My Philosophy On Garden Chemicals

This reblogged article has potential to conform to the ‘Horridculture’ meme for Wednesday, even if it does not sound like it.

via My Philosophy On Garden Chemicals

Horridculture – Pesticides

P90612‘Cide’ as a suffix that designates something to be killed. ‘Insecticide’ kills insects. ‘Miticide’ kills mites. ‘Molluscicide’ kills molluscs such as snails and slugs. ‘Herbicide’ kills herbaceous plants, which are presumably weeds. These examples and other chemicals that kill things that are considered to be pests are collectively known as ‘pesticides’. Many are potentially useful in the garden, since that is where so many familiar pests are problematic.
Most modern pesticides are designed for physiological characteristics that are unique to the targeted pest. They therefore kill only very specific pests, but are generally harmless to other organisms. For example, horticultural oil, which is one of the simplest of all insecticides and miticides, kills insects and mites by obstructing the exoskeletal pores through which they respire. It is harmless to those of us who conduct respiration by means of lungs.
In fact, most (although not all) commonly available pesticides, if used properly, are relatively safe for those who are not the targeted pests. (Rodenticides that remain toxic to predators who eat afflicted rodents are some of the exceptions, but that is a topic for later.) That is why I have no compunction about using such pesticides. When necessary, I would use them on the farm, in the landscapes that I so often work in, or in the home garden.
However, such pesticides are almost never necessary. Seriously. I would not refrain from using them, but the need for such use almost never presents itself. Insecticides and, to a much lesser extent, miticides are sometimes applied on the farm (although I have not been there to apply any in a few years). I applied a minor fungicide for rust on English daisies in a landscape more than a year ago. Otherwise, pesticides are almost never necessary.
It is not that there are no pests. There most certainly are. Roses get aphid. Rhododendrons get thrip. Snapdragons get rust. We just deal with such pests without much pesticides.
There are so many alternative horticultural techniques to use instead. We prune roses so aggressively in winter that they regenerate faster in spring than the aphid can keep up with. We prune rhododendrons to eliminate much of the congested and sheltered inner growth where thrip tend to proliferate. Snapdragons are so susceptible to rust that we probably will not grow them again. Pests are not eradicated, but are reasonably controlled.
All too often, the problem with pests is not the pests at all, but improper horticulture.

Shady – MSDS – (yes, another sequel)


As the Certified Pesticide Applicator working for the ‘landscape’ company that I wrote about earlier ( ), I assumed several responsibilities pertaining to the pesticides and other chemicals that the ‘landscape’ company used. Among other things, I needed to inventory all the chemicals, monitor their use, submit use reports to the Department of Agriculture for each of the nine counties in which we used these chemicals, and provide MSDS binders for all of the ‘landscape’ company offices and vehicles within their fleet.

MSDS is for ‘Material Safety Data Sheet’. They are actually several pages each. Each MSDS binder contained two copies of the MSDS for every chemical the ‘landscape’ company used, or even had on site, whether it was actually used or not. One MSDS was in American English. The other was in Mexican Spanish.

So every office and every facility and every vehicle in the fleet of the ‘landscape’ company was equipped with an MSDS binder. Every binder was equipped with two copies of the MSDS for every chemical even remotely associated with the ‘landscape’ company. That is a whole lot of MSDS!

It’s the law.

I was required to provide all of this literature in languages spoken by anyone and everyone in the workplace, for all vehicles and facilities. Okay, so we’re clear on all that.

However . . .

There is no law requiring those using chemicals to be literate.

I certainly do not expect everyone to be literate in American English. They do not need to be able to read or write it. That is why there were copies of all the literature in Mexican Spanish. I could translate field notes from those who wrote them in Mexican Spanish. That would not have been a problem.

