It’s amazing how insects and mites always seem to find their way back to your garden. This constant pest pressure requires us have to become experts in controlling them. But how do you know what to use? And how do you select the right pesticide for the job?

Mealybug

Know if you need to treat your plants or not. This one is a pest mealybug you would want to kill

Photo Credit: ©2005 Buglady Consulting

Ladybug pupa

This one is the pupa (immature life stage) of a type of good ladybug, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri. You don’t want to kill this one – it’s a good guy!

Photo Credit: ©2005 Buglady Consulting

The first thing to do is to accurately identify your pest problem. Is the insect you see on your plant really a pest? Are there beneficial insects already present that are controlling the problem? Once you’ve decided that a pesticide treatment is needed, you need to do some label reading. Everything you need to know about a pesticide is on the label. (This is required by law.)

The first thing to consider is what the product is going to be used on. Is it for vegetables? Shrubs? Turf? Something else? Each plant type is considered a different “crop,” and the label on a pesticide will tell you on which plants you can apply that specific pesticide. Most products are labeled for vegetables, flowers and/or lawns. You certainly don’t want to apply a product to your veggies that’s only labeled for lawn use. This could lead to killing your plants – or even worse, exposing you and your family to toxic pesticides.

Next, check the product label to make sure that the specific insect pest you’ve identified in your yard is listed on that label. Be sure to note if the product is a miticide or an insecticide. A mite is not an insect, so miticides control mites and insecticides control insects. Miticides won’t kill insects, and vice versa – unless a pesticide label states that the product controls both.

Before you mix the product you’ve selected, again be sure to read the label thoroughly. If you purchase a concentrate, use the labeled rate! Also have a sprayer dedicated for pesticide use only, and make sure the container you use for mixing is marked clearly. If you’re mixing an herbicide (products that kill weeds), mark that clearly on the appropriate container, too – you don’t want to accidentally mix a pesticide in a container where herbicides have been previously mixed. You could end up killing your plants. An investment in separate sprayers and mixing containers is very inexpensive insurance compared with killing your entire garden!

Mixing pesticides is among one of the most dangerous tasks in gardening. You’re dealing with open containers of very concentrated products intended to be toxic once diluted. (Just imagine how toxic the undiluted powder or liquid is!) Mixing should never be done without a full understanding of the pesticide label and all of the recommended personal protective equipment you should wear while handling the product (gloves, eye protection, etc.) And NEVER measure pesticides at eye level – this could lead to splashing of the pesticide concentrate into your eyes. Always mix your pesticides outdoors or in a very well-ventilated area!

Be sure to apply the product at the labeled rate. Too low of a rate can allow pests to develop resistance by giving them sublethal doses. Too high of a rate can burn plant foliage, as well as be unsafe for you, your pets, children and the environment. (Not to mention it’s a waste of money.)

Another consideration is how to dispose of any pesticides that are left after application. Of course, when mixing your spray, you only want to mix as much as you need to apply. But there’s still that chance there will still be some extra after you’ve sprayed everywhere you needed to spray. Try to use up the mixed product in one session if you can, but you don’t want to just use the excess on your plants just to use it up – this could cause burning on the plant or safety risks!

Excess chemicals should NEVER be put into another storage container (ESPECIALLY a food or beverage container)! This is very dangerous and, to repeat, should never be done. And never dump the excess pesticide – this could be an environmental and human hazard (and don’t forget illegal). Again, read that label carefully to learn what disposal methods need to be used for that particular product. Some areas now offer pesticide-container recycling programs. By Googling “pesticide container recycling program” and your state, you can find information about where to dispose of your excess products.

In following the direction on pesticide labels, you can apply them safely and effectively. Be sure you read that label before purchasing any product, so you know if it’ll work for your purpose. And remember: Never use a product that’s not labeled for your specific needs – you may expose yourself and your plants to dangerously toxic situations!