Before using any pesticide, be sure you need it. Verify that the organism you seek to control is really causing lasting damage, and research alternative management methods. Keep in mind that most pests cannot be entirely eliminated—even with pesticides. |
More often than most people imagine, pesticide products are applied unnecessarily because the cause of damage has been misidentified. Damage can also be the result of other factors such as incorrect irrigation, poor drainage, herbicide toxicity, or physical damage.
Before you purchase and use a pesticide, learn all you can about the material, how to use it, and how to properly dispose of the empty containers. Also, carefully consider whether or not a pesticide is necessary and if a nonchemical solution might be just as effective.
Pesticides are designed to be toxic to the pests they target—whether they are insects, cause plant disease, or are weeds or other unwanted home and garden invaders. When used properly, pesticides can protect your plants or home from damage. However, when the label instructions are not followed correctly, plant injury may occur, pests may not be controlled, health may be impaired, and pesticides may contribute to soil, air, or water pollution.
The first step in choosing a pesticide is to accurately identify the organism (e.g., the specific insect, weed, or plant disease) that is causing the problem. If the pest is misidentified, you will not be able to choose an effective pesticide or other management strategy. If a pesticide is needed, select one that is effective against your pest and also poses the least risks to human health and the environment.
Before purchasing a pesticide, also check the label to be sure it is appropriate to use on your plants or treatment site. For instance:
Be sure the particular type of plant or site you plan to treat is listed on the label. Do not use pesticides labeled for use on ornamental plants or plants that will be eaten. Never use pesticides labeled for "outdoor use only" indoors. Pesticides can seriously damage some plants; read the label to be sure treated plants won't be injured.
Finally, when choosing pesticides, remember that most pesticides (even the more toxic ones) only control certain stages of the pest. Many insecticides kill only the larval (e.g., caterpillars) stage, not the eggs or pupae. Other insecticides target only adults. Many fungicides are preventive treatments and will not eliminate infections that have already started, although they may slow their spread. Likewise, some herbicides (preemergence herbicides) kill germinating weeds but not established ones, while others (postemergence herbicides) are effective against actively growing weeds.
Choose the least-toxic pesticide that will solve your problem. Examples of least-toxic insecticides include insecticidal petroleum or plant-based oils, soaps, and the microbial insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis.
Pesticides are used because they kill or control the target pest. "Selective" pesticides kill only a few closely related organisms. Others are broader spectrum, killing a range of pests but also nontarget organisms. Most pesticides are not without some negative impacts on the environment. For instance, some insecticides with low toxicity to people may have high toxicity to beneficial insects like parasitic wasps or other desirable organisms like honey bees, earthworms, or aquatic invertebrates.
Pesticides that break down rapidly usually have less negative impact on the environment, but are more difficult to use. Because they don't leave toxic residues that will kill pests arriving hours or days after the application, they must be applied precisely when the vulnerable stage of the pest is present.
The amount of pesticide used can also determine how effective it will be. Use specified on the label. Twice as much pesticide won't do twice as much good! Too much pesticide can damage the plant and leave toxic residues with which children, pets, and wildlife can come in contact. Excess pesticides can also leach through soil into groundwater or be carried in surface runoff into streams or ponds. Pesticides work best when used in amounts specified on the label and stay in the sites where they are needed.
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