Safely Using Pesticides

2015-06-25 10.19.56

*Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.

Pesticides are a commonly used method of managing pests in our landscapes. However, pesticides are poisons, so they need to be handled carefully. It is at this time of the year that many educators from Nebraska Extension help to educate the public in proper uses of pesticides through private and commercial pesticide education. With spring coming right around the corner, it is a good time to reinforce those safety precautions to everyone who might be using pesticides.

Pesticide is the general term for any insecticide, herbicide, rodenticide, etc. Insecticides are specific to insects, herbicides are specific to weeds, and rodenticides are specific to rodents like mice. They are used to kill organisms that cause diseases and threaten public health. Mainly, in our landscapes, we use them to manage insects, diseases, and weeds that cause problems in our desired plants.

Pesticide recommended gloves, UNL photo

Examples of recommended gloves: nitrile (reusable and disposable), neoprene, and butyl rubber. Photo: University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Because pesticides can be dangerous if handled, stored, or disposed of improperly, always read and follow the label because the label is the law. This includes reading the label to ensure you are using the correct Personal Protective Equipment or PPE as it is often referred to. Most homeowner available chemicals will require gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and eye protection at most. Some chemicals will require things like a face shield or respirator.

When using pesticides pay close attention to the weather. Do not apply pesticides on windy days, as the spray droplets are easily picked up in the wind and blown to non-target plants. Certain chemicals, such as 2,4-D, can volatilize or turn into a gas to move to non-target plants to cause damage or death. This can happen when the pesticide is applied when the temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher on that day or up to 72 hours later.

Always apply pesticides at the label recommended rates. Pesticides that are applied at incorrect rates can cause resistance to occur in the pest, which would make the pesticide useless to that pest population. Also, make sure that you are applying the pesticide at the correct time for best control of the pest. It is also a good idea to switch between chemicals rather than use the same pesticide each time, which can also lead to resistance. So, if it is an insect pest in your vegetable garden, switch between sevin, eight, and bifenthrin on a rotating basis throughout the growing season, as the insect exists. Be sure to follow the label when applying any pesticide to edible crops, there will be a PHI or Pre Harvest Interval number. This PHI will dictate how many days to wait from when the pesticide is applied to when the crops can be harvested for consumption to ensure they are safe to eat. And finally, it is very important to know what pest you are dealing with before you apply pesticides to ensure you are using the correct chemical for the pest.

Pesticides tend to runoff into our water supply. Often, granular pesticides fall onto sidewalks and driveways to be blown or washed into the storm drains. Also, pesticides that are applied shortly before rain events are often washed into the storm drains causing pollution to our water supply. Because of the sensitivity of our environment to pesticides, it is always best to use an Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, approach. IPM is when you use multiple tactics to control pests rather than just utilizing pesticides. Methods of IPM include:

  • Mechanical
    • hand pulling weeds
  • Cultural
    • sanitation by removing infected leaves to reduce diseases
  • Biological
    • protecting beneficial insects
  • Chemical methods to control pest populations

Insects & Firewood

Fireplace

Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces are a nice way to keep your homes warm in the winter while saving money on heating bills. However, when using any type of wood-powered heating method, it is always a concern of what other things you will bring inside besides just the firewood. Insects are often found in wood brought indoors for fireplaces and they can emerge in your home to cause you troubles. The most common insects we find in our firewood include carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles.

Insects can be brought into your home when you bring in firewood for fireplaces and stoves. Some insects may lay their eggs or pupate within trees prior to or just after they have been cut down for firewood, the insects may still be inside the wood when you bring it indoors. When the temperatures warm up, either in spring or in your home if you bring the firewood indoors, the insects can emerge. These insects rarely cause an infestation in your home or cause damage to your furniture or home structure, but can be a nuisance when they get into your home.

carpenter ant

Carpenter Ants are commonly found in many forms of decaying wood. They do not feed on wood, but they dig into decaying wood to form galleries for their nests. Carpenter Ants are the large black or red ants often found on trees that have decay as they are making a nest within that tree. In a house, carpenter ants can do damage if you have a leak which has caused wood of your home to decay, otherwise they usually will not become a problem in a home. They can be brought indoors with firewood that they were living in.

There are many wood-boring beetles that are also found in firewood. We have longhorned beetles, flatheaded borers, and bark beetles that are all found in trees and logs cut for firewood. Females of these beetles are actually attracted to dying, freshly cut, or recently killed trees to lay eggs on the wood. These beetles can emerge in your home, but don’t usually cause problems in the wood products found within your home. One common structure-infesting pest, a powerpost beetle, can get into your home, but they only lay their eggs on bare, unfinished wood. Wood that has been varnished, painted, or sealed is safe unless exposed surfaces appear. So, the wood-boring beetles can get into our homes on firewood, but they are rarely a problem other than an annoyance to you.

A good control for insects that emerge from your firewood in your home is to vacuum them to dispose of them in that manner. However, the best method of management of these insects is to keep them out of the house in the first place. To protect your home from insects emerging from firewood indoors, bring in wood only as needed. Do not store your firewood indoors, leave it outdoors in an accessible location to bring in wood a few pieces at a time so that it goes directly into the fire. It is not recommended, and is strongly discouraged, to apply pesticides to your firewood because dangerous fumes may come out of the firewood when you burn it.