There are a wide variety of chemical treatments available that will quickly knock down a pest insect population. Unfortunately, many of these chemical pesticides may also be toxic to humans or animals. A lot of chemical insecticides have a long half-life, which means the grower and the consumer of the cannabis are likely to come in contact with the toxic substance.
Some people will argue that these chemicals have safety precautions and many are rated for use on edible plants. Choosing a chemical insecticide that is made for edible plants rather than a chemical insecticide designed for ornamental plants only is basically choosing the lesser of two evils.
Most cannabis users do not eat the product, but rather inhale it through combustion. This is just one of the reasons why cannabis growers should always look to natural or organic pesticides as the first line of defense against pest insects. These substances are safer to consume, especially when inhaled.
Beneficial Insects for Cannabis Plants
Beneficial insects are the safest pest insect control when it comes to the health of the grower and the cannabis product’s end-user. Beneficial insects leave no residue or potentially harmful substances on the plant, which means they can be safely used during the cannabis plant’s flowering/ripening stage. There are many types of beneficial insects available. Some treat a variety of pest insects while others are specific to one kind of prey.
The most commonly used and one of the most effective beneficial insects are ladybugs. These carnivorous insects can devour thousands of pest insects over their lifespans. Ladybugs are a perfect choice for any cannabis grower looking to rid their marijuana garden of aphids—a favorite meal of ladybugs. Aside from aphids, ladybugs will eat spider mites, thrips, and just about any other bug they encounter.
Predator mites are a specific species of mites that feed on spider mites. These beneficial insects can be advantageous if a spider mite problem is caught early. There are a few different species of predator mites available and choosing the one that best suits the garden’s environmental conditions is imperative to successfully establishing the population.
Nematodes are tiny insects commonly found on the soil. Predatory nematodes are a great beneficial insect for dealing with any pest insect that spends a portion of its life cycle (eggs or larvae) in the soil. Predatory nematodes feed exclusively on pest insects and can help disrupt a pest insect’s life cycle. Predatory nematodes combined with an organic insecticide or other beneficial insect is the best way to attack a pest insect infestation during any of its life stages and promptly eradicate the problem.
Natural or Organic Insecticides
Just because an insecticide is natural or organic does not mean a gardener will not need to take safety precautions. Always make sure to follow the manufacturer’s application instructions and research the toxicity of each substance before use. Cannabis growers should avoid using pesticides during the flowering/ripening stage of growth, whether they are organic or not.
Pyrethrins are a natural derivative from chrysanthemums. This organic compound has been used in horticulture for many years due to its low toxicity to humans and animals. Pyrethrins are extremely toxic to insects and can be used to eradicate a wide variety of pest insects. The concentration of pyrethrins can vary greatly from product to product so following the manufacturer’s guidelines is extremely important.
Spinosad is an organic compound based on the bacteria species Saccharopolyspora spinosa. This bacterium disrupts the nervous system of the pest insects. Spinosad is most effective at treating the larvae stage of pest insects.
Azadirachtin is a compound found in neem oil. Many natural and organic insecticides are now using azadirachtin as the main active ingredient. Azadirachtin is an effective insect growth regulator that compromises an insect’s ability to molt. It also works as an anti-ovipositor, which prevents pest insects from laying eggs.
Pure castile soap and products sold as insecticidal soap are great organic treatments for soft-bodied pest insects. Insecticidal soap damages the insect’s outer membrane, which leads to dehydration and paralysis. Insecticidal soaps can also be used as an emulsifier and mixed with other organic pesticides. This helps keep the organic pesticide’s active ingredients on the leaf’s surface for longer.
Plant Oil Extracts
Garlic, clove, cayenne pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, and thyme are just some of the plant extracts used to create powerful natural insecticides. Most plant oil insecticides contain a mixture of a few different plant oils. The more we learn about these compounds, the more they can be incorporated into the natural pesticides of the future.
Cannabis growers must take a responsible approach to pest insect control. This is especially true if the plants are being grown for medicinal purposes. Organic and natural pesticides offer a much safer solution to treating pest insects than harsh chemical insecticides.
It is for cannabis growers to research their options. The Pesticide Action Network has information on more than 6,500 pesticides, all of which can be viewed and reviewed on their website: pesticideinfo.org.
When a pest insect problem arises, implementing a natural or organic treatment is the best way a cannabis grower can protect his or her own health and the health of all who will consume the product.