What to know before hiring a landscaper or pest control professional.

The best pest control approach is a plan, not a product.

1. Relies on poisons (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides). 
2. Ignores the source of pest problems. (Allows conditions to get worse.) 
3. Kills off beneficial plants and insects. 
4. Pollutes water, soil, food and air and contaminates buildings and landscapes. 
5. Harms people, pets and wildlife.
Caring for your property: THE BETTER WAY
1. Relies on a plan. (Don't spray 'em, outsmart 'em!) 
2. Prevents and corrects the source of pest problems. (Improves conditions.) 
3. Protects soil fertility and bio-diversity. 
4. Protects the quality of water, soil, food and air. (Enhances the quality of buildings and landscapes.) 
5. Protects the health and the safety of our families and community.

Don't be fooled by contractor or product names that sound "environmentally friendly." Consumers need to be cautious and skeptical to avoid being poisoned. Be alert for false safety claims and unethical practices.

Just because a company is named EnviroGreen or OrganoLawn doesn't mean that you are safe.  Don't be fooled by a picture of a tree, a child, a rabbit, a dog or a sunrise on the label or claims that a product is "safe" or "natural."  

Words that sound tame but mean poison include "weed n' feed," "pre-emergent," "grub control," and "treatment." 

Many contractors market their services as "Integrated Pest Management" (IPM) to appeal to your good intentions or take advantage of your trust and ignorance.

These products can give you, your family, and your neighbors headaches, rashes, nausea and breathing difficulties as well as cause a variety of long term health problems.

NOFA, the Massachusetts Organic Farming Association, is the only organization that has organic landcare standards and a training and accreditation program for organic landcare professionals. (http://nofa.organiclandcare.net/) 

Trustworthy pest management experts and wise landscape professionals take the time to ask you a lot of questions. He or she needs to learn about your house or yard, its history and ecology (sun/shade, wet/dry), and your patterns of use. They do a soil test to assess soil fertility, drainage, pH, lead and other contaminants, etc. 

If there is a pest problem, the expert needs to first identify the pest. Then he or she can suggest options for modifying the conditions that cause the pest problem. Beware of "exterminators" who sell you quick chemical fixes.

Before choosing a pest control step, the expert asks  "Do you have children or pets?" "Is anyone in the family especially vulnerable because of age (very young or old)?" "Does anyone in your family (or a neighbor's family) have a disability or illness such as asthma or cancer?"


Don't trust any contractor who suggests that chemicals are the only answer to pest problems. Be wary of special deals, free offers, and high pressure sales tactics.

Avoid any contractor who suggests using pesticides on a fixed schedule to "prevent" pests or as a general treatment regardless of the extent or location of the pest problem. 

Beware four-step programs. Beware landscapers who use leaf blowers that spread contaminants (fungus, invasives, pesticides, fecal matter, etc.), that dry and destroy top soil, and increase air pollution.

NO PESTICIDE IS SAFE even when it is used according to label directions.

Federal Law prohibits safety claims that directly or indirectly imply that a pesticide is approved or endorsed by any federal agency. The US EPA registration is not an approval. It means a product is used to kill insects or plants. It does not mean a product is safe.

Watch out for prohibited claims such as "non-toxic to humans and pets," "safe when used as directed" or even "all natural ingredients." 

Any contractor who dismisses your concerns or downplays the risks of any product, even "natural pesticides," should not be trusted with the health and well-being of your family.

Even "natural" products can be irritating to eyes, nose, lungs and skin so caution is always appropriate.  (Think poison ivy.)

What you don't know can hurt you. 

"Pesticides" is a category that includes insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, and fungicides. They are all biocides (poisons).

Common products such as RoundUp are marketed as safe in spite of evidence that they can cause a host of health effects such as cancer, nervous system damage, miscarriages and hormone disruption. 

Ask the contractor for the product label and manufacturer's safety data sheet (MSDS) on any product the contractor suggests using.  
Note that pesticide product labels list so-called "inert" ingredients.

"Inert" does not mean biologically inactive.

Inerts are the ingredients that transport or carry the active ingredient, amplify its toxicity, increase its active life, and/or increase its ability to stick to or penetrate your skin.

By law, these so-called "inerts" are "trade secrets." Manufacturers do not disclose them to the public or even to the US EPA even though many are more toxic than the active ingredients listed on the label.

Remember, the best pest control approach is a plan, not a product.

Learn the basic principles for preventing and controlling pest problems from books such as The Chemical-Free Lawn by Warren Schultz and Common Sense Pest Control, by Olkowski, Daar, and Olkowski. 

Beyond Pesticides www.beyondpesticides.org

Grassroots Environmental Education www.grassrootsinfo.org/

GreenCAPE www.greencape.org

Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides www.pesticide.org

Send your questions and comments to Ellie Goldberg, ellie.goldberg@healthy-kids.info