Floridata Article

Just Say No to Poisons

Green spider capturing a beetle on a sunflower.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt.
Spiders are important predators.

An article in the business section of Jacksonville's Times Union posted on 11/06/07 on a mosquito poisoning franchise opportunity states that this product will kill more than just the mosquitoes: "the company's misting system has been proven effective in not only reducing mosquitoes but other insects as well, including spiders, flies, ticks, roaches and fleas." The article (and I'm sure the company information) does not mention that it will also kill butterflies, bees, and other important pollinators. Many flowers, fruits, and vegetables rely on insect pollinators to provide cross pollination. If you grow zucchini, for example, the male and female parts are located in separate flowers: no insects means no zucchinis. On top of that once you start poisoning the general insect population, the insect predators like the bluebirds, purple martins, bats, lizards, frogs, and toads will also be affected.

Here is their description of how the "system" works: "A fully automated system sprays a mist of Pyrethrum, which is a natural insecticide derived from chrysanthemum flowers, around the property at selected intervals throughout the day. The system also comes with a remote control that allows the user to mist between the scheduled intervals as well as a battery back-up system that keeps the timer correct in the event of a power outage." Oh joy; even a power outage won't stop the poisons! Organic or synthetic, a poison is a poison. The author of the article did include the warning from EPA's website that no pesticide is 100% risk-free.

Golden orb weaver. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
You really don't want to kill your wickedly beautiful garden spiders, do you? They are efficient predators and their populations wax and wane in response to prey. Mother Nature has much better methods of controlling pests than humans and their poisons.

Butterfly Gardens

(Podcast: Butterfly Gardens)

If you've planted a butterfly garden, they will come, but how cruel is it then to poison the butterflies and their larvae with such a system? So the first thing to do to create butterfly habitat is to stop using all pesticides. Then you provide nectar sources with a variety of flowers all season long for the adult butterflies, food for the larvae (caterpillars), shallow puddles or mud flats, and places for shelter. When you work to attract butterflies, you'll be supporting populations of other beneficial insects because most butterfly nectar sources also attract other pollinators. Additional insect habitat in your neighborhood's ecosystem also supports insect-eating birds, lizards, frogs, toads, and bats. In turn, they help to control garden pests. Your extension agent calls this integrated pest management, or IPM. It's all about balance.

A praying mantis on the dog fennel. Photo by ginny Stibolt
A praying mantis eats a huge number of insects in its life, but a general poison will kill this fascinating creature along with the other beneficial or benign insects.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

(Podcast: PestManagement)

In a balanced ecosystem, predators will be in the minority. In other words, in a natural environment, there are many more prey organisms to ensure a continuing food supply for the predators. In your landscape there are plenty of prey including, aphids, white flies, mosquitoes, cabbageworms, leaf miners, mole crickets, spider mites, and others that you'd like to get rid of.

Let's consider what happens when you attempt to poison or zap those pesky bugs that bite or damage your landscape and vegetables. A general insecticide (or bug zapper) will kill the majority of the insects in an area, but more than 90 percent of those insects are beneficial or benign. Some of those beneficial insects would have pollinated your flowers: without them you won't harvest pears from your pear tree. Your wildflowers won't be able to produce any seed. Some of those beneficials would have eaten some of your pest insects. Other predators such as bats, frogs, and birds will go elsewhere to feed, so your property becomes a poisoned vacuum.

As your landscape recovers from the poison, insects will begin to multiply again, but since you've killed off the insect predators and since the birds flew away, the harmful insects, including new pests that were previously controlled, will recover in even greater numbers than before. You spray again and the process repeats itself and each time the most damaging insects will recover in ever increasing numbers. It's time to break that cycle and manage your landscape as a complete ecosystem by using IPM.

Build habitat for your beneficials.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt
This toad spent the whole summer on our front porch. It's easy to create habitat for toads in your garden whether it's large or small.

Encourage the beneficials and discourage the pests.

Create habitat for bluebirds, purple martins and bats on your property. Build shelters for toads in corners of your gardens. The best way to reduce a mosquito population is to make sure that water in open containers doesn't sit for three days or more and water features such as garden ponds have a population of mosquito larvae-eating fish.

There are a number of excellent advantages to this method of control:
- The predators do most of the work. You can spend your garden time doing other things.
- It helps to prevent the development of pesticide resistance in target insects.
- You are not contributing to environmental pollution.
- It's a more balanced ecosystem. A poisoned landscape requires life support from you.
- Insect predators will wax and wane in pace with pest populations.

Franchises for the mosquito system start at $125,000. Just say no! Find a greener business opportunity, like planting butterfly gardens, installing green roofs, de-lawning landscapes, building rain barrel systems, or planting rain gardens. We can all make a difference. Mother Nature will appreciate it.

Resources:

- Learn more about Integrated Pest Management at University of Florida's IPM website: http://ipm.ifas.ufl.edu/
- The Florida Native Plant Society's website lists native plants by county and whether they are butterfly garden plants:both nectar or larval. www.fnps.org
- My articles on Backyard Habitat and Meadow Management have additional information on creating butterfly-friendly spaces.


Ginny Stibolt moved to northeastern Florida in 2004 and even though she's a botanist and lifelong gardener, Florida gardening was a shock. She started writing The Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener columns for the Times Union newspaper in Jacksonville. This is one of those columns archived here on Floridata.com for your enjoyment. Now she's written three Florida garden books published by University Press of Florida: Sustainable Gardening for Florida, 2009; Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida with Melissa Contreras, 2013, and The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape, 2015. Check out her blog for the latest news and articles: www.GreenGardeningMatters.com

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