University of Illinois Extension

To Spray or Not to Spray

Pesticides can provide quick relief from many pests, but they are not the solution to every pest problem. Pesticides provide many benefits, but they can harm people, pets, and plants. If used improperly, they can also pollute air, soil, and water. Before you decide to use any pesticide, answer some basic questions.

What's causing the problem?

The first step in an effective pest management program is proper identification. Many problems, although they resemble those caused by pests, can be caused by other factors. For instance, holes in leaves may be caused by late frost damage, not by chewing insects. If it is a pest problem, identification of the pest is key to controlling it. That step is often the most difficult. Fortunately, many resources are available when help is needed. At the very least, start with a good library of reference books that you can refer to for information. Another resource available through your local University of Illinois Extension Office are Master Gardener volunteers. During the growing season (May through September) Master Gardeners are available in Extension offices to receive calls requesting help in pest identification.

Do I need to control it?

The importance of controlling a pest varies with the situation. While you may be willing to tolerate some weeds in your lawn or some spiders in your basement, certain pests present serious threats. Termites, for example, can cause major structural damage and often need to be controlled. However, large numbers of ants in the lawn rarely damage the lawn and have little relationship to the number of ants that enter the home.

How do I control it?

Before applying any pesticide, consider alternative management strategies. Many pest problems can be prevented. Use good horticulture practices, such as proper mowing and fertilizing to keep a lawn thick and healthy which helps to prevent new weeds. Choose pest resistant plant varieties for the landscape to help prevent insects and diseases. Properly seal and caulk around windows and doorframes to prevent insects from entering the home. Often the use of pesticides is not necessary. If the situation does require the use of a pesticide application, be sure to read and follow the label recommendations.

Joe Toman, Extension Educator, Integrated Pest Management