ODA offers homeowners advice on using pesticides

March 17, 2010 Story of the Week from Oregon Department of Agriculture

[Editor’s note: I happen to avoid using pesticides and do things as organically as possible in my garden (except I did use a copper fungicide spray for my apples and use Sluggo to deter slugs around my vegetables). However, the vast majority of gardeners fight garden pests and disease by chemical means. Pesticides can harm beneficial insects, such as butterflies, humans and our pets if not used properly, so I thought it worthwhile to share this story issued from ODA [edited for brevity]:

Daylight is now extended, the temperature is rising, and Oregonians are emerging from inside their homes. Spring has arrived, and homeowners are getting ready for yard and garden work. It is also time to remind residents that home-use pesticides can be used safely and effectively if all precautions are taken.

“People working in the yard and wanting to use pesticide products should first get informed and take consideration,” says Dale Mitchell, assistant administrator of ODA’s Pesticides Division. “Home-use pesticides are important and often necessary in the battle against unwanted plant pests and diseases. There is nothing wrong with using pesticides–as long as they are handled properly.”

ODA licenses commercial pesticide applicators, requiring them to take a test to show their knowledge of how to use pesticides safely. Many of the materials available to commercial applicators are available to homeowners, who are not licensed and tested.

1. Identify what type of plant pest or disease problem [you] have. Information is available at the local garden center, county extension office, ODA, and the Internet. Those resources not only identify the problem, they can point to pesticide products most effective in treating the problem. [Editor’s note: Another good resource is the book What’s Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?): A Visual Guide to Easy Diagnosis and Organic Remedies by authors David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth.]

2. Purchase the product and read the label. The most important advice is something often repeated by ODA’s Pesticides Division: Read the label.

“Read the label and those instructions,” says Jones. “Just as importantly, actually follow the instructions on the label. You are going to save yourself a lot of headaches in the long run if you can follow those two steps.”

In fact, it’s a good practice to read the label at least three times– before the pesticide product is purchased, before it is applied, and after it is applied. The label tells you not only what pests the product takes care of, but it gives you special precautions. It spells out what steps to take to protect yourself and others during application. Reading the label before you buy the product can help you understand if it’s the right pesticide for you and how best to use it.

3. Apply the product. Once again, reading the label will guide you through the proper method of handling the pesticide. It tells you how to mix the product. Some products may be already mixed but most need to be diluted before application. The label also tells you when to apply the product. Some pesticides require dry conditions, others do fine even if it rains afterwards. The label emphasizes keeping children and pets away from the material during mixing and application.

“Set aside the proper equipment ahead of time,” says Jones. “If the product needs diluting, use measuring cups or spoons that are specifically used for pesticides and don’t use something normally kept in the kitchen. Keep the product to the site of the application. It doesn’t do any good to apply weed and feed on the sidewalk.”

Pesticide products should not be allowed to drift or be applied anywhere outside their intended target. But for peace of mind, and as a good neighbor policy, giving a heads up might help.

“Sometimes it is beneficial to let your neighbor know ahead of time that you are spraying a pesticide in your yard so they can keep children or pets indoors, and can close their windows,” says Jones. “Not spraying right along a fence, if possible and depending on the situation, can improve neighbor relations. In general, you want to avoid spraying pesticides onto your neighbor’s property.”

4. Storage. The product label also has information on storage and disposal. Always try to store pesticides in the original container in a safe, dry location that is out of reach of children. Of course, storage and disposal problems can be avoided even before the product is purchased.

“By making sure you only purchase the amount of product you need, you are going to reduce the amount you need to store, which is going to take up less space, result in less potential for kids to come in contact with the product, and will be less money out of your pocket at the time of purchase,” says Jones.

5. Disposal. If you want to get rid of leftover pesticide products, most cities and counties have hazardous waste disposal programs. The product should never be placed in the traditional garbage can and sent to a landfill. If you plan to store the pesticide in your garage, always leave the label with the product so you and others can later identify the product.

Pesticides are often a necessary and useful tool for yard and garden care. Whether the user of pesticides is on a farm, in a forest, or at home, the product must be used according to its label. And, it’s the law.

[Home use pesticides] may be easy to find and easy to purchase, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated lightly.