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If pesticides are needed, read the label first

Posted: March 17, 2012 - 11:04pm

With the warm weather, everyone has questions about insects, and I’m often asked what pesticide can be used to control them.

Most of the time, these are fairly easy questions to answer, but sometimes they can be harder. When this happens, I have to read the label of the pesticides.

When there is a pest problem in the garden or landscape, the best way to handle it might not be a pesticide. The solution instead might be cultural practices, such as traps or natural enemies of the pest.

However, sometimes pesticides have to be used to control the problem. When this occurs, a correct identification of the pest is needed to know the best treatment to use and the best time to use it, and to find the best product.

The label on a pesticide will give all the information needed. The first part of the label will tell the brand name used in advertising the product, such as Roundup.

Also on the front of the product is the chemical name. The chemical name for Roundup is glyphosate.

The chemical name is very important because the same pesticide might be sold by many different companies under different brand names. It is best to go by the chemical name.

I have had people bring in a list of the pesticides that they have at home to see which one would work on the pest they are trying to control, and then find that they have the same chemical under different brand names.

Also on the label, there are signal words that indicate the potential hazard of the product to humans. Pesticides will have one of three signal words on the label. The first is “danger.” This label will have a skull and crossbones on it. This is the most toxic of the pesticides, and a taste to a teaspoon could kill an adult human. The second signal word is “warning.” This product is moderately toxic and a teaspoon to two tablespoons could kill an adult human. The last signal word is “caution.” This product has low toxicity, and it would take a ounce to a pint of this product to kill an adult human.

The most important part of the label is the directions section. This tells you what pests this product is registered to control, sites on which this product can be used, in what form the product is applied, how much of the product should be used, and when and where the product should be applied. Read the label very carefully, because the same chemical produced by different companies can have different uses. One can be labeled for indoor use and the other product labeled for outdoor use.

If it is a product that can be used on vegetables, the label will tell how soon after use that the vegetables can be harvested.

I have had calls in the past where gardeners have used pesticides on vegetables and then read the label. One gardener used a pesticide on green beans. The pesticide was recommended to control a certain insect. He used the insecticide and then read the label. The label said that you could not harvest green beans for 21 days after using this product. The green beans would be ready to pick in a couple of days. He lost most of that year’s crop by not reading the label first.

The amount of pesticide to use is listed on the label. I cringe every time I hear someone say that they doubled the amount listed on the label. Their reasoning is that if a little does good, then a lot will do much better.

With pesticides, this is not the case. The listed rate is the one that works. Also, the rate listed will break down the fastest and causes the least amount of harm to the environment. If the rate is doubled, the pesticide stays around longer and can do more harm to the environment.

If pesticides are to be used, read the label to protect yourself and others.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net, or at (706) 836-2152.

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