UMass Extension Turf Program

Making Sense of Consumer Insecticide Products

July 22, 2004
Making Sense of Consumer Insecticide Products

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, there can be considerable confusion when a homeowner tries to find an insecticide to use against lawn insects. Many of these products have colorful sketches of insects on them and useful names likes "Bug-B-Gon™" or "Home Defense™". In some cases, the pictures on the bag do not match the insects for which the product can be effective.

Following is a short list of products I found in a brief foray into two retail settings, one a local Wal-Mart and the other a local garden store. In each case, I give the (sometimes lengthy) trade name followed by the common (generic) name. Note that some of these are lawn products and others are not.

  • Bayer Advanced Season Long Grub Control™ (imidacloprid)
  • Bayer Advanced Power Force Multi-Insect Killer™ (cyfluthrin)
  • Bayer Advanced Lawn and Garden™ (cyfluthrin)
  • Bonide Eight Insect Control™ (permethrin)
  • Ortho Home Defense™ (bifenthrin)
  • Ortho Bug-B-Gon Max™ (esfenvalerate)
  • Ortho Bug-B-Gon Granules™ (bifenthrin)
  • Ortho-Klur for termites and ants™ (bifenthrin)
  • Ortho Orthenex Garden™ (acephate, triforime, and fenbutatin-oxide)
  • Eliminator Sevin Dust™ (carbaryl)
  • Eliminator Flower and Garden™ (permethrin)
  • Eliminator Soil and Turf Insect Killer™ (deltamethrin)
  • Eliminator Lawn Insect with Sevin™ (carbaryl)
  • Garden Tech Sevin™ (carbaryl)
  • Garden Tech Sevin Ready-to-Use™ (carbaryl)
  • Garden Tech Lawn Insect Granules™ (carbaryl)
  • Jonathan Green Pest Kill Turf Insecticide™ (trichlorfon, referred to as Dylox™)
  • Monterey Garden Insect Spray™ (spinosad)
  • Spectracide Triazide Concentrate™ (lambda-cyhalothrin)

In the greater scheme of things, this is a very short list of the materials that are available to homeowners. There are a few points to make here.

In a couple cases, the lead name is used for at least two different active ingredients. For example, "Eliminator" might contain carbaryl, deltamethrin, or permethrin, depending on the formulation. If we read the labels right in our little foray, Bug-B-Gon might contain esfenvalerate or bifenthrin. At the very least, this is confusing!

Several of the products listed above are pyrethroids, synthetic products based on the structure of pyrethrin (the active ingredient in pyrethrum, a natural product). They include bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, deltamethrin, esfenvalerate, lambda-cyhalothrin, and permethrin.

In general the pyrethroids are good substitutes for diazinon and chlorpyrifos (Dursban™), both of which are being phased out of the home market. The pyrethroids can be very effective against a variety of surface insects, such as chinchbugs and caterpillars. However, pyrethroids are NOT effective against white grubs (no matter what the label claims or the picture might imply). This is primarily because pyrethroids are very insoluble in water and do not penetrate the thatch and reach the grubs in the soil.

Carbaryl has been around for over 40 years and is a broad spectrum insecticide. It can be quite effective against caterpillars in particular, but has been very inconsistent when used against white grubs. Nevertheless, it is about the only curative option available for grubs for those people who cannot use trichlorfon (Dylox™). (Dylox™ is not available for school grounds in Massachusetts or for any turf applications in Maine.) Carbaryl is very toxic to honeybees, among other things. There are often restrictive statements on the label to help protect foraging honeybees.

Spinosad is a biorational product derived from a naturally occuring soil actinomycete. It has been shown to be effective against a variety of caterpillars and does not appear to harm most beneficial insects.

Imidacloprid is the active ingredient in the product often referred to as Merit™. (Note that while the Bayer bags claim "season long control", spring applications of Merit™ will not reduce populations of the grubs already present in the spring. In addition, spring applications of Merit may not remain active enough to control European chafers and oriental beetles in New England.

While our limited look did not uncover any bags of halofenozide (often sold as Mach 2™), it should be mentioned here. This product is a molt accelerating compound and induces white grubs to molt before they have stored enough energy to complete the process. It is very effective against Japanese beetle grubs, but is somewhat less effective against other species of grubs.

Sometimes academics fall into the "trap" of recommending chemicals based on the most common trade names. While these names sometimes are mentioned on the homeowner products, other times the names are hard to find on the bag. So as I said earlier, you simply have to read the small print and find the common name of the active ingredient (which, by law, must be on the main section of the label).

Good luck!!! The chemical section of a garden supply area when be quite a challenge to negotiate!

Submitted by: Dr. Pat Vittum


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