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By Sarah Jay
Whether you’re growing cannabis indoors or outdoors, if you’ve been doing it long enough you know there is a fair amount of time you must devote to pest control. It could be insect infestations (white flies, spider mites, thrips), bacterial infections (mold and mildew), or fungal infections you find yourself grappling with. Regardless of the origin, controlling pests and stopping infestations at the source is paramount to a successful yield.
It’s important to remember that not all pesticides are equal, though there are many options. We can divide pesticides into three categories: biochemical, microbial, or plant-incorporated protectants. The size, location, and overall style of your endeavor will be the biggest indicator of where to go with pest control. In this article, we’ll discuss the safest modes of controlling pests in home-grow, and commercial operations.
Related Articles: The 3 Most Common Cannabis Pests & How to Get Rid of Them
Then there are those pesticides which are very effective in the short term, but completely detrimental to the existing environment. Non-organic pesticides will harm with water run-off which can damage and erode the soil and bring toxic chemicals into existing water supplies and ecosystems. They can also completely wipe out beneficial insects and bacteria and sterilize the favorable system you may have built up in your growing operation. At worst, they can cause chronic illness in you and your loved ones as well as pets, and other life in the surrounding area.
1. Avid: Avid is a foliar chemical pesticide that contains chemicals that are toxic when ingested or epidermally absorbed by beneficial insects and humans. It’s also harmful to the environment (earth, plant, and animals). If you come upon a plant that is subsumed by pests, and you’re considering using Avid to remove them, just burn the plant. That will destroy them and prevent the infestation from spreading. The toxic risk of this pesticide is one of those causing a lot of environmental degradation.
2. Floramite: Floramite is another foliar solution chemical pesticide that causes lasting damage to living entities that encounter it. The SDS sheet on this chemical (Bifenazate) identifies it as an irritant, health hazard, and environmental hazard. It will most assuredly cause more harm than good in comparison to the fleeting moments you will have of pest free plants.
It goes without saying that the more natural a pest control method, the safer it is for you and for the surrounding environment. But the most important thing to note for organic and all-natural pesticides is that they work more slowly and require a lot of consistent application. It’s also important to apply oils and solutions carefully on leaves and prevent them from getting too deeply into soil. Too much of any additive can alter soil pH, changing the way your plant produces buds. So, maintain vigilance and caution when choosing and applying pesticides.
1. Beneficial Insects: The most effective method for a small farmer outdoors is to introduce beneficial insects that attack unwanted pests. This ranges from ladybugs and lacewings, which feed on aphids and mites, to beneficial nematodes that are incorporated into soil and prey on larval stage insects, like harmful nematodes. There are several distributors, like Grow Organic, that sell beneficial insects for this purpose.
You can also companion plant and grow things that will invite helpful insects into your outdoor growing area. For example, ladybugs like cosmos, cilantro, and fennel. Helping plants like these can be purchased from your local nursery, or started from seeds. Seed distributors like Seed Savers Exchange will have the best quality, non-GMO seeds. Why not add a culinary plant to your grow operation and bring in some allies at the same time?
2. Essential Oil Foliar Applications and Insecticidal Soap: The most common organic pest control application in gardens all over is Neem. The oil is extracted from the seeds of a tree and either diluted for a direct foliar application or converted into powder or concentrate. Its intense garlicy-oniony smell repels insects that might otherwise find your cannabis leaves tasty.
Due to the smell, it may be worth mixing neem oil or concentrate with another essential oil (like lavender or peppermint) to dampen the intense aroma. In conjunction with neem, other essential oils can strengthen your mix. But it’s best to do a little research before you decide to combine various oils, and it’s important to be careful when applying so as not to disadvantageously alter the soil composition you have taken time to cultivate. Due to the natural basis of oils of this kind, they are safe for human ingestion. Neem and essential oil blends can be purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Related to essential oil applications is insecticidal soap. Insecticidal soaps are commonly used for insect infestations (mites, flies, and aphids). It’s a solution of cooking oil, castile or dish soap, and warm water. There are also commercial blends available that are already mixed. This is an effective pesticide, but again, requires a lot of consistent application, and soil monitoring to be effective. The solution is usually sprayed directly on leaves after wiping visible insects off the plant. During the application process, it’s important to ensure the undersides of leaves are checked as well. Pests will often move to the bottoms of leaves to avoid being killed or removed. Like the previous methods discussed in this article, insecticidal soap is safe to ingest, but it may be worth washing the plant before combusting.
