step of refusing to use pesticides in our gardens. Learn about and implement the practice of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/What-is-IPM/. The IPM approach uses non-chemical techniques for pest control. The “bad guys” are crushed with our fingers and blown off with jets of water from the hose. Damaged vegetation is pruned and removed from our gardens. The pests missed by these manual methods serve as an invitation for the “good guys” to come into our garden and feast. When absolutely necessary, IPM allows the use of the least toxic pesticides and only after specifically identifying and targeting the pest.
The health of our environment is not a game of chess where, once we are done playing, we can reset the board and play again tomorrow. We want beautiful gardens, but we must also want to be conscientious citizens of the earth who take great care to protect the environment. American biologist EO Wilson said: “If the insects disappeared, the environment would collapse into chaos.” We can all do our part by changing the way we think about and react to pest damage. This is an example where lowering our standards is a good thing. Nibbled plants are a sign of a sustainable garden. Perfection in our gardens is overrated, outdated and costly to Mother Nature and to us.
FLIGHT. 112, NO. 28 – 13 July 2022