Many folks are tempted to use any means necessary to control the annoying swarms of mosquitoes that infiltrate our yards in the heat of summer. We can get frustrated in our attempts to use the natural but seemingly inadequate citronella candles and are easily tempted by marketing messages touting conventional pesticides. These pesticides are dangerous and not just to mosquitoes.
Most commercial pesticides contain toxins that can kill beneficial insects such as bees, lady bugs, and praying mantises, and they also leave residues that run off into streams, get on pet’s paws, or on children’s shoes or feet. Many of these pesticides are considered “probable carcinogens” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some pesticides are safer than others but they all have their risks.
We all embrace customs, some silly and small, some big and important. Summer barbecues. 4th of July parades. The Superbowl party. Pumpkin pie. An aversion to the metric system. Ours is a culture with many traditions, some born of social habit, others shaped by our response to technological innovation. All of them contribute… something… to the patterns of civilized life in society and by now we automatically, unconsciously accept these habits as good. But that’s not good. Some customs, by intense over-practice, outgrow their benefit. Here’s one screaming for modification: our vast over use of pesticides. The United States accounts for roughly 22% of all pesticide use worldwide and an astounding 78 million households apply nearly 66 million pounds of these chemicals annually. And it’s not just for suburban turf care. It includes the fungicides that keep our ornamentals glossy, herbicides that so easily eliminate unwanted weeds, and the insecticides that terminate the insects we often unfairly judge as loathsome. We’ve been taught that a perfectly lush lawn flanked by pristine shrubbery is a more essential part of the American dream than the white picket fence. And these ideas can be passed from generation to generation.
Dr. Doug Tallamy: American entomologist and visionary native plant promoter. Our hero. His call to action singlehandedly knocked our gardening socks off and inspired us to get out there and plant natives in our own gardens. In his lecture to a Green Spring Gardens audience in Alexandria, VA in 2012, Tallamy humorously and enthusiastically made the case for planting native species in our yards, no matter how large or small. In his 2007 book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Tallamy describes the consequences of ‘uncontrolled expansion’: the loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitat across America, and how ceaseless land development drives biodiversity loss. He explains the equally damaging role of the 50,000 non-native plants from all around the globe that now burden our landscape and our environment. Because most of our native insects cannot eat these ubiquitous ornamental invaders, and so many animals rely directly or indirectly on insect protein for food, these alien plants cannot sustain any life but their own. It is time for suburban homeowners and gardeners to rise up and transform their impoverished land by planting for the mammals, birds, bees, butterflies and all the other critters we may not find as appealing but which play equally essential roles in continuing human survival.