Homeowners purchase and use chemicals to control the many pests that plague both our homes and gardens. When using these products, remember they are poisons designed to kill or adversely affect living organisms in some way. They can be effective in controlling the targeted pest if used properly. However, the misuse of pesticides is dangerous and illegal. It can potentially cause harm to the user, other people and the environment.
The most important aspect of safely using pesticides is to follow all label directions. The label gives the names and percentages of the active ingredients, the type of plant material or areas where the pesticide can be applied, and the specific pests controlled. It also provides important information on how to apply the chemical and all the necessary safety precautions. It will also tell when the pesticide should not be applied due to environmental conditions or other factors. For example, some pesticides for lawns should not be applied when the temperature is over 80 degrees; it can damage the grass. You can only use the pesticide on plant material and in places listed on the label. For example, if the label says it should only be applied to lawns, it cannot be used on fruits and vegetable plants. If the product is labeled to control insect pests outdoors, then you can not use it indoors.
Before using pesticides, you need to correctly identify the problem in order to determine how it should be controlled. For example, if you observe a white substance on your crape myrtles during the summer, the plant has powdery mildew, a fungal disease. Applying an insecticide for control will not be effective since the cause of the malady is a fungus and not an insect. Also, when using herbicides (chemical weed killers), remember some are nonselective such as Round-Up, meaning they will kill any plant material. Others are selective. They will target certain types of weeds but not harm other plant material. An example is a herbicide labeled to control broadleaf weeds in lawns. It will kill broadleaf weeds, such as clover and chickweed, but will not harm the turfgrasses that are listed on the label.
When applying pesticides, you should wear protective chemical resistant gloves and other protection listed on the label. Do not apply pesticides on windy days. Be careful about the drifting of pesticides, especially with herbicides, since the chemicals can drift and significantly harm or kill non-target plants. Do not eat, drink, or smoke when applying pesticides, and thoroughly wash your hands after each use. Use caution to keep pesticides out of bodies of water such as lakes, streams, and rivers. Never dump chemicals down drains or storm sewers. Make sure you properly dispose of the pesticide and its container as per label directions. Always store them in a safe, secure location protected from weather extremes, moisture, and damage.
Remember, the most important aspect of applying any pesticide is to follow all label directions and safety precautions. Thoroughly read and understand the product label before you select, purchase and apply it. By not following all the precautionary statements on the label, the applicator places himself in danger along with other people and the environment.
Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with the Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.