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Homeowners urged to use caution with pesticides

Springtime brings increased use of pesticide products in homes throughout Oregon

Daylight is now extended and Oregonians should be emerging from inside their homes in the weeks to come. Spring has arrived and homeowners are gearing up for yard and garden work. It is also time to remind residents that home-use pesticides can be used safely and effectively if all precautions are taken. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has some basic messages aimed at homeowners this time of year, but that apply all year long.

“People working in the yard and wanting to use pesticide products should first get informed and take consideration,” says Dale Mitchell, compliance manager of ODA’s Pesticides Program. “Home-use pesticides are important and often necessary in the battle against unwanted plant pests and diseases. There is nothing wrong with using pesticides– as long as they are handled properly.”

ODA licenses commercial pesticide applicators, requiring them to take a test to show their knowledge of how to use pesticides safely. Many of the materials available to commercial applicators are available to homeowners, who are not licensed and tested.

“There is often a perception that licensed applicators or farmers are using scary chemicals or large quantities of chemicals when, in fact, homeowners may have access to the same products,” says Sunny Jones, ODA pesticides investigator. “Homeowners may not have the same level of pesticide education. Therefore it’s incumbent upon them to be even more vigilant in using the product properly.”

The right way takes place even before the purchase of a pesticide product. Consumers need to do their homework and identify what type of plant pest or disease problem they have. Information is available at the local garden center, county extension office, ODA, and the Internet. Those resources not only identify the problem, they can point to pesticide products most effective in treating the problem.

The next step is actually purchasing the product. The most important advice is something often repeated by ODA’s Pesticides Program: Read the label.
“Read the label, read those instructions,” says Jones. “Just as importantly, actually follow the instructions on the label. You are going to save yourself a lot of headaches in the long run if you can follow those two steps.”

In fact, it’s a good practice to read the label at least three times– before the pesticide product is purchased, before it is applied, and after it is applied. The label tells you not only what pests the product takes care of, but it gives you special precautions. It spells out what steps to take to protect yourself and others during application. Reading the label before you buy the product can help you understand if it’s the right pesticide for you and how best to use it.

After the purchase comes the application. Once again, reading the label will guide you through the proper method of handling the pesticide. It tells you how to mix the product. Some products may be already mixed but most need to be diluted before application. The label also tells you when to apply the product. Some pesticides require dry conditions, others do fine even if it rains afterwards. The label emphasizes keeping children and pets away from the material during mixing and application.

Other tips on pesticide application involve plain old common sense.

“Set aside the proper equipment ahead of time,” says Jones. “If the product needs diluting, use measuring cups or spoons that are specifically used for pesticides and don’t use something normally kept in the kitchen. Keep the product to the site of the application. It doesn’t do any good to apply weed and feed on the sidewalk.”

The product label also has information on storage and disposal. Always try to store pesticides in the original container in a safe, dry location that is out of reach of children. Of course, storage and disposal problems can be avoided even before the product is purchased.

“By making sure you only purchase the amount of product you need, you are going to reduce the amount you need to store, which is going to take up less space, result in less potential for kids to come in contact with the product, and will be less money out of your pocket at the time of purchase,” says Jones.

If you want to get rid of leftover pesticide products, most cities and counties have hazardous waste disposal programs. The product should never be placed in the traditional garbage can and sent to a landfill. If you plan to store the pesticide in your garage, always leave the label with the product so you and others can later identify the product.

Because of pesticide applications, neighbor-to-neighbor relations is one of the biggest problems ODA hears about this time of year. There are steps a homeowner can take to diffuse a potential problem. Pesticide products should not be allowed to drift or be applied anywhere outside their intended target. But for peace of mind, and as a good neighbor policy, giving a heads up might help.

“Sometimes it is beneficial to let your neighbor know ahead of time that you are spraying a pesticide in your yard so they can keep children or pets indoors, and can close their windows,” says Jones. “Not spraying right along a fence, if possible and depending on the situation, can improve neighbor relations. In general, you want to avoid spraying pesticides onto your neighbor’s property.”

Pesticides are often a necessary and useful tool for yard and garden care. Whether the user of pesticides is on a farm, in a forest, or at home, the product must be used according to its label. And, it’s the law.

Home-use pesticides are available not only at garden supply shops, but at many one-stop shopping centers like Fred Meyer and Walmart. They may be easy to find and easy to purchase, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated lightly.

For more information, contact Sunny Jones at (503) 986-4653.

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