The problem was that many of those using the chemicals could neither read nor write in ANY language! At first, I though we could improvise. I instructed the accounts managers to inform their technicians to merely write down basic information, like the identification number of a chemical being used, the volume of the chemical used, and so on. Most of it involved copying information from the label, and the location from the work order provided to the accounts managers. It sounded simple enough. Sadly, it was not. Copying such information was too much to expect from those handling these potentially dangerous and polluting chemicals. The literature in the MSDS binders that I had so dutifully printed and provided was merely used as napkins and toilet paper.

By the time I could no longer be affiliated with this particular ‘landscape’ company, I had no idea where all of the inventoried chemicals ended up or how they were applied.

My Philosophy On Garden Chemicals

70927lthumbspareI have very few reservations about using chemicals in my garden. I bet you did not expect to read that. It is the quick and easy explanation about my philosophy on garden chemicals. Almost all chemicals that are available to the general public are reasonably safe if handled and applied properly. I am actually more concerned about the larger volumes of chemicals used in the landscape industry, and applied by technicians who can not read the labels or write their use reports. Yes, it happens. Anyway, some of the sugars, salts, preservative and other components of some of the food I eat is more dangerous than chemicals I use in the garden.

That is because I use almost no synthetic chemicals. I have almost no use for them. I only occasionally use semi-synthetic fertilizers like fish emulsion. Just about every disease or insect problem I have encountered in my own garden was most efficiently controlled by cultural methods or simple home remedies that have been effective for centuries, or even thousands of years, long before the first and worst of the really nasty garden chemicals were invented less than two centuries ago.

That certainly does not mean that all home remedies are completely safe, or even any safer that some of what are considered to be ‘chemicals’. I mean, they are supposed to ‘kill’ things. Tobacco is unfortunately toxic, and kills many people quite regularly. That is precisely why a cigar butt or a few cigarette filters can be simmered into a tea to spray onto small potted plants, like fuchsias, to kill aphid. Adding a few drops of dish soap makes it even more effective (although in a different way). Is it toxic? Yes. Am I concerned about it? Not really. Although, it would be nice if no one used tobacco anymore.

Dish soap that so many of us use as a ‘natural’ remedy for aphid is almost as effective for immediate kill even without tobacco tea, but lacks residual toxicity. Because it is necessary to use a slight bit more soap if it is used alone, it is more likely to damage tender foliage. Also, most dish soap is actually less ‘natural’ than tobacco is! Homemade soap made from bacon fat may seem to be more natural, but the fat contains of all sorts of unnatural nitrates. It certainly does not bother me any; but those seeking totally natural remedies should know. (They probably should not eat bacon anyway.)

What do I do for peach leaf curl? Nothing. Well, nearly nothing while the disease is actively ruining foliage. However, while the trees are bare through winter, I prune them very aggressively. Pruning is done so that the trees do not overburden themselves with fruit, but it also stimulates vigorous vegetative growth the following spring and summer. After bloom, while peach leaf curl is busy ruining the first phase of foliage, vigorous vegetative (non-fruiting) stems are busy speeding beyond infection with reasonably healthy foliage. Inadequately pruned trees lack vigor, and are therefore more susceptible to the disease.

The worst of the damaged foliage lower in the canopy falls away as it gets replaced by healthier foliage. It should be raked and disposed of (not composted) because spores of the disease overwinter in the fallen foliage. I actually prefer to pluck much of the damaged foliage from the trees because, technically, it dispersed spores more efficiently while still viable and actively infected. Does this eliminate the disease? No; but neither does spraying chemicals.

Does putting ‘Tanglefoot’ or axle grease around the trunk of a lemon tree infested with scale eliminate the scale? Of course not. It merely keeps out the ants that cultivated the scale. (Ants have a symbiotic relationship with the scale because the ants consume the honeydew excreted by the aphid. Ick!) Without the ants to herd them around and protect them from natural predators, the scale are not so prolific. You might not even know they are there. ‘Controlling’ them just might be better than ‘eliminating’ them with a chemical insecticide. Besides, it leaves something for their natural predators to consume so that they are there when we need them.

After centuries of breeding plants to do what we want them to do and behave very unnaturally, we really should consider how to get nature to do some of the work it really wants to do ‘naturally’.