Sid Mullis: Read the label on pesticides

Retired County Extension Agent Walter Reeves, whom many of you know from his radio and TV shows and newspaper columns, sent an e-mail to most of us Georgia Extension agents. He gave us a link to a CNN story about a man who accidently killed his 40,000-square-foot lawn with a product he thought was for weed control.


Reeves also attached the product label, both front and back. It got a debate going among several of us as to whether the manufacturer made it clear that this product would kill everything. On the product label on the back of the bottle under Use Precautions, it plainly stated, “Do not Use on Desirable Plants,” and “Do not Use in Lawns.”

The herbicide contained the active ingredients glyphosate, which most of you know as Roundup, and prodiamine, which is a pre-emergent. So the poor guy not only lost his grass, but he can’t replant for a while because of prodiamine in the herbicide. The man said three employees at his local garden center consulted with him on the product.

This prompted me to remind everyone how important it is to read the label on a pesticide. Even when people call me about a pesticide, I try to always tell them, “No matter what I tell you, read the label.”

The pesticide label gives you very important information about how to use the pesticide effectively and safely. You should try to read the label before you buy the product and each time before you use the product. I have had people tell me they accidently sprayed their lawn or some plants with a herbicide when they meant to use an insecticide, so pay attention to what you grab on your own shelf.

Another important point to remember is don’t necessarily rely on your memory when you buy a pesticide you have used before. Read the name of the pesticide product carefully because many pesticides for home, yard, or garden use have similar names and packaging. Be sure you are buying the product you think you are buying.

Printing on pesticide labels is often very small or otherwise hard to read. If you need glasses to read, have them with you when you buy and use the pesticide.

Follow the directions as they are given on the label. You should only use the pesticide on sites or crops listed on the label.

When crops are not listed on the label, it might simply mean it has not been tested on them, but it could also mean it could harm or kill them.

A pesticide label might also tell you whether you can use it inside your home, for example. If you are treating your vegetable garden, the label should name the crop you are treating. If it is not on there, don’t use it. Many turf and ornamental pesticides should not be used on vegetables, fruit crops, or herbs. The label will also tell you under what conditions you may or may not apply the pesticide. For example, most of our weed killers that we apply to lawns will tell us not to use them when the temperature is overly hot or cold.

The pesticide label will tell you about special precautions you must take when you use the pesticide. These include keeping other people, especially children, and pets away from the area where the pesticide is being applied. It will also include warnings about not applying pesticides when it is windy, or not allowing the pesticide to drift or run off.

The pesticide label always contains a signal word that will tell you how toxic the product is to humans. These three signal words are caution, warning, or danger. Signal words will usually be in capital letters.

The least toxic products carry the signal word CAUTION. Products with the signal word WARNING are more toxic. The most toxic pesticides have DANGER on their labels.

I believe all home­owner products now have CAUTION on their label.



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