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Remember that total pest elimination is virtually impossible, and trying to eradicate pests from your premises will lead you to more extensive, repeated chemical treatments than are required for pest control. Remember, too, that to manage any pest effectively, you must use each method (or combination of methods) correctly. Finally, you must also abide by all pertinent local, state, and federal regulations.

There is another important question to ask in making pest control decisions: is there something on your premises that needlessly invites pest infestations? The answer to this question may lead you to take some common-sense steps to modify pest habitat.

* Remove water sources. All pests, vertebrate or invertebrate, need water for survival. Fix leaky plumbing and do not let water accumulate anywhere in your home. This means no water in trays under your houseplants overnight if you have a cockroach infestation.

* Remove food sources (if the pest's food is anything other than the plant or animal you are trying to protect). For example, this could mean storing your food in sealed glass or plastic containers, avoiding the habit of leaving your pet's food out for extended periods of time, and placing your refuse in tightly covered, heavy-gauge garbage cans.

* Remove or destroy pest shelter. Caulk cracks and crevices to control cockroaches; remove piles of wood from under or around your home in order to avoid attracting termites.

* Remove and destroy diseased plants, tree prunings, and fallen fruit that might harbor pests.

* Remove breeding sites. The presence of pet manure attracts flies, litter encourages rodents, and standing water provides a perfect breeding place for mosquitoes.

* Remove sources of preventable stress to plants (flowers, trees, vegetable plants, and turf). Plant at the optimum time of year. Use mulch to reduce weed competition and maintain even soil temperature and moisture. Provide adequate water.

* Use preventive cultural practices, such as careful selection of disease-resistant seed or plant varieties, companion planting to exploit the insect-repellent properties of certain plants, strategic use of "trap" crops to lure pests away from crops you wish to protect, crop rotation and diversification, and optimum use of spacing. Make sure you have good drainage and soil aeration.

Non-chemical Controls
If you practice preventive techniques such as those mentioned above, you will reduce your chances, or frequency, of pest infestation. However, if you already have an infestation, are there any pest control alternatives besides chemical pesticides?

The answer is an emphatic "yes." One or a combination of several non-chemical treatment alternatives may be appropriate. Your best strategy depends on the pest and the site where the pest occurs.

Non-chemical alternatives include:

* Biological treatments, including predators such as purple martins, praying mantises, and ladybugs; parasites; and pathogens such as bacteria, viruses (generally not available to homeowners), and other microorganisms like Bacillus thuringiensis and milky spore disease.

There is no way to be certain how long predators will stay in target areas. Contact your County Extension Service for information about how to protect desirable predators.

* Mechanical treatments, including cultivating to control weeds, hand-picking weeds from turf and pests from plants, trapping to control rodents and some insects, and screening living space to limit mosquito and fly access.

Non-chemical pest control methods really work. They do have some disadvantages: the results are not immediate, and it requires some work to make a home or garden less attractive to pests. But the advantages of non-chemical methods are many. Compared to chemical pesticide treatments, such methods are generally effective for longer periods of time. They do not create hardy, pesticide-resistant pest populations. And they can be used without safeguards, because they pose virtually no hazards to human health or the environment.

Chemical Controls
If you decide that chemical treatment can provide the best solution to your pest problem, and you want to control the pests yourself rather than turning the problem over to a professional pest control operator, then you have an important decision to make: which product to choose. Before making that decision, learn as much as you can about a product's active ingredient--its biologically active agent. Is it "broad-spectrum" in its mode of action (effective against a broad range of pests), or is it "selective" (effective against only a few pest species)? How rapidly does the active ingredient break down once it is introduced into the environment? Is it suspected of causing chronic health effects? Is it toxic to non-target wildlife and house pets? Is it known, or suspected, to leach through soil into ground water?

When you have narrowed your choices of active ingredients, you are ready to select a pesticide product. Choose the least toxic pesticide that can achieve the results you desire. Read the label. It lists active ingredients, the target pests (for example, mites, flies, Japanese beetle grubs, broad-leafed weeds, algae, etc.), and the sites where the product may be used (for example, lawns, specific vegetable crops, roses, swimming pools, etc.).

Pesticide active ingredients are formulated in many ways. Choose the formulation best suited to your site and the pest you are trying to control. The most common types of home-use pesticide formulations include:

* Solutions, which contain the active ingredient and one or more additives, and readily mix with water.

* Aerosols, which contain one or more active ingredients and a solvent. They are ready for immediate use as is.

* Dusts, which contain active ingredients plus a very fine dry inert carrier such as clay, talc, or volcanic ash. Dusts are ready for immediate use and are applied dry.

* Granulars, which are similar to dusts, but with larger and heavier particles for broadcast applications.

* Baits, which are active ingredients mixed with food or other substances to attract the pest.

* Wettable powders, which are dry, finely ground formulations that generally are mixed with water for spray application. Some also may be used as dusts.

Depending on the type of formulation you choose, you may need to dilute or mix the product. Prepare only the amount that you need for each application; don't prepare larger amounts to store for possible future use.

Once you have identified the pest, selected the right pesticide, and determined proper dosage, you are ready to use the product. Application technique and timing are every bit as important as the material used, so read the label for directions. Before you buy a product, and again before you mix it, before you apply it, before you store it, and before you throw it away.
Chemical pesticides also have their disadvantages. They must be used very carefully to achieve results while protecting users and the environment. The results are generally temporary, and repeated treatments may be required.

Therefore, to achieve best results when you do use chemical pesticides, use preventive and non-chemical treatments along with them. This will reduce the need for repeated applications.

You should always evaluate your pesticide use, comparing pre-treatment and post-treatment conditions. You should weigh the benefits of short-term chemical pesticide control against the benefits of long-term control using a variety of techniques. Knowledge of a range of pest control techniques gives you the ability to pick and choose among them. Pests, unfortunately, will always be around us, and, if you know about all pest control options, you will know what to do the next time THEY'RE THERE.

Tips for Handling Pesticides

Pesticides are not "safe." They are produced specifically because they are toxic to something. By heeding all the following tips, you can reduce your risks when you use pesticides.

* Before using a pesticide, read the entire label. Even if you have used the pesticide before, read the label again--don't trust your memory. Use of any pesticide in any way that is not consistent with label directions and precautions is subject to civil and/or criminal penalties.

* Do not use a "restricted use" pesticide unless you are a formally trained, certified pesticide applicator. These products are too dangerous to be used without special training.

* Most surface sprays should be applied only to limited areas; don't treat entire floors, walls, or ceilings.

* Never place rodent or insect baits where small children or pets can reach them.

* When applying spray or dust outdoors, cover fish ponds, and avoid applying pesticides near wells. Always avoid over-application when treating lawn, shrubs, or gardens.
Runoff or seepage from excess pesticide usage may contaminate water supplies. Excess spray may leave harmful residues on homegrown produce.

* Keep herbicides away from non-target plants. Avoid applying any pesticide to blooming plants, especially if you see honeybees or other pollinating insects around them. Avoid birds' nests when spraying trees.

* Never spray or dust outdoors on a windy day.

* Never smoke while applying pesticides. You could easily carry traces of the pesticide from hand to mouth. Also, some products are flammable.

* Never transfer pesticides to containers not intended for them, such as empty soft drink bottles. Keep pesticides in containers that clearly and prominently identify the contents. Properly refasten all childproof caps.

* Shower and shampoo thoroughly after using a pesticide product. Wash the clothing that you wore when applying the product separately from the family laundry. To prevent tracking chemicals inside, also rinse boots and shoes before entering your home