Important reasons for reading and following pesticide labels

OK, listen up you backyard gardeners, especially those of you who hate to read instructions until it’s an absolute necessity: It’s important to read and follow pesticide labels to avoid major goofs, for your safety, your family’s safety and for the environment.

I’ve received calls and been on home visits to observe that people make mistakes with pesticides they really wish they hadn’t. I’ve seen entire yards killed, I’ve seen landscape plants damaged, and I’ve seen trees killed from using the wrong pesticide, or by using them incorrectly. So, just because you have a product that kills, oh, something… that doesn’t mean you throw it in a sprayer and just start spraying. You may end up killing something you don’t want to kill. To avoid major goofs, read the label.

A lesson we always stress with Master Gardeners, private applicators, and the general public is to read and follow the pesticide label. It does not take much time to glean some really important information before you make an application. It doesn’t take that long, and it is worth your time.

First, see if the product you intend to use is labeled for use where you intend to apply it. This is very important when considering an inside vs. outside application or a food vs. non-food plant. Read the label.

Second, know what pest you are trying to control or manage. Proper identification of the weed, insect or disease (all three are “pests”) will help you select the right control product. The label will specify what pests are controlled with the product, and where it can be used. Read the label.

Third, you need to know how much to apply. If it is a concentrated product that needs mixed with water, you will find those mixing instructions on the label. If it is a ready-to-use product, it’s already mixed to a safe dilution level and it is ready to apply. If you have a bad weed problem, the attitude, “If a little is good, a lot is better,” can be dangerous, plus it is illegal. Read the label.

Fourth, determine if conditions are right to apply the product. Don’t spray on a windy day. And, be careful if you are near your neighbor’s yard, water, a garden, grapes or other potentially sensitive areas. Instructions may be on the label regarding environmental hazards and other application instructions. Read the label.

The label will also contain other important information, such as the main signal word (caution, warning or danger), personal protective equipment to wear for your safety, potential dangers to off-target organisms like aquatic life or bees, the active ingredients, the EPA registration number verifies it’s a registered product, storage instructions, disposal instructions to avoid environmental problems and first aid instructions.

You should also consider whether the pest is causing enough damage to warrant an application. Can you get by with a little bit of damage? Are other plants in bloom? Is this the right time of year to control the pest? Can you spot spray rather than spraying everything? Are honeybees active? Some products are deadly to beneficial insects and/or pollinators, and that should be a top consideration.

One product I’ve heard about that is new this year (no endorsement implied) is a formulation of Roundup that is a selective product that controls broadleaf weeds in grass. It’s called “Roundup for Lawns.” The more traditional formulations of Roundup have glyphosate in them, a non-selective herbicide (it kills everything). This new formulation has no glyphosate in it, but rather other broadleaf weed killers that don’t affect grass. So, let’s say you’ve heard about this product but you grab the normal Roundup by mistake. If you apply that to your yard, you’ll kill the entire yard. Read the label.

Last, but certainly not least, many choose not to use any pesticides in their home landscapes. That also can be a good decision. Homeowners can employ many cultural pest control strategies. Examples include hand weeding, picking larger insects off plants manually, mowing higher to promote dense turf that out-competes weeds, cultivation and promoting plant health through good horticultural practices.

If you choose to apply a pesticide — whether it is a herbicide, an insecticide or a fungicide — make sure you select the right product for the problem, it’s the right time to use it and that you apply it correctly. To do that, you must read and follow the label.

John Woodmansee is an extension educator in Noble and Whitley counties.

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