As you all probably know, our mission at LandHealth is to Put Nature Back. We try to integrate this mission into everything we do, including all of our activities at our native plant nursery in West Philadelphia. Although, like all nurseries, we definitely have our fair share of issues with pests, our philosophy is not to use pesticides. So what is the alternative? And what kind of harms can using pesticides bring to the land?
Image 1- Our native plant nursery at 4862 W. Parkside Ave. Philadelphia, PA
First off, although they are sprayed on land, pesticides can make their way into a water source nearby, such as a river, ocean, or pond through runoff. Runoff is exacerbated by impermeable surfaces (such as asphalt or concrete) but can happen anywhere where the land can no longer soak in a liquid. If a body of water becomes contaminated with the chemicals from pesticides, many fish and other animals can get sick and sometimes die. This can throw the whole aquatic ecosystem off balance.
Pesticides can also affect groundwater by a process known as leeching where water (with pesticides in it) moves directly down through the soil profile. Many people depend on groundwater for their drinking supply, yet, if that water has pesticides in it, it is unsanitary and harmful for people to drink.
Another way pesticides can spread and cause potential harm is by volatilization. Volatilization occurs when a pesticide turns into a gas or vapor after it has been sprayed, allowing it to travel through the air and spread to different areas of land. This can be harmful for any wildlife that breathes it in, including humans.
Not only are pesticides dangerous to the environment, but they are also hazardous to a person's health. People are harmed by pesticides in two ways: they are either poisoned or injured. Pesticide poisoning refers to the damage caused by pesticides to internal organs and can occur by swallowing, inhaling, and touching toxic substances, while pesticide-related injuries are caused by pesticides that act as external irritants. Even low levels of pesticide exposure have adverse harmful effects, including redness, blisters, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, chest pains, and difficulty breathing, while long-term exposure may cause anything from memory loss to hormonal imbalance and cancer.
Integrated Pest Management- An Alternative
Okay. Now that we are done talking about all the terrifying, infuriating and a little bit boring details of using pesticides… let's get to the sexy topic of Integrated Pest Management. IPM is an alternative to using pesticides and it is what our nursery experts use here at LandHealth. Here I hope to give you a little insight into the different aspects of IPM.
Native plants are a lot less susceptible to pests because they are highly adaptable. Native plants are used to our Pennsylvanian -isms so to diminish your pests try increasing the amount of natives in your garden
Try a beneficial bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis (or BT). Again, this is what is used at our native plant nursery and it infects larval stages of pests, before they grow up and become even more of a problem.
Managing watering systems that are good for plants and bad for pests. This may seem like a simple solution but make sure you water the soil and not the leaves. When watering the leaves, you’re basically giving your pests a cold summer beverage. Let your plants have a dry period as well in-between waterings.
Keep the plants spaced out so none of the containers touch. Basically this is like social distancing, but for plants.
Encourage beneficial insects or other pest predators. Lady bugs, for example, are easy pest predators. If your garden is lacking lady bugs, they can also be ordered online!
Weed management is important for IPM. Weeds attract pests therefore the less weeds in your garden, the less pests!
Image 2- Social distancing (but for plants)