Don’t kill the buzz

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July 28, 2017
Bob Mann

Green Guides features a rotating panel of LCOs sharing their real-world experience on how to build and grow a successful lawn care business.

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The topic of pollinators in lawn care is one of the most fascinating I have encountered in my career. Each time I think I have my arms around the subject, another unexpected twist or turn will come my way and smash all of my preconceived notions of how we care for lawns, interact with our customers, and act as good stewards of the environment.

Pollinators like the honeybee and bumblebee have been having a tough time of it in the past few years. If it’s not colony collapse disorder causing entire hives of honeybees to disappear suddenly, it’s the varroa mite, poor nutrition or pesticide exposure that ails them. The challenges to commercial beekeeping, those hives that travel across the nation pollinating everything from almonds in California to blueberries in Maine, have seeped into the native bee populations, affecting them as well.

The bulk of the problem lies outside of professional lawn care, as we are only responsible for a tiny fraction of the pesticides used in agriculture and we have no need to employ commercial pollinators in our industry.

That said, we come under intense scrutiny for our use of all pesticides, not just insecticides, because we tend to be the ‘low-hanging fruit’ for those environmental activists who feel the need to do something when confronted with a crisis. New laws and regulations are passed, usually targeting the very people who use pesticides responsibly and ignoring completely those who have no training at all.

As we start the new lawn care season, it’s a good idea to pause for a moment to consider the products we use and how we use them. By reviewing some simple principles, we can provide our customers with the results they expect and enhance pollinator safety, too.

Know your enemy.

Understand the weeds, insects and diseases that infest your lawns, their life cycles and the best management practices for controlling them. Have a working knowledge of cultural practices that can be employed to reduce the need for pesticides. Know what products will control best while impacting least. For instance, knowing that preventive grub controls have a definite window of time for application is not only essential for good control, it helps you to avoid applying when there’s no chance of success.

Eradication is not an option.

A solid best management practice is to understand the number of insects the lawn can tolerate without damage being apparent. Consider that a healthy, well-managed lawn can tolerate up to eight to 15 Japanese beetle grubs per square foot successfully. Even with a well-executed insecticide application, not every insect will be controlled. However, eradication should never be your goal, but rather it should be managing the insect population below the damage threshold.

Keep them separate.

Insecticides kill insects and honeybees are insects. That simple arithmetic should always be in the back of your head as you formulate your lawn care program. When you do decide an insecticide application is the best course of action, your awareness of pollinators in your environment will go a long way towards protecting them – keep the pesticides over here and the pollinators over there.

In lawn settings, turf grasses do not require pollinators for reproduction, but many lawn weeds do. Controlling flowering weeds prior to an insecticide application will keep pollinators from being attracted to the lawn. Another good strategy is to mow off weed flowers prior to an insecticide application.

The formulation of the insecticide has an impact as well. When sprayed on the lawn surface, insecticides are right on the leaf surface where pollinators can incidentally encounter them. Using a granular formulation, such as a fertilizer/insecticide combination product, allows the insecticide to fall quickly to the soil surface out of reach of pollinators. As always, read and follow the label directions to the letter, including passing along to the customer any information and instructions, such as watering the product in after application.

“Bee” the expert.

These days, almost every turf grass conference has at least one session devoted to the issue of pollinators. Cooperative extension services nationwide have online resources available on turf grass management that are indispensable. Pesticide manufacturers have developed literature that serves to educate both you and your customers on the safe use products.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals has training and resources available. Another fantastic resource is industry message boards where you can interact with your peers, asking questions and offering advice.

Bob Mann is the corporate agronomist for Lawn Dawg.