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Following labels on pesticides can prevent problems

In a way, pesticides are similar to drugs. If used properly, pesticides can be effective in controlling pests that have infested the home and garden. But if misused, they can be detrimental.

Pesticides are poisons, and they can cause problems in the landscape if they're not used properly. Keep in mind, it's not the use of pesticides that causes the problems; it's the abuse.

When in doubt, it's best to consult with the label. The label gives users important information on using pesticides effectively and safely. Read the label before you buy the product and each time before you use it. It's important to remember that failure to follow label directions is against federal and state laws.

The label gives directions on the rate of application, storage of the product and the necessary safety precautions and protective equipment to use.

You can only use the pesticide on crops and sites listed on the label. If the label specifies not to use the product indoors, then you cannot apply it inside your home or business. Some pesticides can be used on ornamental and turf plants but not on vegetables or fruit trees.

Labels also provide warnings about environmental conditions in which you should not apply the pesticide. For example, some lawn-control pesticides should not be applied to turf grasses when the temperature is above 85 F or the grass will be damaged. Also, at higher temperatures, the chemicals can vaporize and affect adjacent plants.

When applying pesticides, you should wear protective, chemical-resistant gloves and any other protection listed on the label. Be careful about pesticides drifting, especially on windy days. This is especially true for weed killers because the chemicals can drift and significantly harm or kill other plants.

If you're applying pesticides to anything over your head, such as a tree branch, eave or ceiling, do not stand under it. After treating lawns or other surfaces, do not walk over the area. Do not eat, drink or smoke when applying pesticides, and thoroughly wash hands after each use.

Keep pesticides out of water bodies such as lakes, streams and rivers, and never dump them down drains or storm sewers. Follow label directions on the proper disposal of the pesticides and containers.

Store them in a safe, secure location, protected from weather extremes and moisture. Of course, keep out of reach of children and pets.

Pesticides are classified in two categories - general use, which any adult can purchase and apply, or restricted use, meaning the applicator has to have a special license issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Restricted-use pesticides are not available to the homeowner. They are more hazardous to use, and the licensed applicators have had special training.

For more information on pesticides, contact the extension office or refer to the Georgia pest management handbook, available at www.ent.uga.edu/pmh or visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture Web site at www.agr.georgia.gov.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.