There are times when a gardener may need a pesticide, but given the number of possible pest problems, preventing them all is an unrealistic goal.
It is realistic to work toward having tolerable levels of pest populations that have minimal impact on our plants. If you do need to use pesticides, be informed: Read the label twice, first in the store before purchase and again before applying it.
Here’s Master Gardener Ann Bartlett’s primer on label-reading before and after buying a pesticide.
All pesticides sold in the United States are regulated by the EPA. No product can be sold or distributed without EPA approval. The approval process may take eight to ten years and cost tens of millions of dollars. Only one in twenty chemicals makes it from the lab to production! In addition, states may regulate which products are sold within their boundaries.
Let’s take a closer look at the pesticide label. Every label must contain certain information. It’s very important to read the label before purchasing the product to be sure that it is approved for use on the pest you want to impact. Information on the label will also help you choose the least toxic option.
Brand Name and Formulation
The brand name of the product is the first thing on the label. This is followed by the type of formulation. In other words, is it a premixed solution, an aerosol, granules, bait, or a dry powder you must mix with water? This is followed by a list of ingredients and the common name of the pesticide.
In addition, there must be a statement of classification. Garden centers only carry products that are for general use, but there are products for professionals only.
Review the precautionary statements. These tell you what protective gear is needed to safely use the product as well as how to treat suspected poisoning. When applying pesticides, always wear long sleeves, pants, and shoes with socks. Because the chemicals are absorbed through the skin, wearing chemical-resistant gloves is a very good idea.
A note on cleanup: Wash clothing worn while spraying pesticides in a separate load. Run a second wash cycle with the washer empty after washing the clothing to rinse away any pesticide residue. Should the chemical spill onto clothing, change and shower as quickly as possible. Bag and dispose of the clothes. That amount of contamination can never be safely removed.
Another crucial part to read is the approved use of the product. “Off label” use is against the law. It is also illegal to apply insecticides while pollinators are active. Review any environmental hazards to learn if the product can be used on food crops and to determine how much time must pass after treatment before harvest is allowed.
This section will also tell you how to clean equipment after use. It is never ok to pour pesticide residue down the drain or into storm drains.
Finally, we come to the “signal” words, which tell us about the product’s toxicity:
- Caution indicates relatively low toxicity.
- Warning means the product is moderately toxic.
- Danger means it is a highly toxic poison.
A note on storage: Store all pesticides in the original containers and out of reach from children and pets, preferably in a locked cabinet.
Hamilton County Master Gardeners are here to provide you with the latest university research-based gardening information. Whether it’s plant or pest ID, sick plants or general gardening advice, we are here to help!
To reach us:
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can’t email, call (423) 209-8560 and leave your name, phone number, best time to reach you and a description of your gardening question.
If you need help diagnosing a problem, include a few details:
- Damage you see and when it started.
- Parts of the plant affected (for example flower, leaf, stem or fruit).
- How much water the plant gets.
- Plant location (for example in a garden bed or in the lawn, next to a driveway or house, in full or part sun).
- (For emails) Photos of the plant or section of your yard in question. Photos of the area and the entire plant, including closeups, are helpful.