We all want a successful garden. We all want our vegetable and fruit plants to yield large quantities of wholesome, intact, fresh fruits and vegetables. So when we see insect pests turning our plants, fruits, and vegetables into Swiss cheese, we immediately think of three things – kill, kill, and kill again! We want those intruders dead, and we’re willing to go to any lengths to do this. We’ll go to the nearest big box store and purchase the first bottle of unpronounceable chemicals we find. As long as it promises to kill those garden pests, that’s all we care about.
But before you start spraying that stuff on your plants, please stop, take a deep breath, and think about what you’re about to do. You will be introducing a synthetic substance into the environment that may have long-lasting harmful effects. Furthermore, that stuff may hang around for a long time and multiply those harmful effects. These products not only kill the insects that are eating your plants, but they may also kill or otherwise cause great harm to a whole host of other living creatures.
Meet the rogue’s gallery.
Malathion – Malathion is an organophosphate insecticide used to control leaf-eating insects such as aphids, leafhoppers, and Japanese beetles on flowers, shrubs, fruits, and vegetables. It’s also used for large-scale mosquito control. It is available for home use under the brand names of Ortho MAX Malathion and Spectracide Malathion Insect Spray Concentrate. Malathion is highly toxic to fish and bees and mildly toxic to birds. If ingested, the human body converts malathion to malaoxin, which may be strongly toxic to humans. Malathion may also be carcinogenic.
Carbaryl – Carbaryl is the third most widely-used pesticide for home gardens, commercial agriculture, and forestry and rangeland protection. It is most commonly sold under the name Sevin. Carbaryl is used to control aphids, fire ants, fleas, ticks, spiders and other types of garden pests. The EPA considers Carbaryl “likely to be carcinogenic in humans,” due to laboratory studies showing increased tumors in mice exposed to it. Toxicity is low for fish, birds, and other animals, but high for bees.
Acetamiprid – Acetamiprid is a neonicotinoid used to control sucking-type insects on vegetables, fruits, cotton, and ornamental plants and flowers. While classified as “unlikely to be a human carcinogen,” nevertheless, like Malathion and Carbaryl, it is highly toxic to bees.
Permethrin – Permethrin is a dual use product. Medically, it’s used to treat and prevent head lice and as a treatment for scabies. Permethrin is listed as a “restricted use” substance by the EPA because it is highly toxic to aquatic life. It’s sold commercially as Ortho® Bug-B-Gon MAX® Garden Insect Killer Dust. While it’s not toxic to mammals and birds, it is strongly toxic to cats and fish.
Metaldehyde – Metaldehyde is used to control gastropod pests such as slugs and snails. It is sold commercially as Ortho® Bug-Geta® Plus Snail, Slug & Insect Killer. At 50 ppm, it is considered mildly toxic and a breathing irritant.
It’s important to remember that these products are designed for one purpose only – to kill. And they don’t do a good job in discriminating between the “bad” bugs and the “good” bugs. In addition, they do not break down in the environment very quickly, so they tend to stick around inflicting their toxicity for a long time after initial application. So I recommend going easy with these products, or better yet, don’t use them at all. Doing the latter will help insure that we do not cause undue harm to the world around us.