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Being Environmentally Friendly

by Ed Bradley, Master Rosarian, San Antonio Rose Society

This is a 2020 AOM winner


Are you concerned about the environment? Is global warming for real? Is the ionosphere disappearing? In short, is our world becoming unsafe??

Some environmental advocates believe that gardeners are seriously contributing to global pollution through the use of highly toxic chemicals. At a recent seminar, a lady asked “How do you control blackspot?” Before I could answer, she exclaimed “I don’t use poisons!” I think what she meant was that she doesn’t use chemicals that are poisonous to humans. Before going further, let me explain that “chemical” generally refers to those products that are man-made; “organic” generally refers to those products that are derived from some living or organic source. Those terms will be used in that context.

Whether it is chemical or organic, products used to control plant diseases or insects will be toxic (or poison) to what you are trying to kill or control. Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms that are considered to be “pests”. They are toxic by design and may, therefore, pose a health hazard to people and pets. Whether you stand on the chemical side or the organic side of this issue, or somewhere in between, we all have an inherent responsibility to protect our environment and what we pass on to future generations. And, let me make it clear that if you are an advocate of chemical controls, that doesn’t mean that you stand ready to “run out and nuke” everything at the first sight of one little bug. Actually, I think most of us use a combination of chemical and organic products, with a preference for organic products that work.

If you’re still with me, let’s take a brief look at ten simple ways in which we can effectively control diseases, insects and other pests in our gardens, using either chemical or organic remedies, and yet be environmentally friendly and thereby promote a safer environment.

  1. Follow label directions: First and foremost, always read and follow directions on the product label. Product manufacturers spend millions of dollars developing the right formula – one that will be effective, yet safe for home use. All products have been approved by the EPA – to be used on specified plants to control specified pests, using the prescribed formula. If you deviate from those directions in any way, you are not only creating a potentially hazardous situation, you are breaking the law. The product label is a legally binding document! There is never justification to “double the dose” or put a little extra in the tank (the one aspirin – two aspirin thing). The prescribed dosage is guaranteed to kill – and, dead is dead! “Twice dead” is no better. If you feel compelled to do more, then use the prescribed formula, but spray more often until the problem is eliminated.

  2. Prevention is the key to success: Prevention is essential to prevent fungi (to include mildew) and spider mites from taking up residence in your garden. It is always easier, cheaper and requires less time to prevent these pests than it is to eradicate them once they are established.

  3. Identify the pest you need to control: Spray to control only what’s there. Select the least toxic to control, and choose an effective product. Insects in this area are generally not terribly harmful to roses. They may nibble on a few buds and a few rose petals. The most harmful insect is actually a mite – the spider mite. They can quickly defoliate a rose bush; thus, prevention is important here also. Otherwise, don’t spray for insects until you see them. With this in mind, carefully consider the wisdom of using the “Combo Products” (2-in-1, 3-in-1, etc.). Some may be effective, but some may also be very wasteful and pollute the atmosphere or soil needlessly. In our area, insects just aren’t a big deal, but fungus can be. So, if you use a “Combo Product”, you’re putting out a lot of insecticide for no good reason. Target your pest, and use only the needed product.

  4. Moisten the leaves: Spray only until the leaves glisten, then move on. The old technique of spraying “until it drips on the ground” is very out-dated. 99% of what you’re trying to control is on the plant. Toxic materials on or in the soil will destroy your beneficial micro and macro soil organisms.

  5. Buy only the pesticide needed for the current season. Some products don’t store very well. Fresh is always better.

  6. Mix only what you need: Experience will soon tell you how much pesticide is needed to completely cover your gardens. Mix only what you need for one application. Most products do not store well and lose the efficacy in a short time. You certainly do not want to leave the mixed solution in your sprayer because that will result in damage to your sprayer. Always empty and clean your sprayer after each use.

  7. Practice the principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Use the least toxic, along with a combination of cultural practices and biological controls. Vary pesticide usage to prevent the pest from developing a tolerance or resistance to the pesticide. The IPM approach will help guard against pesticide resistance.

  8. Don’t spray in the wind: Spraying when it is too windy is not effective, it puts the spray in the air, and it may very well put a lot on the person doing the spraying. Spray only when it is calm, usually in the very early morning or very late afternoon.

  9. Use protective clothing: The most important thing you are trying to protect is YOU. Protective clothing includes an approved respirator (or full face shield), gloves, long sleeves and pants. Wash or shower after spraying, and change clothes. Like saving your old “paint clothes”, it may be beneficial to have a set of “spray clothing”. Always wash those clothes separately from your regular wash to preclude the transfer of chemicals to other clothing.

  10. Keep a journal of what you do. Don’t rely on the “old memory”. Use a calendar and make a note of all pesticides and fertilizers used – what, when, why, etc. If you see some damage, you may then have a clue as to what caused it. It also ensures that you stay on the proper intervals for subsequent applications.

ABOVE: “Be environmentally friendly…our friends depend on us”, photo by Rita Perwich

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