Gardening: Use pesticides wisely, or not at all

Gardening: Use pesticides wisely, or not at all

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 10:11 pm

By LEE REICH For The Associated Press In an ideal world, pesticides would never be needed in the garden. In the real world, they occasionally are. That doesn’t mean you need harsh chemicals; pesticide is anything that kills a pest, from DDT, which kills just about every insect, to baking soda, which is effective against certain fungus diseases. If you decide a pesticide is absolutely needed, choose and spray the material with utmost care to avoid harm to the environment, to yourself, even to the very plants that you are trying to protect. And don’t think that you can be slipshod just because you are spraying something “natural,” such as rotenone. Rotenone was used by primitive fishermen as fish poison (makes for easy fishing) and is still deadly to fish if it seeps into any stream or pond. Rotenone is also quite toxic to you and me, more so than Malathion, even though this common chemical pesticide has a more ominous sound. THE FIRST STEP: READ THE LABEL As elementary as it sounds, reading the label is the first step to correct use of any pesticide. Read over the plants and pest problems listed. Is your particular plant and problem on that list? If not, don’t use that pesticide; it may be not be effective. Before you reach for a pesticide, figure out what pest — whether it’s a mite, an insect, a fungus, or a bacterium — is causing the problem. (Pesticides cannot control virus diseases.) Your local Cooperative Extension office can help here. PROTECT YOURSELF The next thing you will want to find out from the label is just how toxic the pesticide is — to you. Look for one of three signal words: • CAUTION means that the product is only slightly toxic or relatively nontoxic. • WARNING is the next step up, signifying a moderately toxic pesticide. • DANGER-POISON means that the material is highly toxic; a teaspoon or less could kill you. More detailed information on the label, or perhaps in a booklet attached to the label, will tell you what protective gear, such as gloves or a respirator, is recommended when using the pesticide. MORE SMARTS So much for specifics; a few general precautions with any pesticide will keep you from ever having to call your local poison control center (usually listed at the beginning of your telephone directory): • Always store pesticides in their original containers. People have been known to take a sip of pesticide foolishly stored in an old water bottle. • Store pesticides well out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet. • Never eat, smoke or drink when handling pesticides. • The biggest danger in using pesticides comes when mixing them (unless they are premixed) because then you’re dealing with concentrated material. Avoid getting splashed, and never stick the end of your hose into the spray solution. A drop in water pressure could have that solution siphoning back into your water lines. • Protective clothing, when called for, needs to be of nonabsorbent material. After all, you don’t want pesticide-soaked material sitting against your skin. • Take precautions to minimize adverse impacts on the environment and the plants that you are spraying. Generally, the best time to spray is early morning or late evening, because the air is calm and bees, back home in their hives, will be spared exposure. • If you spray more than one pesticide, check the labels before mixing them for compatibility or else you might end up with an unhappier looking plant than you started with. • Reserve a special sprayer for weedkillers, if you use them, because they are hard to thoroughly clean from a sprayer. The smallest residue might kill your plant. • Lastly, think twice before using any pesticide. Be aware that plants tolerate a certain amount of pest damage; you might also. Published in The Messenger 7.29.08

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