Conserving water, starting a compost pile, recycling your aluminum cans, carpooling with co-workers and similar environmentally friendly practices are most certainly in vogue these days. It’s commonplace for office managers to consider and reconsider how everyday routines or protocols can be modified to be “greener.” This trend has become mainstream and applies to all facets of business.

The importance of the green approach is more than treating the environment with care and having as little negative impact as possible. It’s also about realizing that our customers, in this case the users of sports facilities, have come to expect that the fields and surrounding grounds will be cared for in concert with an environmentally friendly philosophy.

Green products

Green products can be categorized in three ways: tried and true, synthetic alternatives and new introductions.

Many old favorite pesticides have found favor in the public eye because of low toxicity and high efficacy. These products should remain available to sports turf managers for years to come. These will likely include the soaps and oils and “biopesticides,” all of which are in the first generation of green pest control products.

  • 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. This feature can be a very powerful tool: 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 (Bt) variety kurstaki. Among the very first environmentally friendly insecticides, Btk controls a wide variety of caterpillar pests attacking trees and shrubs. Btk can be successfully integrated into an overall pest control program, particularly on sports facilities that feature ornamental trees in concession areas for shade/heat relief.
  • Spinosad. Derived from the naturally occurring bacterium Saccharopolysora spinosa, spinosad 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 insect and mite pests.
  • Provaunt (indoxacarb). This oxadiazine-class insecticide controls lepidopterous larvae, including bagworms, fall webworms, gypsy moth caterpillars, tent caterpillars, tussock moth caterpillars and yellownecked caterpillars and a number of other pests infesting landscape ornamentals.
Photo courtesy of jm2c/stock.xchng.

New introductions

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 (thiamethoxam). Combination (pre-mix) 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 turf and landscape pests.

Keep budget in mind

As with any piece of the turf maintenance 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. It is also important to keep price in mind when selecting green products. In addition to the initial price, consider the number of applications needed to achieve satisfactory control of a target pest. If the price is the same for a green product and one of the older materials, but three applications are required as opposed to one, then the price of the control is three times greater with the green product. However, if the price and number of applications required are similar, then choosing the green product is a wise choice.

All products can be green

Well, maybe not some of the old arsenic or mercury compounds, but the point is, products having a wide array of properties can fit into a green program. Going green is less about which products are used and more about how they are used.

When the concept of xeriscape was rolled out in the ’80s, landscape architects and designers were clamoring for an approved list of xeriscape plants to include in their designs. As it turns out, such a list doesn’t exist; rather xeriscaping utilizes seven complementary strategies that promote better efficiency and water savings in landscapes. One of these strategies, right plant, right place, involves selection of perennials, shrubs, trees and ground covers with similar soil, sun/shade, height/width and moisture preferences. When these strategies are properly employed, literally any plant can be a xeriscape plant, they just have to be properly sited.

The same is true for green products. If properly used in accordance with IPM principles—correct identification of the pest and use of economic/aesthetic treatment thresholds, proper timing of the application and appropriate pre and post-application procedures—all products can be green.

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.