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How Do I Get Rid of Pests?

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Getting Rid of Pests

In the previous section on: What kind of pests do I have?, we identified various different kind of insects and how to control each one of them. We recommended various different treatments for each bug that are probably new to you, such as: Diazinon, Dursban, Orthene, BT, Sevin, Endophyte-enhanced grasses, nematodes, pyrethrins, and insecticidal soaps, etc.. These may sound a bit technical and overwhelming, but really are not. However, if you are not at all a handyman, or simply don't not have the means or know-how to properly handle, store, and dispose of these materials, then you may want to hire a professional in your area to do it for you! Click here to find a Service listing in your area!

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Before you decide to go out and buy up all kinds of insecticides and treatments, it must be emphasized that the best pest prevention of all is a healthy and vigorously-growing lawn! Pests are less likely to attack and make their home in your lawn if you emphasize good maintenance habits from watering, fertilizing, aeration, thatch control, and mowing -- especially during your grass's growing season. A healthy growing lawn will better withstand the usual pest problems and can recover much more quickly and with less damage. With certain bugs, you can even mow your lawns higher, aerate & dethatch more frequently, and reduce the amounts of water and fertilizer you apply to help control them. For each specific bug see: What kind of pests do I have?

If you have an insect problem that needs treatment, there are five basic types of controls commonly used: Chemical Insecticides, Biological Insecticides, Botanical Insecticides, Insecticidal Soaps, and Predatory Insects.

Chemical Insecticides:

Chemical Insecticides are manufactured controls including commonly used treatments like Dursban, Diazinon, Sevin, and Orthene. These insecticides are usually the quickest forms of treatment, but can also come at a much greater expense, and I don't mean just money! These treatments can not only kill the "bad" insects, but the "good" ones as well. Make sure you carefully read the instructions and labels to determine whether they will end up hurting your lawn more then helping. For example, if you use an insecticide to kill off cutworms, you may also be killing-off other insects that are beneficial to your lawn by preying on other insects and/or controlling your thatch levels. Moreover, you could also end up harming other animals such as birds, pets, and even your children! So be careful, follow instructions on the containers, and make sure you are working to solve problems, not creating new ones! The most types of these insecticides are:

  • Dursban: Commonly Used On: Chinch Bugs, Cutworms, Flea Beetles, Sod Webworms, White Grubs, Armyworms, Caterpillars, ticks, fire ants, fleas, wasps, mosquitoes, and ants.
  • Diazinon: Commonly Used On: Billbugs, Chinch Bugs, Cutworms, Flea Beetles, Sod Webworms, and White Grubs & Japanese Beetles.
  • Sevin: Commonly Used On: Billbugs, White Grubs & Japanese Beetles, Caterpillars, ants, fleas, mosquitoes, and ticks.
  • Orthene: Commonly Used On: Cutworms.


Biological Insecticides:

Biological Insecticides are organisms that attack other organisms. In this case, they usually target only those insects you are trying to get rid of. The obvious advantage to this is that while controlling only one pest, you are not harming other "good" insects, pets, humans, etc.. Additionally, unlike the chemical types, biological controls will NOT leave toxic chemicals and residues behind. However, they do tend to agitate some people with allergies, so make sure before you start that you know the possible side effects. The more common types of these insecticides are:

  • Endophytes: Endophytes act as a fungus that grows inside of grass stems that when eaten, is toxic to many insects and will ultimately kill them off. The advantage here is that while they are toxic to some insects, they are of no harm to humans. Commonly Used On: Bill Bugs, Chinch Bugs, and Sod Webworms.
  • BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis): Bacillus Thuringiensis, commonly referred to as "BT", is a bacterium that, when ingested, will destroy insects by eating at the inner lining of their guts. Once applied (usually in the early evening), it tends to have a limited duration of only a few days. Commonly Used On: Sod Webworms, Army Worms, Cutworms, and moth larvae. Another form commonly referred to as Milky Spore (Bacillus Popilliae) is used to control White Grubs (Japanese Beetles).


Botanical Insecticides:

Botanical insecticides are those created from plants and are usually not insect specific in targeting. Therefore, much like the chemical types, they can not only kill "bad" insects, but may kill the "good" ones too. Depending on the type, they can also be toxic. The more common types of these insecticides are:

  • Pyrethrin: Pyrethrin is derived from pyrethin flowers and is a medium to highly toxic insecticide that will kill many different types (a broad-spectrum insecticide) of insects at once. It is commonly used to spot-treat areas of a lawn. Try to avoid run-off into areas that contain fish, for it can harm and/or even kill them. Commonly Used On: White Grubs, Army Worms, beetles, Webworms, Green Bugs, and caterpillars.
  • Neem: Neem is an oil extract from a neem tree. Neem is relatively low-toxic for animals and can help treat both infested areas, and help prevent other insects (White Grubs - Japanese Beetles) from visiting and making your lawn home. Commonly Used On: Green Bugs, White Grubs (Japanese Beetles), and caterpillars.
  • Sabadilla: Sabadilla is derived from sabadilla plant seeds and is known for being a low-toxic bontanical insecticide. Commonly Used On: Chinch Bugs, Webworms, Armyworms, Green Bugs, and grasshoppers.


Insecticidal Soaps:

Insecticidal soaps are a biodegradable treatment derived from salts of fatty acids. They work best when wet or applied with water and applied by thoroughly soaking the soil to kill the intended insects (especially those at depth in your soil). These soaps work by penetrating the cell-bodies of insects and are usually only effective on soft-bodied insects. Commonly Used On: White Grubs, Chinch Bugs, Sod Webworms, and Billbugs.

Predatory Insects:

As previously discussed, there are "good" bugs, and there are "bad" bugs. Since most bugs are generally not a nuisance, it is important to understand that nature often has a way to balance itself out. Insects such as ants, ground beetles, lady bugs, wasps, big-eyed bugs, and even animals like birds can be helpful in controlling your "bad" bug populations by either feeding on, or parasitically attacking them. Basically, they can do a lot of this work for you! However, the best way to help them is not to kill them. Many pesticides can and will kill these predators if you're not careful. If you have to use insecticides that can harm or kill these "good" bugs, try to limit the use (if you can) to spot-treatments on limited areas.

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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