3. BT, or Bacillus Thuringiensis is a type of beneficial bacterium that when sprayed as a foliar solution will help combat worms (most notably, caterpillars). The way it works is by causing an infection in leaf hungry pests at all levels and stages of life.
Any eggs, nymphs, or adult leaf munchers are susceptible to BT. And even though it attacks them, it leaves beneficial insects alone. So, it can work in conjunction with introducing beneficial insects either via companion planting, or human introduction. BT is safe for humans to touch or ingest, however it can cause irritation if contact is made with eyes. You can purchase BT from Planet Natural.
But what of growing operations that exceed 6 personal use plants? Although all the methods listed above could be effective in a commercial-sized grow, there are organic, safe options that work just as effectively and faster. Here are a few of the commercially distributed solutions for controlling pests on marijuana plants. All of these products are safe for humans and won’t do more than cause irritation on the skin if contact is made. If you’re looking for something a little faster than your homemade pest control solutions, look no further. All of these products are applied by diluting and spraying on the leaves of your plants.
1. Green Blaster Cannablast: This foliar solution contains water and natural enzymes that fight pests with no hazardous chemicals or petrochemicals. It’s not known to do any damage to the environment, and minus being slick if spilled, or causing irritation when in contact with eyes, there’s no known issue Cannablast has in its interaction with humans. It also can help with rooting if it runs off into soil. Therefore, it has a two-fold function in growing: it rids your plants of pests (insect, bacterial, and fungal), while promoting stronger roots in your plants.
2. The Amazing Doctor Zymes Eliminator: This is another foliar spray insecticide, fungicide/miticide that uses water, naturally occurring materials, and citric acid to eliminate all insect life stages. It’s also a great solution for controlling mold and mildew. It can be used in any juncture of life your plants are in, but it’s important to remember that a high acidity (due to citric acid) can lead to the depletion of certain soil nutrients that are essential to good, healthy growth. So, it’s important to dilute, and to be diligent in keeping application with this product to the leaves and prevent too much runoff into the soil of your grow.
3. PureCrop 1: Crafted via food grade oils and plant-based materials, as well as nanotechnology, PureCrop 1 is a foliar insecticide and fungicide created to prevent insect, fungal, and bacterial infestations. It also aids with nutrient reuptake for your plants, giving them a bit of a boost in the process of melting away the pests that flocked to your plants. It’s useful in indoor and outdoor growing. It’s very powerful and needs careful and intense dilution to prevent from causing damage to your plants if applied in too high of a concentration. You probably don’t need to be reminded to always read instructions before application.
If you’re looking to purchase marijuana products from organic farmers in Washington state, here is a list of the top 5 growers. Pesticide disclosure statements are included on the page after click through where applicable.
BBB Farms: this farm uses only organic pesticides, and also sells products for topical use. They sell pre-rolls, and extracts as well. If you’re near Elk, Washington, give them a visit!
Bodhi High: growing safe products for customers is key for this distributor. Therefore all plants are completely pesticide free, and all plants are grown indoors in a climate controlled area. Located in Medical Lake, Bodhi High has been growing for a long time and only partners with other pesticide free manufacturers.
Bud Co Farms: this Spokane, Washington farm uses only one organic pesticide at the vegetative stage of growth. Aside from that, the entire operation is directed by hand. That means trimming, growing indoors, and using high nutrient content soils.
Deluge: also located in Spokane, and formerly known as Kush Comfort Farms, these growers believe in a solventless extraction which not only protects humans who ingest the solvent, but also doesn’t degrade the integrity of the product. There are also no pesticides used in their operation.
Dogtown Pioneers: in Clayton, Washington, Dogtown Pioneers is growing using only Insecticidal Soap and a combination of Rosemary and Clove oil to control pests. As mentioned above, these two methods are some of the safest out there. Give them a look up!
To sum it up, organic pesticides will generally be safer for your plant and the surrounding environment. Leaning toward higher concentrations of chemical solutions could cause more harm than good in the long run, despite leaving your plants looking nice. But even organic pesticides can cause harm when applied improperly. The best form of pest control overall is a caring attitude toward your plants and a willingness to spend time monitoring their well-being, and applying treatments as needed. Happy Growing!
Sarah Jay is an experienced organic gardener, blogger, researcher, and podcaster living in North Texas. She earned her Bachelor’s in English Literature in 2011 and Master’s in Applied Anthropology in 2014 from the University of North Texas. Currently, she runs a blog at rosaleenjay.com and spends her time growing plants, and learning about the ecology of her location. Her free time is dominated by cats, music, surrealist art, and Kung-fu. Find her at her website or via LinkedIn.