Think before you spray. It sounds good, and makes sense relative to using pesticides. But what does it really mean? In a nutshell, it means that when you have a pest problem, understand what you’re trying to manage before you take action. Know what the pest is, determine how much damage you can tolerate from the pest, then look at treatment options starting with the least toxic method.

Recently, I had a rather creepy experience applying the “Think before you spray” concept. Near our garbage can I noticed fat little worm-like bugs wriggling on the floor. I recognized the creatures as house fly larvae (aka maggots), and, due to the “yuck factor” immediately reached for a can of insect spray (albeit an “environmental friendly” form) to kill off these squirming beasts. I sprayed; they kept moving. I sprayed some more; they kept moving. I tried another type of spray. They kept on moving. I then stopped and went to the internet to find out how to eliminate them – thinking before I did any more treatment. I’d assumed (incorrectly) that any type of contact insecticide would wipe out these creepy crawlers. The UC Integrated Pest Management (IPM) website, my go-to resource for pest information, indicated that many insecticides are not effective in killing maggots and the ones I had available certainly weren’t. Following the website recommendations, I cleaned up the area with a bleach and water solution which did the trick. I could have saved time and effort if I’d stopped to think before I sprayed.

My behavior in this instance is pretty typical – we react to a perceived pest without considering our options, and in doing so, overuse pesticides. There are no national programs that estimate annual pesticide use, though you can get some sense of use from these pesticide statistics from the National Pesticide Information Center. Next time you visit a home improvement center or local nursery, check out the shelves of pesticides – the volume and diversity are enormous. With this vast array of products, it can be difficult to choose the right product to treat your pest problem without “thinking before you spray.”

So, what can you do to reduce your use of pesticides? Understand what you’re trying to manage before taking action, know what the pest is, determine how much damage you can tolerate and evaluate treatment options starting with the least toxic method. By doing so, you’ll join the “Think before you spray” community! 

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