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
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