With most consumable products, everyone wants the latest and greatest. Pesticide products are no exception. The public (at least the politicians) are demanding pest control agents that are greener, that is, softer on the environment, yet retaining the level of effectiveness that we’re all accustomed to. Most of your customers likely fit in this category as well.

New Insecticide Options for the Green Industry

This is not necessarily a bad thing. This level of scrutiny has guided the industry away from older materials, such as ones containing mercury compounds and arsenicals, as well as ones that accumulate in the fatty tissues of humans (e.g., DDT). Unfortunately, this has also led to the discontinuance of insecticides that are much less problematic, including Dursban and diazinon.

Overall, we want our insecticides to effectively control damaging insects, be neutral toward beneficial insects and other nontarget organisms and be cost-effective when employed as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) program.

Oldies, but goodies

Many old, favorite insecticides should remain available to the arborist for years to come. These will likely include the soaps and oils, and so-called biopesticides.

  • Insecticidal soaps (potassium salts of fatty acids) and horticultural oils (petroleum and plant oils)—These insecticides offer effective control of soft-bodied pests, such as whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, caterpillars and spider mites. An attractive feature of soaps and oils is their low toxicity to humans, pets and wildlife, which can be a powerful sales tool for you: effective results with minimal environmental risk.
  • Neem oil—These azadirachtin-based products effectively control aphids, caterpillars, beetles, leafminers, thrips and many other soft-bodied insects.
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) variety kurstaki—Long-known as an environmentally friendly or green insecticide, B.t.k. controls a wide variety of caterpillar pests attacking trees and shrubs.
  • Spinosad—Derived from the naturally occurring bacterium Saccharopolysora spinosa, it provides effective control of caterpillars (armyworms, cutworms, webworms), thrips, leafminers and other insects attacking trees and ornamentals. Spinosad is active through ingestion or by contact exposure. Insect feeding generally ceases within a few minutes, and death of the target pest occurs after one to three days.
  • Synthetic Alternatives
  • Pyrethroids—These include products such as Astro (permethrin), DeltaGard (deltamethrin), Scimitar (lambda-cyhalothrin), Talstar (bifenthrin) and Tempo (cyfluthrin). They are related in structure and mode of action to naturally occurring botanical insecticides, the pyrethrins. As a group, these broad-spectrum insecticides control a wide array of tree and landscape insects and mites.
  • Provaunt (indoxacarb)—This oxadiazine-class insecticide controls lepidopterous larvae including bagworms, fall webworms, gypsy moth caterpillars, tent caterpillars, tussock moth caterpillars and yellownecked caterpillars, as well as a number of other pests infesting landscape ornamentals.

In with the new

In the future, expect to see wider use of systemic longer residual insecticides including products such as Acelepryn (chlorantraniliprole), Arena (clothianidin), Merit (imidacloprid) and Meridian/Flagship (thiame-thoxam). Combination (premix) products, such as Allectus (imidacloprid + bifenthrin) and Aloft (clothianidin + bifenthrin), will also become increasingly accessible. These products provide extended control of a wide range of landscape pests.

PHOTO BY KIMBERLY STOCKWEL-MORRISON.

Use the trend to your advantage

Although not directly responsible for the development of new pest control agents, arborists are the face of the pest control manufacturing industry to the customer. Most clients have a fuzzy notion that the applicator and pesticide manufacturer/formulator are the same person, and any thoughts or opinions formed are directed at the tree care provider.

Use this to your advantage; tout the fact that your company applies only the latest, most environmentally friendly insecticides to their trees. This should be included in your company newsletter, mailings, billing statements and direct-marketing efforts.

As with any piece of the profitability equation, pest control agents are an important tool, but they’re just that, one tool to be used as part of an overall IPM plan. Sure, the latest and greatest are powerful new products, but they still remain as a part of the jigsaw puzzle that we call pest control, not a silver bullet or magic cure-all.

Keep in mind that unless new equipment is required to apply the newest insecticide products, the other parts of what it takes to run a successful tree care business are still in place: insurance, labor, training, printing/mailing, trucks, protective clothing, etc. Strive to utilize the most effective materials in light of the bottom line.

John C. Fech is a horticulturist, certified arborist and frequent contributor located in Omaha, Neb. Frederick P. Baxendale is a professor and extension entomologist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.