Pesticides can have a wide range of harmful effects on different wildlife species, from insects and small mammals to larger predators and birds of prey. Some of how pesticides can impact wildlife include:
Harm to Beneficial Insects
Pesticides can harm beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, and ladybugs, essential for pollinating crops and flowers. This can lead to a decline in the population of these important insects, which can have ripple effects on the wider ecosystem.
Harm to Birds
Pesticides can harm birds directly by causing neurological damage or disrupting their reproductive systems. Birds can also be exposed to pesticides indirectly by consuming contaminated prey or seeds.
Harm to Mammals
Small mammals, such as mice and voles, can be exposed to pesticides by consuming contaminated plants or insects. Larger mammals, such as deer and coyotes, can be exposed to pesticides by consuming contaminated prey.
Impact on Predatory Species
Predatory birds, such as hawks and owls, can be exposed to pesticides when they consume smaller animals affected. This can lead to a decline in the population of these important predators, which can have ripple effects on the wider ecosystem.
Harm to Aquatic Life
Pesticides can enter the water system and harm aquatic life like fish, frogs, and other amphibians. This can significantly impact the wider ecosystem, as these species are often important indicators of the environment's health.
Impact on Soil Health
Pesticides can harm the microorganisms and earthworms essential for maintaining healthy soil. This can lead to a decline in the health of plants and a reduction in the quality of the soil.
In addition to these direct impacts, pesticides can also have long-term environmental effects. They can accumulate in soil and water and can even enter the food chain, with harmful effects on wildlife at higher levels.
To protect wildlife from the harmful effects of pesticides, there are several things that individuals can do. Using alternative pest control methods, such as integrated pest management, can reduce the use of pesticides in the environment. Planting native species of plants in gardens can also help to support local wildlife and reduce the need for pesticides. Additionally, supporting regulations that limit or ban harmful pesticides can effectively protect wildlife and the environment.
Nursery Plants and Pesticides
Unless you buy from a certified organic nursery, your beautiful plant has likely been sprayed with at least one pesticide. Pesticides can be dangerous to wildlife, killing insects and earthworms in the soil and harming life forms that take sustenance from them.
Pesticides can kill wild animals, like bobcats, mountain lions, deer, squirrels, hawks, and owls, when animals eat bait products left out for pest species or by eating prey with pesticides in their body tissues. Pesticides can also disrupt animal hormones, affecting behavior and their reproduction ability. 1
So can you remove pesticides from nursery plants? Well, it depends on the type of pesticide used and whether or not it is a systemic insecticide.
What is a Systemic Insecticide?
The term systemic means that the chemical used is soluble enough in the water that it is absorbed by a plant and moved around in its tissues. Systemic pesticide movement occurs principally in the plant’s vascular system, including the xylem and the phloem.
The xylem distributes the water and dissolved minerals upward through the plant, from the roots to the leaves. The phloem carries food downward from the leaves to the roots.
Systemic pesticides are chemicals that the plant absorbs when applied to the plant's soil, leaves, or even seeds. Systemic pesticides are found in the soil, plant, leaves, flowers, and even nectar and pollen. Even the freshwater droplets from a plant’s surface often test positive for systemic pesticides.
Four main systemic pesticides are applied mostly to food crops. These pesticides are members of the neonicotinoid group of chemicals, which have been implicated in the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has killed millions of bees.
Applied to veggies such as tomatoes and leafy greens.
Used as seed “treatment” for corn, but is also applied to soil for fruit and veggies.
A seed contaminant used on canola, cereal, sugar beets, and potatoes.
This is applied to soil or sprayed directly onto leafy greens and other veggies, including cucumbers.
Getting Rid of Systemic Pesticides
Even if the plant is clear on the outside, systemic pesticides might be inside the plant, which takes time to grow out. Unlike traditional insecticides, you cannot rinse away systemic pesticide residues. The only thing you can do is wait for the pesticide to leave the plant and surrounding soil.
It can take months for some systemic pesticides to leave the plant. Some plants have faster growth rates and vascular systems, which speed up the process.
Even though many gardening sites state that systemic insecticides wear down within six weeks, some can last up to 1,000 days or more in the soil and affect the ecosystem around it for up to two seasons. 2 These pesticides poison the water, soil, earthworms, bees, and other insects.
Floramite, one common systemic found at garden centers like Lowe's and Home Depot, stays active in the plant for at least a month, according to the label. Others, such as Orthene, stay active for 7 to 10 days.
Removing Pesticide Sprays from a Plant
A non-systemic pesticide is a topical pesticide that can easily be washed off a plant. Unlike systemic products, non-systemic insecticides can easily be flushed or drained from the plant's root zone, leaving little to no residues behind.
1. Wash and Rinse
Plants can be thoroughly washed with a solution containing a few drops of dish soap or baby bath soap and water sprayed using a hose to remove pesticides.
The pesticide that washes off will be encapsulated and less likely to cause damage to wildlife.
2. Replace the Soil
Depending on the type of plant you bought, getting rid of the soil will take care of pesticide residue and run-off. Most pesticides are easily broken down within the soil; you can usually rinse away all the soil from plants and replace it.
Shake or use a hose to gently wash the dirt around the plant and place it in organic soil.
WARNING: Be aware that a few plants cannot tolerate having their roots disturbed and will not survive this process.
3. Use Activated Charcoal
Use Activated Charcoal Activated charcoal is a natural substance that can help absorb and remove plant toxins. Place a small amount of activated charcoal in the soil around the plant, and it will absorb any pesticides in the soil.
Pesticides can harm a wide range of wildlife, from insects and small mammals to larger predators and birds of prey. They can disrupt the ecosystem and cause long-term damage to soil, water, and the food chain. To protect wildlife, individuals can choose alternative pest control methods, plant native species, and support regulations that limit or ban harmful pesticides. By taking these actions, we can help to support a healthier environment and protect the furry and feathered creatures that share our planet.
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