If Martha recommends it, does that mean it’s OK?



Not so much if you mean that grabbing a bottle of Ortho EcoSense and blanketing your yard with it to kill all the bugs is OK. This is a new
product from parent company Scotts that features a number of demonstration
videos on its website, including some starring Martha Stewart, showing how
various mixtures of relatively harmless oils and soaps can get rid of
infestations without harming people and pets.  

It’s true that the products are relatively innocuous, but they do come with disclaimers in the form of this phrase on every label and front and center on the website: not intended to imply
environmental safety either alone or compared to other products.

I liked what a Treehugger forum commenter said: I would like
to see them offer education on their site about which bugs are actually
problematic or which plants are most at risk, rather than seeing 500,000
suburbanites spraying this on every plant in their yard and every bug they see

I like that comment because I talk to a lot of people every
year as they come through my yard during Garden Walk. The longing for an
instant solution that’s easier and faster than companion planting or just
hosing off aphids regularly or other non-chemical means is universal. We’re
Americans. We want something that works immediately and completely.  The nightmare scenario is that instead
of malathion, people would just buy a case of this stuff. The ultimate
environmental effect would still be killing off wildlife in the form of bugs—many of them beneficial—and the other creatures that depend on them.

We’ll be asking our resident horticultural researcher Jeff
Gillman to do a better rundown on the ingredients of the various products here, though I believe many of them include substances he has discussed before. Stay

UPDATE: Dr. Jeff was leaving for a trip, but he had time to say this:

As with any organic products some of these make sense and some don't. The fungicide with copper? — That's a no. The soybean oil insecticide?
— I like that one. I also like their slug killer which is basically the
same as Sluggo. There are more good products than bad here, but to just
assume that they're good because they're called EcoSense? Well, all you
need to do is look at the fine print that Ortho includes on its own label.


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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. The problem I have is people seem to think organic insecticides are somehow magically unable to harm the environment. I’m sorry, but insecticides kill insects, and any excessive insecticide use, organic or not, is going to disrupt the local ecosystem. Avoiding the need to spray, and when you have to, using minimal amounts of very targeted insecticides is the real answer.

  2. Uhhh… wait – what’s wrong with copper-based fungicides ? I’ve used them on my kangaroo paws & as a dormant spray on my peach & plum trees because I thought they were ‘least harmful’. What did I miss ? They are NOT to be used ? Or just this one ?

    I have found myself grabbing for ‘eco’ labeled bottles often – & usually because of the labeling – only to read the back & see that it was so ‘eco’, after all. Guess they count on folks not reading the that part, hm ?

  3. I’m going to assume there’s a good mix of “inert” ingredients that go unexplained as well in these. True, I haven’t checked, but those are often the most frightening ingredients of all — the ones that are ill-defined or not defined at all!

  4. I found a complete list of the indoor insect killer ingredients on Treehugger:
    Ingredients include: Water 40-70%, Soybean oil 18.75%, Polyglyceryl oleate 3-7%, Lauric acid 3-7%, Sodium Caprylate 1-5%, Sodium Benzoate 0.1-1%

    Treehugger got it from the easyecoblog.com

  5. LauraBee,
    The way I understand copper based fungicides is that some of them react in a toxic way to some beneficial bacteria and can harm certain types of tissues.
    I have personally over applied copper on roses in the recent past to try to combat rust and blackspot and saw some distinct tissue damage.
    Copper is an organic chemical that packs a big ass punch. Even though it is considered an organic complex compound, it should be used with caution because it has the capacity to do damage to the environment.

    I hope someone else can chime in with more information.

    Michelle D.

  6. I don’t remember all the details, but when I was in hort school copper was always singled out as the example of, “just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s safe”. You can use this website to check on your specific product http://www.pesticideinfo.org/ I’m certain that Dr. Jeff can provide more insight on this.

  7. ok, I looked back through my Disease ID notebook and found that the following are extremely caustic to the applicator – Copper sulfate, copper hydroxide, and copper octonate

  8. I saw the print ads in the most recent issue of Martha Stewart LIving and was taken aback by the tone ‘of course you’ll have pests,’ but am not surprised.

    Why wouldn’t a mainstream (non-organic) company offer up the organic (but not benign) alternatives? Ka-ching.

    I personally rely on diversified plantings and encouraging a balanced ecosystem in my garden. My worst pest problem currently is aphids on my common milkweed, planted for monarchs. Uh, I won’t be out there with the pyrethrins.

  9. Think of all the places copper is in our lives. Lets start with water pipes. Anything, even natural minerals in quantity can be harmful. Copper has strong bactericide and algicide properties. Below is a list of things Copper Sulfate is used for. That’s just the sulfate. There’s also the Chloride, Oxide, Hydroxide, Acetate, Cyanide.

    Check out:


    Partial list of things Copper Sulfate is used for:

    Copper (II) sulfate is used in preserving hides, tanning leather, manufacturing copper salts, preserving pulp wood and ground pulp, preventing and controlling Dutch elm disease, and controlling algae growth in impounded waters.

