June 2018
The Magic of Gardening

Pesticide Safety


Make sure the insect on your garden tomato flower is not beneficial such as this bee.

Extension agents hear every kind of mistake imaginable when it comes to pesticides and their use. One county agent was asked how to control crickets on a back porch and he gave advice on products that should work, only to be called and fussed at for poor product results. The county agent took the time to visit the man, who claimed he could not sit out on his porch because of the incessant chirping. The homeowner had the agent sit on the porch with him to wait on the chirp and, sure enough, about every 45 seconds, he heard the very consistent and monotone chirp. He looked around and then asked the homeowner if he had a D battery while he reached for a smoke alarm above the door. Problem solved.

All problems are not so easily solved. A couple of years ago, I received a call from a client whose property bordered a large soybean field. Her question and my response went something like this:

“Can you tell me what has taken the buzz out of the bees this year?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Normally the bees make a loud buzz when collecting pollen and nectar from my holly bushes. This year they are there, but there is no buzz.”

“Have you had your hearing tested lately?”

“My hearing is perfect young man.”

“Do you have any ideas why this has happened to only your bees?”

“Yes, I believe the herbicide used on the GMO soybeans has taken the buzz out of the bee.”

“Well, that is a new one on me, but I will let you know if I get other reports of the buzz going out of the bees.”

Adult corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea, resting in a tomato field.


My point with these two stories is to illustrate both the importance of identifying the pest correctly and to have a good understanding of the potential impact on nontarget organisms when using any pesticides or chemicals. When used properly by home gardeners, they are valuable management tools to protect plants against diseases, weeds and insect pests. However, used improperly, they pose a serious risk to public health, nontarget organisms and the environment.

You can contribute to a safer environment by using pesticides wisely. Purchase and use only what you need. Do not dump them in the trash or down the drain. Mix the needed amount and spray all the mixture in an appropriate manner. After use, rinse sprayers and containers three times, applying the rinse water to the target site. Throw only triple-rinsed containers in the trash.

Follow these tips to be a smart shopper and protect the environment:

Follow these tips on mixing pesticides:

Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid a chemical-use problem, but accidents happen.

Just this morning as I was writing this column, I was asked to advise a client who spilled a small container of a pesticide in the back seat of her car. I gave her the same advice I always give for a small chemical spill: call the manufacturer. The product should have an 800 number for the manufacturer somewhere on the label. They also have a number for a major spill that may require professional cleanup services.

As we enter the heaviest chemical-usage time of the year for home gardeners, please be safe. Remember, the product label is the legally binding description of the proper and safe use of any product.



Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.