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Pesticides: Don't Kill the Good Guys

Updated on October 3, 2014
A ladybug (called a ladybird in the UK) with the aphids it eats.
A ladybug (called a ladybird in the UK) with the aphids it eats. | Source

Pesticides: Dream Scenario or a Nightmare?

Pesticides - are they the answer to the problem of pests or do they cause as many problems as they solve?

Imagine waking up one morning and discovering that all the insects and other pests in your garden have disappeared forever - no more slugs and snails, aphids, lily beetles, caterpillars and all those other creatures that chomp their way through your flowers, vegetables and fruit. It sounds like a dream come true, doesn't it?

Now comes the nightmare - the force that took out the pests has made all the other insects disappear too. Imagine your garden without bees, hoverflies, butterflies, ladybugs, dragonflies and other beneficial or harmless creatures.

Would it really matter if we didn't have them in our gardens? Wouldn't the benefits of getting rid of slugs outweigh the loss of butterflies, beautiful as they might be?

What would the practical consequences be if we lost the beneficial insects as well as the pests?

Without nectar feeding bugs, we would lose numerous garden and wild flowers, fruit and vegetables.

An Osprey Preparing to Dive
An Osprey Preparing to Dive | Source

Larger Animals Suffer Too - Birds, Slugs, Toads, Field Mice, Voles and Many Others

Many species of birds depend on insects for food and, of course, they feed them to their young. Although the more immediately toxic pesticides have been banned and so fewer birds and other species than in the past are suffering directly from pesticide poisoning, the aggressive use of pesticides reduces the number of insects available for food.

Some birds, frogs and toads help keep the slug and snail population under control. Chemical slug pellets can poison these creatures if they eat them after they have been killed by pellets.

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Consequences of the Loss of Insects

Certainly from the way that some of us use pesticides, it appears that there are people who feel that losing all insects, good and bad, would not matter. We might not have pesticides with a one hundred per cent kill rate, but those we do have can achieve a dangerously high body count given the right circumstances and this could have serious long term consequences, not only for our own gardens, but for the whole planet.

Without bees and butterflies and other nectar feeding bugs that incidentally pollinate plants as they carry pollen on their bodies from one flower to another, we would lose numerous garden and wild flowers. Many types of fruit and vegetables would also disappear without this kind of pollination.

If we kill off beneficial insects and bugs, we could see an increase in the destructive kind. Ladybugs, hoverflies and lacewings prey on aphids and help to keep them under control. Reduce the numbers of these kinds of creatures and aphids have fewer natural predators. It isn't only aphids that are controlled naturally: parasitic wasps and damsel bugs prey on the larvae of many different pests, ground beetles eat slugs and grubs, while pirate bugs eat a whole range of pests and these are just a few examples.

The populations of beneficial insects are often smaller than that of their prey. You don't see swarms of ladybugs, but you do see large numbers of aphids on each affected plant. The number of aphids helps control the population of ladybugs - fewer aphids, not enough food to support a larger number of ladybugs. Unfortunately, if the number of ladybugs is drastically reduced, then the aphid population has a chance to explode.

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Sabden Brook, Lancashire, UK
Sabden Brook, Lancashire, UK | Source

We may not realize that when we spray our garden plants with pesticides, some residue stays in the soil. When there are heavy rainstorms, this can be washed into rivers and streams. The University of California says that this pollution disrupts the aquatic food pyramid principally by killing a tiny invertebrate called Ceriodaphnia which, in turn, has an impact all the way up the food chain.

Using Pesticides

If you have to use pesticides, the most important thing is to follow the instructions on the pack. Don't think that if it says mix one capful in one gallon of water, two or three capfuls will be better.

Never spray insecticides during the daytime. You should always do it in the evening when ladybugs, butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects are no longer flying.

Avoid using pesticides in dust form. The dust sticks to the hairs on the bodies of insects like bees and other colony living insects who then take it back to their nests and hives, causing further deaths.

Best of all, don't use pesticides.

Aphids on a rose bud
Aphids on a rose bud | Source

10 Simple Organic Methods of Pest Control

1. Use water to rid your plants of infestations of aphids. Turn on your hose so you get a fierce jet of water (not so strong it breaks plants) and wash them off.

2. A solution of soap and water will also get rid of aphids.

3. Use a mixture of soap and water over plants that are being attacked by slugs. This should discourage them.

4. Use broken egg shells, sharp sand or gravel around tender plants to deter slugs and snails. They just don't like to crawl over this kind of thing.

5. If you have a problem with flea beetles on some plants, put onion or mint next to them. The flea beetles apparently don't like the smell.

6. If your plants are infested with red spider mite, stop the plants dehydrating by giving them a gentle spray of water in the evenings. A more moist atmosphere should get rid of this pest.

7. Plant garlic near anything suffering from red spider mite to deter the pests.

8. The herb borage planted near tomatoes and cabbages will deter tomato hornworms and cabbage worms

9. Plant catnip to deter a whole range of pests including aphids, ants, squash beetles, weevils and flea beetles.

10. Use citrus fruit peel as a pesticide. Take the peel of one orange and pour 2 cups of boiling water over it. Leave it to soak for 24 hours then strain off the water and dispose of the peel. Spray the citrus water on to aphids also can be used on ants nests.

