Penn State Extension educator discusses the use of insecticides on lanternflies

Amy Duke
August 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When it comes to using insecticides to control spotted lanternfly populations, homeowners might be tempted to take a “more is better” approach.

But that is a flawed — and potentially dangerous — way of thinking, noted a Penn State Extension educator who has been immersed in the spotted lanternfly saga from the start.

“Many people living in the affected areas are fearful about how these pests might affect the health of their properties and the value of their homes, so they are willing to try anything that they think might help,” said Emelie Swackhamer, a horticulture extension educator based in Montgomery Country, one of the counties in the 14-county quarantine zone.

“When applied properly, insecticides can be an effective way to reduce lanternfly populations. Yet, we are hearing stories about the improper use of insecticides, such as people using too much or even mixing their own concoctions, which is dangerous and illegal.”

Because of the safety, environmental and sometimes regulatory concerns that accompany the use of insecticides, Swackhamer advises homeowners to do research, weigh the pros and cons, and seek professional advice if needed. She also offered these tips:

Use only registered insecticides.

Recipes for homemade sprays made from cleaning, automotive, cooking or other household products might be more harmful to the environment or plants than people realize. Insecticides that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency have been tested for safety and efficacy.

In Pennsylvania, the site where one plans to use an insecticide must be listed on the product label. For example, if a homeowner wants to spray an insecticide on an ornamental tree, the product label must specify that it is registered for use on ornamental trees.

Read the label and follow all directions.

Consumers can find labels for insecticides online and read them before buying anything. Some labels are formatted as booklets, which are taped to the side of the product container. Read all information thoroughly before using the insecticide.

Swackhamer suggests using a highlighter to mark the specific directions for the way that the product will be used, which will make it easier to go back and find the right section when it is time for a reapplication.

Choose the least toxic insecticide that is effective.

When choosing an insecticide, Swackhamer recommends looking for products that include a logo from the Organics Material Review Institute (OMRI) on their label. OMRI Listed products are allowed for use in certified organic operations under the USDA National Organic Program.

Another way to compare toxicity between insecticides is to look for a “signal word,” which must be displayed on the front of most insecticide product labels.

“Caution” appears on insecticides with lower toxicity, “warning” appears on insecticides that have medium toxicity, and “danger” appears on insecticides with the highest toxicity or greatest risk to eyes or skin. Insecticide labels that say “Danger/Poison” along with a skull and crossbones symbol, are extremely toxic.

Protect against insecticide exposure.

When using any insecticide, follow the label directions and use safe practices. Use appropriate, properly functioning application equipment, and wear the recommended protective clothing and gear.

“People who want to kill spotted lanternflies effectively and safely with insecticides must carefully follow directions and plan ahead,” Swackhamer said. “Every situation is different; no one method will work for everyone. Remember, all insecticides present safety risks, so caution must be used with these products.”

Consider nonchemical control methods.

Swackhamer encourages the use of nonchemical control methods such as destroying egg masses, swatting the insects with fly swatters, trapping them with sticky bands and eliminating one of their favorite host trees, Ailanthus altissima, commonly called tree of heaven.

Further information about using insecticides to kill spotted lanternflies, including Penn State Extension research findings and recommendations, can be found at https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-management-and-pesticide-safety.

To learn more about the spotted lanternfly, permitting regulations, management techniques and how to report a sighting, visit the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.

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Last Updated August 29, 2019