Frequently Asked Questions About Pesticides
The Pollinator Pathway, northeast region, is a network of independent town Pathway projects. The Pollinator Pathway steering committee, made up of representatives from several town projects, has put together this FAQ section about pesticides to help clarify the goals of the Pollinator Pathway in the northeast and to answer many of the questions new towns and residents joining often ask about pesticides.
What qualifies as a pesticide? For our purposes, a pesticide is defined as any substance or mixture of substances intended to prevent, destroy or control unwanted species of insects, plants, rodents, fungal life, etc. Therefore, for our purposes the term pesticides includes not only insecticides but also herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, etc. Here is our list of the pesticides most toxic to pollinators.
Is it okay to use repellents? For purposes of the Pollinator Pathway, repellents to deter deer or other destructive animals are not included in our definition of pesticides. However, it should be remembered that repellents for animals often times repel pollinators also, thus inhibiting the pollination process. Use of repellents should be limited to only plantings where deer or other animal damage is likely. Please read labels and note any ingredients which may be harmful to other plant or insect life.
Is it okay to use pesticides for invasive control? It is very important to avoid creating an ecological trap for pollinators by planting native pollinator-friendly plants to draw them and then applying pesticides that could kill or impair them. For this reason, it is vital that individual homeowners on the Pathway avoid pesticides completely. For control of invasive plants, we recommend physical methods of control such as pulling, digging, mowing, using a propane torch, etc. For description and removal methods of specific invasives, visit the Invasives Threats page.
Are “Organic” pesticides safe to use? A number of less toxic substances such as neem oil, cedar oil, insecticidal soap, etc. can be used, assuming proper usage and timing. However, it should be understood that not all organic pesticides are safe for bees /caterpillars/beneficial insects and most of them have not been tested fully as to safety for pollinators. Use of such substances should be done only if other safer methods are not available. Here is more guidance about specific substances.
What should I use to fertilize my lawn? Test your soil first to see if you need fertilizer. If you do, avoid synthetic lawn fertilizers. Use of organic fertilizers will provide better growth and sustainability to the lawn and will prevent run-off of synthetic chemicals which can harm water resources. The best natural fertilizers are autumn leaves. If you rake them to the edges of your property and leave them until spring, then mow them into your lawn (just leave them on beds), you will likely not need to spend money on fertilizer. (Also, many pollinators overwinter in leaf matter.) Avoiding synthetic fertilizers will promote healthy soil, which is the primary building block for creating diverse and balanced native habitat for pollinators, birds, other wildlife, pets and people.
What can I do to control ticks without hurting pollinators? This may be the most frequently asked question of all. Our partners at Protect Our Pollinators in Newtown, CT have put together this guide for safely controlling ticks, and it makes a great handout for Pollinator Pathway events. Mosquito control poses similar problems, and here are guidelines from Xerces Society and from Protect Our Pollinators.
Resources for More Information
Learn more about the fight for safe, chemical-free food and lawns from Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides in this WPKN Radio interview that aired just after the Federal Government reversed course on the planned banning of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide known to be extremely harmful to both pollinators and people.