A variety of Alaskan wild berries
A variety of Alaskan wild berries | Source

The Advantages of Organic Gardening

There are so many reasons for not using pesticides. They range from worries over the long term effects on human health to the lack of biodiversity that result from their use.

Perhaps we should also consider why we want a garden. Even if we grow our own fruit and vegetables, most of us are not economically dependent on a big crop. Surely most of us enjoy our gardens because it puts us in touch with nature which we can enjoy in many ways, including the animals, birds and insects we see there. I know that I would feel a great sense of loss if I could no longer watch birds, butterflies, ladybugs and the myriad of other animals and insects that currently use my garden.

If we garden organically, without the use of pesticides, we know that our own fruit and vegetables are safe to eat with no noxious chemicals used to produce them.

Ladybird (ladybug)

Organic Pesticides - Really - Don't kill the good guys

Many pesticides are formulated so they can be used safely on fruit and vegetables and some are also made to target specific pests.

Even so, I personally will not use pesticides on anything we eat. That's one of the great advantages of growing your own fruit and vegetables - they are free of chemicals. If none of the organic methods I outlined above work, I will sacrifice the plant to the pests or, more likely, dig it up and put in something more resistant to attack.

© 2008 Carol Fisher

Do you have any tips for coping with pests in the garden?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hey Carol,

      Im from Indonesia, where ppl here mostly are farmers. So u can buy insecticide easily here. I planted 200 local peppers now, but mites ruined everything. They keep sucking on my plants :( . Truly say, i used insecticide to kill them, but they always come back.

      Im thinking to attract ladybugs by plant Dill and yarrow. How do you think? Thank you

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 

      6 years ago from California

      I found this so helpful. I don't like using pesticides unless there is no other way. They are too harmful to the entire ecosystem. I'll try whatever natural ways there are to get rid of insects. I've also used some of the organic sprays with great success. Thanks for the new suggestions to try!

    • profile image

      Susan strickland 

      6 years ago

      I have a farmer who sprays for weeds bugs. Has killed all of my ladybugs dragonflies frogs lizards butterflies the works. I used to have weeds that attract aphids giving ladybugs food for the summer. I have not seen aphids either. He has wiped out everything just for a silly patch of soybeans. Who would eat those anyway. My dog also has a tumor now. It came up two years ago after the spray

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you for your help with improving my lenses.

      These tips on pesticides are very helpful,especially for gardeners.Great lens!

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      10 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I've learned to live with a few pests. I try to make my yard good habitat for birds and beneficial insects and I find that the natural predators do a good job of keeping pests to a minimum. Lots of treat tips on this lens. Blessed by a SquidAngel

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      10 years ago from La Verne, CA

      We pretty much leave them along. We do need to take some extra measures for leaf miners on our new blood orange tree.

    • FlynntheCat1 profile image


      11 years ago

      My comments seem to be getting eaten today *sad*

      As I was saying, a wonderful lens on a topic I thoroughly approve of - blessed, fav'd et al.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      11 years ago

      I always enjoy your gardening lenses!

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      You can use soapnut juice as a natural pesticide or if you use the juice to wash dishes, you can tip the water on the garden afterwards.

    • religions7 profile image


      12 years ago

      Great lens. I agree insects are essential to the ecology of a garden.

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L B 

      12 years ago from Covington, LA

      This great gardening lens has been featured on the Best of Naturally Native Squids Blog:

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L B 

      12 years ago from Covington, LA

      A wonderful lens. We agree with everything you said. Welcome to the Naturally Native Squids group. Don't forget to add your lens link to the appropriate plexo and vote for it.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Great resources and info! 5 stars

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Such an important message Stazija.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image


      12 years ago

      fantastic lens! I would love to see it in Herb Garden of Alternative Healing I have a link plexo that I just started about different gardens and think this would be a great addition to the group! I grow herbs and veggies organic, so this kind of information is very important to me. Thanks for sharing!

    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      12 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Wonderful lens.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Thanks for the tips. I just bought my first house with a yard and am planning to start a garden!

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Great Lens! I favor the natural approach. With a little research one can fine a list of pest-regulating plants. Some of the plants may be things you want to eat anyway, like garlic, others are flowers like marigolds. These plants can be included in your garden, and they actually repel pests.

    • rebeccahiatt profile image


      12 years ago

      Organic is the way to go for the home gardener.

    • chemrat profile image

      James Bashkin 

      12 years ago from Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

      I gave an involved answer to your poll but it was erased. See for articles on the damage caused by certain pesticides to Salmon in US rivers, even at extremely low levels. I don't believe in using "natural" means of pest control without understanding them, however, because some natural compounds are extremely toxic (like ricin toxin, used to murder a dissident in London many years ago). Anyway, I agree on most points: 5 stars!

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Such an important topic and nicely done! Thanks for reminding us the methods of insect control we use affect the food chain and may harm more creatures than we intend. Welcome to the Going Buggy group!!

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!


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