Here's some information about controlling pests with pesticides or natural remedies.

Beyond the buzz: The unintended consequences for Californians of going pesticide-free

A pesticide-free pest control movement is growing across the state, and an expert sounds the alarm on the potential risks and dangers homeowners face.

Put away the poisons and opt for earth-friendly ways of dealing with animal, insect and plant pests. That’s the clear message coming from councils across many parts of America. With a rising trend towards pesticide-free pest control methods in California, Zachary Smith of The Pest Dude, a leading expert in the pest control industry, sounds the alarm on the potential risks and dangers that homeowners might face if this movement continues unchecked.

“Pests are a reality we cannot escape from, and their control is essential for our health and safety,” Smith said. “While the intention to switch to natural methods is noble, it’s essential to understand the bigger picture. Many natural methods of controlling pests are not so effective. If simply switching to a natural alternative worked, there wouldn’t have been the need to spend billions of dollars crafting chemical solutions to certain pests. They’re considered ‘pests’, after all, because they are harmful to people and very difficult to control with all available methods”.

For example, proponents of the pesticide-free movement make suggestions such as:

Ant control
For ants, plant mint around a building’s foundation and sprinkle cinnamon, cloves, paprika, bay leaves, garlic, coffee grounds, cucumber or citrus peels to ward them off at points of entry.

The problem with this approach: Mint can become an invasive weed if let loose in the garden. And if kept in pots, it won’t have an effect on the ants that will simply walk on by.

Fly control
To discourage flies, plant lavender, nasturtiums, marigolds and basil.

The problem with this approach: Flies have been seen on dropped fruit or animal feces in all types of gardens, and not everyone can redesign their landscaping to plant copious amounts of these plants necessary to push a flying insect offsite.

Rat control
Removing attractants like fruit and nuts on trees or on the ground can cut down on rat traffic, so can getting rid of ivy. A tip for keeping rats out of parked cars is to place peppermint oil, Irish Spring soap, dryer sheets or red pepper under the hood.

The problem with this approach: While Smith fully agrees that all forms of sanitation and cleaning help reduce rats (and flies), he said, “The idea that people should treat their car daily with peppermint and dryer sheets is not sustainable for most people. A large rat population will not disband because of a few cars reeking of bar soap.  There’s a bigger issue here not being addressed.”

Gopher control
To combat gophers try putting castor oil, vanilla-flavored coffee beans, garlic, cat, dog or human hair in their holes to displace them. Apparently, moles also dislike coffee grounds, garlic and castor oil.

The problem with this approach: “The research shows gophers don’t care about castor oil.  Moles do, but moles are less damaging than gophers. Gophers can effectively be controlled via trapping — so there’s no need to poison gophers,” said Smith.

Using natural predators
To control rodent populations, some councils have introduced methods such as erecting barn owl boxes for the birds of prey to roost in – owls, hawks and raptors in theory naturally help control populations. Other methods rely on bigger predators to control rodent populations.

The problem with this approach: This can lead to unintended consequences. “Inviting predators like coyotes, mountain lions, foxes and bobcats into suburban yards isn’t a practical or safe solution,” said Smith. “These predators can pose risks to pets and even humans.”

One of the significant issues Smith sees is the lack of education.

“Just like with pesticides, natural methods can be ineffective when misused,” Smith said. “Improper use and overuse are common problems with both approaches. The real concern isn’t with the pesticide itself but how it’s applied. Many times people miss the mark entirely by not understanding the nature of the pest.”

If an untrained person applies too much pesticide, several issues can arise:

  • More risk to people and non-target animals.
    • Environmental issues like pollution and harm to wildlife (and even the specialized chemistry becoming completely ineffective).
    • Pests becoming resistant to the pesticide.
    • Breaking pesticide laws and facing legal trouble. “There are cases where neighbors have sued neighbors who misapplied pesticides and drifted over a property line,” Smith said.

Proper training and following instructions are crucial for safe and effective pesticide use.

“In skilled hands, a very small amount of pesticide can go a long way” Smith said.

In the hands of untrained individuals, even natural methods can prove detrimental or counter-effective. Overapplying a natural product, or not applying it frequently enough, can lead to ineffective pest control, leaving homeowners and businesses vulnerable to infestations and the diseases pests can carry.

“Pesticides are not harmful in small amounts because they are made to target specific pests and are formulated to have low toxicity to humans and non-target species,” Smith said. “When used according to the instructions, they pose minimal risk to the environment and can effectively manage pest populations while minimizing potential harm.”

Furthermore, Smith warns Californians of the potential economic implications of turning completely away from pesticides.

“Homeowners could face significant financial losses from having to continuously trap large rodent populations, not to mention the near impossibility of eradicating bed bugs and cockroaches with a pesticide free method,” he said.

Smith emphasizes the need for a balanced approach — one that uses both natural and traditional pest-control methods. These methods include habitat modification, which involves changing the environment to make it less hospitable to pests, and exclusion techniques, which prevent pests from entering buildings or specific areas.

He urges homeowners and businesses across the Golden State to consult with trained professionals before making any pest control decisions.

“Let’s make informed choices that prioritize our health, safety, and economic well-being” he said.