I’ve been an organic gardener for many years, and you may also use organic practices in your garden. But as much as we may not want to do it, even gardeners that typically use organic practices may find it necessary at some point to break out the heavy artillery. In fact, in some states it may be the only way to control certain noxious weeds or invasive plants. But before you grab the nearest heavy-duty chemical product and begin to spray everywhere, here’s some general guidelines on how to use them properly in order to cause the least amount of environmental damage and physical contact. Chemical pesticides and herbicides can be toxic or damaging if they’re applied incorrectly. It’s the gardener’s responsibility to learn to use them safely.
- Keep children and pets out of the garden area where pesticides or herbicides are being applied until the product is completely settled or dry. Don’t eat or drink during the application.
- When applying an herbicide, whenever possible try to “paint” the chemical onto the unwanted plant as opposed to simply wide-spraying.
- Store chemical pesticides and herbicides in their original packaging secured in a dark, cool place.
- Read all product labels very carefully and please follow the directions on how to safely handle, apply, and store.
- Chemical products should be applied to plants on a dry day that’s free of wind, with moderate temperatures.
- Always wear a face mask, long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and goggles while applying chemical pesticides or herbicides. Avoid inhaling the products or touching your skin or face with your hands after the application.
- Wash the clothing used for the application separately from other laundry and wash your hands and face immediately afterward. Thoroughly clean the application equipment, too.
- Be certain that the product you’re using is safe for food crops before applying it to the vegetable garden.
- Keep pesticides from reaching swimming pools or other bodies of water such as streams or ponds.
Reading Pesticide Labels
Chemical pesticides and herbicides have their ingredients listed, as well as how to specifically use the product on their label. They also have one of three words to “describe” how harmful they are to humans or the degree of toxicity. “Caution”, “Warning”, “Danger”, or “Poison” is deciphered as follows. Caution – This is the lowest toxicity. A product labeled this way can range from relatively non-toxic to slightly toxic. The approximate human lethal dosage is an ounce (in the case of a slightly hazardous product) or more (say over a pint for a fairly non-toxic product). Warning – A product with a warning label is moderately toxic or hazardous. The human lethal dose is approximately 1 teaspoon to 1 ounce. Danger – This would be a highly hazardous product and is best kept out of the house entirely. The lethal human dose is pesticide-specific so read the label very carefully. Danger Poison (Accompanied by a scull and crossbones image) – This means that the product is highly toxic. The lethal human dose is anywhere from a small taste to 1 teaspoon. This would be another example of a product that home gardeners are better off not using.