Using Pesticides Safely

— Written By Zack Taylor and last updated by
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Pesticides. To some, the word makes them cringe. To them it screams danger and death. Others hear the word and think of the backbreaking work that pesticides eliminate. Before pesticides, the only option to kill bugs and weeds was to squash or pull them, now a simple spray can make quick work out of eliminating a wide variety of pest. All pesticides aren’t created equal though. There was a time when many pesticides were dangerous not only to the pest, but also to the user. Now however, we have a better understanding of how pesticides work, and how they can be used safely. Pesticides of today are much more targeted toward the intended pest. When used properly, all of our pesticides now can achieve the desired results without a negative impact on the user or the environment. However, when used incorrectly, dangers can still persist.

Go into any home and garden center and you can find a vast array of pesticides. From pre-mixed weed and feed fertilizers, to insect and mice poisons, to fungicides for your tomato plants. Each of these pesticides have a different desired result, but they all share one thing in common, a label, and not the one on the front that is designed to catch your eye with a picture of a big bug or weed on it. All pesticides sold legally in the United States are required to have a label, which will explain the proper use of that pesticide. Some are fairly short, while others can be a booklet attached to the package. The label has a lot of information on it, such as how to use the product, when to use it, where to use it, and how long to avoid treated areas after applications. No matter what the length of the label, it is important to read the entire label before you use a pesticide, and make sure you understand it. Read it twice if you need to, and if you have questions, contact the manufacturer or call me, Zachary Taylor, your extension agent, at 919-775-5624. I will be happy to help and explain the label, as sometimes they can get very cumbersome to go through.

The label will always state “it is unlawful to use this product in a manner inconsistent with it’s labelling.”  What this means is that use outside of what is directed is illegal. For example, if a label states that an insecticide is intended for “outdoor use only,” but you decide to use it indoors, not only could this raise a health concern for you and your family, but if someone were to get sick as a result, you would be liable. The use rate is also printed on the label, and should be followed. The old saying that more is better does not apply to pesticides, and higher use rates can be dangerous to you as the applicator, your neighbors, and the environment. Labels will also list what pest the product is intended to control as well. For example, if a product is intended to kill dandelions, but you apply it to crabgrass, you probably will not be pleased with the results, or should I say, lack of results. Application restrictions will be listed as well, such as how long to wait after applying a weed and feed before spreading grass seed.

In some situations, you may need a pesticide applicator license to apply pesticides. To determine if you need a license, as yourself, “do I only use pesticides that I buy at a home and garden center on my own property?”  If you answered yes, then you likely do not need a pesticide license. Pesticides that you buy at a home and garden center are called “general use” and can be purchased and used without a license on your own property. You can also use these products on a property you do not own, as long as you are not being compensated for applying them. An example would be volunteering at a community garden or a church. If you get paid to apply these pesticides however, you do need a license.

Someone may have told you about a pesticide that would work great for your needs, but you’ve never seen it at the home and garden store. This may be a “restricted use” pesticide. In order to purchase these pesticides, you must have a license, regardless of where you intend to use them. These pesticides are considered to have more risk associated with them than general use pesticides, which is why they require licensing to use. Licensing ensures that the user has been trained on how to properly use pesticides, which in turn allows higher risk products to be used safely.

If you think you may need a pesticide applicator license, but are not sure how to get one, or just have questions about the process, please call North Carolina Cooperative Extension at 919-775-5624, or stop by and visit us. If you already have a license, remember that you must be recertified at specific intervals based on the type of license you have. If you have questions about the recertification process, please call, and we can help with that too.

Zack Taylor is the Agriculture Agent – Field Crops and Livestock, and Pesticide Coordinator for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.