Home vegetable gardens have always been popular, both to the gardeners who tend them and the insects that forage within them. Protecting the vegetables produced in your garden from damaging insects can be challenging. Understanding the benefits and risks of insecticide is important before making the decision to use it your garden.
Damage from Insects
Some insects are beneficial to our gardens because they feed on other, more harmful insects. The ones that cause concern are those that feed on foliage, causing the plant to become stressed, those that spread disease to our plants and those that destroy the fruits of our labors. Those that harm foliage include aphids, squash bugs, stink bugs, mites and thrips. Soil-inhabiting insects include slugs, cutworms, wire worms, grubs and mole crickets. This group feeds on roots and emerging new shoots. Earworms, grasshoppers, hornworms and borers are among the more common insects that can attack fruit. Leafhoppers are known to spread disease.
Organic Garden Insecticides
Organic insecticides are sometimes called botanic insecticides, as they are extracted from plants or made from naturally occurring origins. Examples are neem extract or pyrethrum, soaps, mineral or vegetable oils and sulphur dust. These products allow organic gardeners some moderate level of pest control while maintaining their organic standing.
Synthetic Garden Insecticides
Synthetic insecticides are chemically blended or manufactured from raw materials using current technology. Some examples of synthetic insecticides are diazinon, carbaryl and malathion. Products containing these pesticides should be labeled as safe in accordance with current United States Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Organic insecticides tend to be effective for short periods of time only, as many are water-soluble. This also makes them only moderately effective, and they must be reapplied at frequent intervals, which can drive the cost of using them up. Synthetic pesticides are more effective than organic options, as their residual effect lasts considerably longer.
Even organic insecticides have risks, as both organic and synthetic insecticides can be harmful to beneficial insects as well as the targeted pests. In general, organic versions have a low toxicity for pets and humans, while synthetic versions provide a low to moderate toxicity to pets and humans. Only those labeled "General Use" can legally be sold to the general public. "Restricted Use" insecticides can be sold only to and used by certified insecticide applicators.
Know your plants and the insect pests it attracts. Select insecticides that are clearly labeled for use on the specific plant and for the specific insect being targeted. Apply insecticide to the affected area only, not the entire garden. As there are many insecticide products available, each with their own application instructions, it is important to read labels thoroughly and follow directions explicitly.