| Categories: Pesticides, Trees

Trees and Pesticide use: Finding a Balance

I try to see both sides of most issues. I’m willing to consider two seemingly contradictory, yet only contrary, viewpoints at the same time. I’m a Vikings fan, but I don’t hate the Packers. (I do hate the Cowboys since in my youth Drew Pearson did push off.) I think the conservatives have great ideas; I think the liberals have great ideas. I might be the most middle-of-the-road guy you will meet. Hopefully, I won’t get driven over by the traffic from both directions. There is a place in a tree’s ecosystem for limited pesticide use, including neonicotinoids. All pesticides are not bad. But, to the extent they are being used now, overuse and misuse is a real problem.

Insecticides are bad for insects, including the beneficial insects like bees and other pollinators. The bee population in the United States has been reduced at an alarming rate for the past few years. Pointing fingers at where the larger source of pesticide use occurs will not do any good. We need to reduce all sources of overuse. Any reduction in stresses to bee habitat will help, including, among other things, less pesticide use and increased use of native wild flowers — things most people can do to help. Trees are a part of the pollinator habitat as well. I’ve met many customers who will not use pesticides of any kind until they learn that their tree may die without chemical treatment. Then, because most people do not want lose their tree, they are willing to use a pesticide.

The problem is that many trees are treated for things that will never kill them. I understand people have an aesthetic threshold for treatment as well; it’s part of the Integrated Pest Management equation. To avoid the misuse and overuse of pesticides, applications should only be made within a rigorous Integrated Pest Management framework. Our company’s policy, before proposing pesticide applications, is to provide the customer with the options involved with not treating. In short, we propose chemical treatments only when they are absolutely required. We are not actively seeking out every tree that could be treated. Bucking a common industry practice, we do not incentivize our arborists through higher commission rates for chemical treatments.

Emerald Ash Borer — Even though our company does not plant trees, we believe planting a new tree is the best option for EAB control. We will treat trees through trunk injection if the customer cannot lose the tree.

Japanese Beetle — We encourage customers to wait it out, though it may take years. Japanese beetles sure like linden trees and treating linden trees can be horrendous for the pollinators. The term, “tank mix” aka “spray and pray”, refers to mixing a tank with an insecticide, a miticide, a fungicide and whatever else you have on the shelf, and heading out to spray. Spray and pray you fixed the plant problem. It’s an ecologically destructive short cut that is part of the mess of the over use of pesticides. Sadly, this outdated practice continues.

A tree does not stand alone in a yard. A tree is the essential part of the ecosystem that surrounds it. As I write this article I see on the bookshelf, A New Tree Biology by Alex Shigo published by Shigo & Trees, Associates. It’s the associates that are getting short shrift in the discussion of pesticide use.

(Originally published in the May 2014 issue of The Scoop, the magazine of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. View a printable version.)