Q. My plants have aphids and the local nursery says to use and insecticidal soap to get rid of them. Are these soaps bad for the environment in the same way that insecticides for lawns and farming are?
— Lucinda, Palo Alto, California
A. Aphids are total bummer for gardeners and plant lovers, but the good news is that insecticidal soaps don’t contain the same chemicals as those environmental nightmare pesticides you’ve probably heard about. Most are made with potassium salts, which are much safer than organophosphates and other neurotoxic pesticides linked to environmental and health problems. They’re actually much more similar to regular old household soap than anything else, and some formulations are even listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute, which means that they’re allowed for use on certified organic farms. They’re not completely without downsides, though. They can irritate your skin and eyes, and if you overuse them, they might end up killing your plants, so make sure you follow the instructions, especially if you’re working indoors on your houseplants.
And if those aphids are in your garden or on your patio plants, you might try an even less toxic — and more exciting — option: Sic some predators on them. “If aphids showed up in my garden, I’d deploy and army of beneficial insects to keep them intact,” says Jonathan Kaplan, a project specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. This is likely to be even more effective in the long haul, and who wouldn’t want to see a lady beetle do battle with a cluster of sap-sucking pests?
Story by Sarah Schmidt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008. This story was added to MNN.com.