Insecticides in the Home Landscape and Garden

Many insects in the landscape or garden and around the home can be tolerated or managed without resorting to insecticide applications.  However, in some situations and under certain circumstances insecticide use may be warranted.

To reduce our dependence on insecticides, use of chemical controls should be integrated with other tactics such as mechanical removal, sanitation, and biological control.  Further, it may be possible and even desirable to tolerate a few pests rather than strive to eliminate insects from the landscape or garden.

When insecticides are warranted carefully chose the least toxic alternative.  Apply at the proper time when the pest is most vulnerable (usually while the insects are still small and before damage has become severe) and when beneficial insects such as pollinator and natural enemies will be least affected (for example, avoid spraying plants that are in bloom).

Carefully read the product label when choosing an insecticide.  Look for instructions on how to apply the insecticide to the site or type of plant you intend to treat.  This is especially critical when choosing insecticides for the home vegetable garden or orchard.  Many outdoor insecticides are labeled for use on ornamentals but are prohibited for use on food crops.  Read and follow important label directions such as environmental and applicator hazards, plants and pests that can be treated, amount to apply, frequency of reapplication and how long you must wait before you harvest treated food crops.

Many familiar over-the-counter insecticides used in the home landscape and garden during the past several years have disappeared from the store shelves due to a variety of regulatory and marketing decisions.  Most recently among these was the disappearance of diazinon and chlorpyrifos (Dursban) from the over-the-counter market. Other familiar stand-bys such as acephate (e.g., Orthene), dimethoate (e.g., Cygon) and disulfoton (Di-Syston, and 2-in-1 Rose Systemic Granules) are slowly disappearing as existing products are sold off and not replaced.  The result is fewer choices for homeowners and home gardeners, or substitutions with newer products with which many are not as familiar.

See Table 1 below for a list of some insecticides available for use in the home landscape and garden. When using any pesticide product, always read and follow label directions.

Pyrethroid Insecticides

Many of the newer insecticides appearing as substitutes for older products are called pyrethroids.  These synthetic (i.e., manufactured) products are related to the naturally-occurring, botanical insecticide called pyrethrin.  Pyrethrin insecticides are extracted from the flowers of the pyrethrum chrysanthemum, grown for this purpose in several parts of the world.  Pyrethroids are similar in structure and function to pyrethrins.  Both are very effective against insects at very low doses and work very rapidly. For most uses, pyrethroids have the advantage of remaining effective for several days or weeks after application, whereas pyrethrins may remain effective for a few minutes at most.

Pyrethroid insecticides vary greatly in their toxicity, residual life and efficacy against pests.  However, as a group, they are less toxic than the organophosphates and carbamates products they have replaced.  Pyrethroids are considered broad-spectrum pesticides because most are active against a wide range insects (ants, cockroaches, fleas, true bugs, aphids, scales, beetles, caterpillars, flies, and wasps).  Because of their broad spectrum of activity, relatively low toxicity and availability, pyrethroids have been the insecticides of choice as replacements in over-the-counter products.

Several over-the-counter pyrethroid insecticides are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Home Landscape and Garden Insecticides

Chemical Name Sample Product Name Chemical Class
Acephate Orthene, Isotox IV Organophosphate
Allethrin Ortho Home Defense Flying Insect Raid House and Garden Pyrethroid
Azadiractin Neem Botanical
Bacillus thringiensis Dipel, Thuricide Microbial
Bifenthrin Bug B Gone Max, Scotts Step 3 Pyrethroid
Capsaicin Hot pepper wax insect repellent Botanical
Carbaryl Sevin, Bug-B-Gone Carbamate
Cyfluthrin Tempo, several Advanced Garden products Pyrethroid
Cypermethrin Deep Reach Fogger Pyrethroid
d-Limonene Citrus Home Pest Control Botanical
Deltamethrin Termite & Carpenter Ant Dust/Killer Pyrethroid
Diatomaceous Earth(DE)   Mechanical desiccant
Dimethoate Cygon Organophosphate
Disulfoton Di-Syston Organophosphate
Esfenvalerate Bug-B-Gone Pyrethroid
Fipronil Combat Phenylpyrazoles
Garlic MiteX Botanical repellent
Imidacloprid Merit, Advanced Season Long Grub Control Neonicotinoid
Lambda-cyhalothrin Triazide, Hot Shot Pyrethroid
Malathion malathion Organophosphate
Methoxychlor (in combination) Ortho Home Orchard Spray Organophosphate
Potassium Salts of fatty acids Insecticidal soap, eg. Safer  
Prallethrin Roach, Ant & Spider Killer Pyrethroid
Permethrin Numerous Pyrethroid
Petroleum oil Volck, Scaleicide, Horticultural Oil Mechanical sufficant
Pyrethrin Numerous Botanical
Resmethrin Whitefly & Mealybug Spray Pyrethroid
Rotenone Rotenone Botanical
Sumithrin Hornet & Wasp Killer Pyrethroid
Tetramethrin Numerous Pyrethroid
Triclorfon Dylox Organophosphate
Tralomethrin Wasp and Hornet Killer Pyrethroid

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Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on September 1, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.