Texas AgriLife Extension Service,
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

March 2009

Use Pesticides Safely During Spring Growing Season

by Dr. William M. Johnson
Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture

Now that the spring growing season is getting underway, problems may start appearing. There are a variety of ways to manage insects, weeds, diseases, and other problems, both chemically and non-chemically. Throughout the 2009 growing season, keep reminding yourself to consider all available options for managing pests and if pesticides are needed, use extreme caution when using them.

Pesticides are a large, diverse group of chemicals that include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, insect repellents, animal repellents, mice control products, etc. All of these are chemicals that will kill or inhibit some type of pest, whether it's an insect, weed, disease, or animal.

To protect yourself, your family and the environment, read the label—it's not only the law, it’s for your personal safety also! The danger of any product is evaluated not only by its toxicity, but also by the degree of your exposure to the product. As Paracelsus, the "father" of modern toxicology, put it, "The dose makes the poison.”

Pesticide labels are federal documents, and it is illegal to use pesticides in a manner not specified on the product label. You must not only read the pesticide label before mixing, applying, and storing a pesticide, you should read the label before purchasing the pesticide. Labels specify what the pesticide may be used on, how to mix and apply it, and how to store the container.

Always make sure all your intended uses of the material are on the label. Even if you are trying to control the same pest, don't assume pesticides used on trees or lawns can also be used on vegetables and fruits. Follow the rate given on the label for the type of plant the pesticide is being applied to. Never exceed the rate on the pesticide label!

Do you know how many days you must wait after spraying a vegetable before you can harvest the crop? For example, for a specific insecticide, the “days-to-harvest” period can be 1 day for a particular vegetable and 14 days for another type vegetable. Do you know how long to wait before making a follow-up application? Do you know if the material is toxic to bees or fish? Check the label for this important information to avoid potential problems.

Herbicide damage on tomato
Herbicides or “weed killers” in liquid form must never be applied when windy conditions exist as the spray can drift onto you or your neighbors. Shown above are the newest leaves on a tomato plant exhibiting symptoms of herbicide damage from spray drift. The photo was taken last week in a local home garden. PHOTO CREDIT: William M. Johnson

It is also very important to avoid application or movement of a pesticide onto non-target areas. For example, use precautions to keep pesticides away from ponds, streams, bayous and other waterways. When applying “weed & feed” fertilizers and other types of granular pesticides to lawn and landscape areas, take care to avoid placement on non-target areas such as driveways, sidewalks, etc.

Finally, be sure to protect yourself from exposure while mixing or applying pesticides. Wear unlined chemical resistant rubber or neoprene gloves. Cover exposed skin. Wash thoroughly when you're done and store both the pesticides and application equipment properly.

DID YOU KNOW? - Quick Facts & Hints about Pesticide Usage

  • Pesticides are a large, diverse group of chemicals that include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, insect repellents, animal repellents, mice control products, etc.

  • While deaths from occupational exposure to pesticides are unusual, children under 10 years old represent 50% of the accidental deaths by pesticides! Moreover, the majority of pesticide deaths are caused by eating or drinking the product!

  • About 90% of the long-term exposure that a pesticide user receives is dermal (in other words, through the skin)! Thoughtfulness and use of appropriate clothing will reduce pesticide exposure.

  • Soft contact lenses should not be worn when working with pesticides. Soft contact lenses may absorb pesticide vapors from the air and hold them against your eyes.

  • It is dangerous–and illegal–to spray when windy conditions exist as the spray could drift onto you or your neighbors.

  • The target area to be treated as well as the surrounding area should be examined before applying any pesticide. Are there plants or animals that could be harmed by the pesticide? Don't spray if you cannot guarantee they will not be injured. You are responsible for any damage that could occur.

  • Pesticides must be safely stored where they are out of reach of children (preferably in a locked storage area). Always store pesticides in their original container along with their label.

  • Pesticides should be transported in the bed of a pickup or in the trunk of the car instead of the interior to avoid contaminating the passenger section in case of breakage or spillage.

  • The date of purchase should be clearly marked with a permanent marker on containers that are put into storage. Use oldest products first.
  • Note: Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County Extension Office of Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M University. Visit his web site at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston.

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