There are many chemicals labeled for control of garden pests: fungicides for fungal plant diseases, herbicides for weeds, and insecticides for insects. All are considered “pesticides”.
Many people view pesticides as an easy “cure-all”, but this is not the case. Pesticides are highly effective if used in the manner specified on the label. However, chemical control should be considered as a last resort to control a problem. There are often other practices that can prevent the problem completely, such as placing the right plant in the right place.
If you use pesticides, ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. Check that the product can be used in your specific location and on your specific pest. If you are unsure what is causing the problem, do not spray. Spraying incorrect chemicals exposes you and the environment unnecessarily. It also may not control your problem. Instead, contact your local Cooperative Extension Center for identification and control recommendations.
The label also states a signal word: CAUTION, WARNING, or DANGER. These words indicate the level of toxicity to humans with CAUTION being the least toxic. Follow all protective measures on the label to protect you from chemical exposure – at the very least wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, shoes with socks, glasses, and rubber gloves.
Only use the amount stated on the label – more is not better. In many cases, the use of more than the recommended amount exposes you to more chemical, can injure plants or damage treated areas, harm beneficial insects, and leave residues on food plants.
It’s important to use a separate set of tools when mixing and applying pesticides. Mix in a well-ventilated area and shield your eyes with goggles. Use all of the pesticide you mix. Keep children and pets away from the treated area. If you are using pesticides on fruits or vegetables, pay attention to the time-to-harvest period (pre-harvest interval).
Left over chemicals should be placed in a storage area that you can lock to keep children out. You should not store large quantities of pesticides at any given time and don’t store pesticides with paints or gas. For easy storage, organize chemicals on plastic trays or pans to catch leaks. Also, write down the date you opened the container on the container surface. If a leak or spill should occur, remember not to wash the area down with water. Use an absorbent material such as kitty litter to soak up the spill.
When you need to dispose of pesticides do so as directed on the label. Many counties host a pesticide disposal day for used pesticides. Check with your local Extension Center or solid waste department for collection dates near you.
When transporting pesticides, check that the lid is closed tightly and secure the container in the trunk, if possible, on a piece of plastic in case of a spill. Do not place with food items. If transporting in a pickup bed, cover it with a tarp during rain.
Always read and follow the label carefully. Most importantly, keep pesticides out of the reach of children.
For more information on pesticides and laws that govern their use, check with your local Cooperative Extension Center
Stephanie Romelczyk is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County. You may reach her at 919-775-5624 or firstname.lastname@example.org.