On June 1, 2012, Gladys and I received the “Environmental Leadership Award” in Agriculture/Horticulture for 2012 from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. We were honored for promoting public awareness and concern for the enhancement and protection of the environment. I have tried to write articles that encourage readers to practice good stewardship and not use more chemicals on their lawns that necessary, to conserve water, and to not use insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides unless absolutely necessary. An example is this 2-part series on protecting beneficial insects that was published in 2009.

          The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has published two Extension Circulars with beautiful color pictures of beneficial insects. When I printed them off from the computer my wife and I were surprised at how many of these we have been killing because we thought they were hurting our plants. To get your copy of these two Extension Circulars go to your County Extension office and ask for EC 1578 and EC 1579 (Cost $1.00 each.) Or go to On the left click on “publication indexes”.  At the top of this page click on Extension Circulars. Then scroll down to EC 1578 and EC 1579. They are in pdf format that takes “Adobe Reader” which you can download free of charge.

          Many gardeners are going after Aphids with the insecticide “Sevin” (carbaryl) only to discover a couple weeks later the Aphids are worse than ever. The reason is that “Sevin” and many other insecticides including bifenthrin, and permethrin (Eight), will kill the Aphids but also are deadly to many beneficial insects such as bees, other pollinators, and “Lady Bugs” that eat Aphids. If Aphids are a problem for you, start out using “Insecticidal Soap” rather than a harsh chemical that kills everything. Don’t use dishwashing liquid and/or detergent as a substitute as the dishwashing liquid has a rinsing agent so the soap will rinse off your dishes and glasses and the insecticidal soap does not wash off as easy. Also many Insecticidal Soaps are made from oils from the “Neem Tree” that also has insecticidal qualities.

          I get very upset with the commercials I hear on TV and radio and see in the newspapers and magazines that brag about their insecticide and how many insects they will kill above and below the ground. I also get upset when everyone advertises their 4, 5, or 6 step lawn program that automatically includes a general insecticide to kill all the insects in your lawn. The only insecticide I put on my lawn is a “preventative” grub control containing “imadicloprid” (Merit). In most parts of Nebraska it is not too late to apply this product. Make sure you water it in with at least one-half inch of water or rain within 24 hours. This product will not hurt your beneficial insects, such as earthworms.

          Don’t pollute the environment with other applications on the lawn unless you have an insect problem. And next year when you purchase your lawn products or sign up for a lawn service, don’t automatically buy an insect application. Save your money and buy an application of winter lawn food with iron. Your lawn will thank you!!!

          A caller to a garden program said she sprayed her tomatoes with “Home Defense”. This is a good product for use in the house. However, she did not know what the insect was, and did not read the label on the container to see if it was ok for use on tomatoes outside, or if it is, how long the user has to wait before harvest.  The both the entomologist and hostess of the program recommended she take off all the tomatoes and not use them. She lost her first fruits because she did not get a proper identification of the pest and did not use the right product, on the right plant, at the right time.

          Before you use any pesticide be sure you (1) make a positive ID of the bug or disease, (2) use the least harmful control available, and (3) read the label and follow the manufacturers recommended directions.

          An entomologist told me that only 3% of the insects in the world are destructive. The entomologist told me that the other 97% of the insects can probably be classified as follows:

·        Nuisance insects

·        Neutral or incidentals

·        Beneficials

          A good example of a nuisance insect is the Boxelder Bug. This bug does not eat your plants, it does not bite you. When it gets into your home it does not eat clothes, drapes, or furniture. These bugs are just a nuisance and can be best cleaned up with a vacuum. Mini-vacs are a tremendous advance in household pest control technology. And no chemicals are needed. Many homeowners do not like these nuisance insects, but they are not destructive.

          Neutral or incidental bugs are just that. They exist in our environment but are not chewing on our plants, they do not transmit diseases, nor do they bite us or our pets. Some, like butterflies, can be very pretty and are prized for their aesthetic value.

         The beneficial insects can be further classified as

·        Decomposers, that break down organic matter, help turn yard and kitchen scraps into compost, and are necessary for the health of the soil in our yard and garden;

·        Pollinators, such as bees, flies, beetles, and other flower-visiting insects;

·        Predators and parasites, including lady beetles, green lacewings, syrphid flies, ground beetles, parasitoid wasps, and other insects that eat aphids, grubs, caterpillars, as well as other yard and garden pests. The parasitoids lay their eggs in, on, or near many undesirable insects, their eggs eventually hatching and the larva feeding on the host, soon killing it.

          In Part #2 of this series, I will write more about insects, controls without the use of chemicals, and have a list of references. Remember the number one rule of gardening: Read the label and follow the manufacturers recommended directions.

Copyright 2012