    It is used in electroplating solutions, laundry and metal marking inks, petroleum refining, pyrotechnics, water-resistant adhesives for wood, metal colouring, tinting baths, synthetic rubber, insecticides, herbicides, anti-fouling paints, corrosion inhibitors, electrolysis and electroplating processes, fabric and textiles, flame proofing, fuel additives, glass, ceramics, cement, food and drugs, metallurgy, nylon, paper products, and pigment and dyes. It is used as a battery electrolyte, flotation agent, pigment in paints, varnishes and other materials, mordant bath for intensifying photographic negatives, reagent toner in photography and photoengraving, fungicide for control of downy mildew, blights, leaf spots, apple scab, bitter rot, and peach leaf curl, and pollution control catalyst.
    In agriculture, copper (II) sulfate is used in Bordeaux and Burgundy mixtures on the farm for the control of fungus diseases, correction of copper deficiency in soils, correction of copper deficiency in animals, stimulation of growth for fattening pigs and broiler chickens, a molluscicide for the destruction of slugs and snails (particularly the snail host of the liver fluke).

  10. Scotts 2n’d quarter prophets are up 33 percent. Smith & Hawkins is fiction substitised by the rich.
    Like PETA. Walk your way!

  11. Rather spend money on nothing. Martha Stewart is free and she’s the queen of good things. Every gal is a bitch sometimes with a couple of drinks.

  12. Laura, Michelle, and Shira,

    Jeff was on his way out of town, or I am sure he would have said much more about copper. As it is, I looked through his book, and I can’t find much on it.

  13. This was fair and balanced. I don’t think I would buy buckets of the stuff because it would be very, very expensive. However, I did try the insecticidal soap on some very persistent aphids that the ladybugs couldn’t control. Also, people need to know that although horticultural oils are effective at smothering pests, they will burn plants if the temp is in the high 80s and above, which is Oklahoma all summer. Also, I don’t think it’s only Americans who want a quick fix. People who are dabbling in gardening all over the world want it. Heck, sometimes I want it. More education on the website would be great.~~Dee

  14. My father used to farm the “conventional” way–using fertilizers and pesticides. He is retired, but my parents still garden using chemicals. I don’t use chemical fertilizers in my yard, and I avoid pesticides. So far I haven’t had a real problem. We have some slugs, and they have caused damage, but other than that, nothing really. There are lots of “good” bugs in our yard, and I am often amazed at the variety of insect life. I don’t remember seeing such variety in my parent’s yard growing up. The good bugs keep the pesty bugs in check. I recently started to knock down a spider web that was in some irises, but then I was distracted by a whitefly on a nearby rose. I shooed it off, it flew into the spider web, and the spider immediately went over to the whitefly and began to kill it. I decided the spider could stay, and I have since forbid my husband from killing spiders.

    I recently told my parents that I don’t use pesticides, and they were shocked. “What do you do?” my dad asked. I told him that earlier in the year I saw some aphids on a rose bud, but I wiped them off. I haven’t noticed them since then. He didn’t believe me, but it’s true.

    But I have a questionn about using copper to deter slugs. I read that it gives them a shock, and I have been experimenting by using copper wire (about 1/4 inch in diameter) around the outside rim of some of my potted plants. I have also put a ring of the wire around succeptible plants. I thought if it worked I would try to find a way to put some type of copper barrier around all my beds, although I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. But before I do that, I want to know how this will impact the environment. It hadn’t occurred to me that using copper could cause harm, especially since I read about that in an “organic” gardening book. Any advice / suggestions? Thanks!

  15. Has anyone else noticed that ever since Martha was let of the “joint”, her company just hasn’t been the same? Her old TV show was wonderful; taking you to farmer’s markets, displaying local artists, and it was a great gardening show to boot. Well, then the scandal hit.
    Her magazines are now practically ad-run, very little content. Her new TV show is even worse – and don’t get me started on “The Whatever Girls (more like immature women of a certain age)”. There is less content about artists, gardening and food and more about buying things, mostly HER things!
    I understand the guys at wall street were jealous of her because they couldn’t “get” her kind of success, which was about community, gardening and family.
    Now she has paved the path and opened the door others like Mary Jane Butters (Mary Janes Farm), Hobby Home and Farm (a great publication) and of course Pattie Moreno (Garden Girl), and let’s not forget GardenRant!
    This whole Ortho-thing doesn’t surprise me, Martha left us long ago.

  16. Ok, I know this post isn’t about Martha per-say, but I had to get that off my chest. Sorry.

  17. I have too say too that since her scandal I have never looked at Martha the same way don’t get me wrong for years I worshipped her as the ultimate domestic goddess was there anything this woman couldn’t do? But since her ugly greedy side finally was revealed Ill admit that any time I see her endorse a product the first thing that crosses my mind is she’s just out to make more money and so I shy away from what ever she’s trying to push.

    My preference for “spot treatment” meaning my container plants nothing edible is Ortho systemic I have a plant or two that just seem to be aphid magnets a couple of treatments with this and I don’t have the problem for quite a while. Just to warn not all plants like this stuff and I have done leaf damage to some also this is for outside container plants the smell will knock you back wards.

  18. I have tried contacting the Martha Stewart show a few times about helping out with the beneficial insects. Like sorting out facts from myths, how to educate people onthem and other useful information but they are not interested.

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