Trail to Earth Day #10: cut out pesticides
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April 13, 2020 — If you apply pesticides to your property to kill insects, you’re killing the food that Connecticut’s birds rely on. And while you might think you’re targeting mosquitoes or ticks, you’re also killing butterflies and bees of all sorts – Connecticut has over 300 species of native bees!
If you must use pesticides, use them carefully and in a limited area. If you’re worried about ticks, for example, there’s little need to apply a pesticide to a part of your property where you’re not planning to spend time.
There are ways to cut out the use of pesticides completely or almost completely and still limit your exposure to ticks: check your clothing and body after you’ve come inside, and use insect repellents judiciously (here’s what the CDC says); keep a small lawn; create a meadow-area; create a path through your woods and shrubs and then stay on it — all of these can help reduce the number of ticks on your property and reduce your chance of getting bitten by one.
A Tick Management Handbook published by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and put online by the Yale School of Public Health points out starting on page 50 that, “Open lawns harbor fewer ticks and wildlife that carry potentially infected ticks.”
However as we noted in the Trail to Earth Day #2 and elsewhere, open lawns are a virtual desert for wildlife. A small lawn with a more natural area might be a good solution and can help you avoid pesticides. The Tick Management Handbook says:
“While data are limited, meadows appear to harbor few blacklegged ticks [i.e., deer ticks] except along narrow edges with woodlands, dense vegetation and stonewall. Native grasses, which usually grow in small clumps, provide cover for meadow birds and certain butterflies (particularly skippers) and are deer resistant.”
If you must spray, here’s what page 63 of the Handbook recommends:
- Spray once in the late spring or early summer for control of I. scapularis nymphs. For American dog ticks, an application can be made anytime after the adults emerge in the spring.
- A single application of most ornamental-turf insecticides will provide 85-90% or better control with some residual activity so multiple applications are rarely necessary. Some organic pesticide products are less effective, breakdown rapidly, and multiple applications may be required.
- Focus treatment on tick habitat. Spray areas where the lawn meets the woods, stonewalls, or ornamental plantings. Spray several yards into bordering woodlands, area of greatest tick density. Spray groundcover vegetation like Pachysandra near the home or walkways. Spray perimeter of areas of the yard often used by people (play areas, gardens, outside storage areas, walkways or paths to neighbors or mailboxes).
You never know, if you cut out pesticides and you have a big enough meadow, maybe you’ll hear a Bobwhite sing (listen to both versions; the first is the original, by Johnny Mercer; the second is from 1961, Mercer and Bobby Darin with new lyrics that mention lots more birds; there’s also a Bing Crosby version — all of them nothing but fun):