Gardening with Deb Babcock: Use garden pesticides safely

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— This year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's book, “Silent Spring.” It is the true story of the unintended consequences of the use of pesticides and how humans are impacting the ecology of the Earth. Carson was not against the use of pesticides and indeed could see the value of them when they are carefully crafted and tested diligently and used properly. Many parts of the world could go hungry were it not for the beneficial effectiveness of pesticides, and many diseases carried by rodents, mosquitos and other animals could sicken large populations of people.

Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

Pesticides include subcategories: insecticides to control unwanted insect pests, herbicides for getting rid of weeds and unwanted plant material, fungicides for controlling mold and mildew on plants, disinfectants for bacteria, and poison compounds to control rodents.

The pesticides we use in our home gardens are designed to be specifically deadly to some pests, but improper use of the product can harm other creatures as well as the environment. That's why it is extremely important to read the directions on the label and follow them carefully. It might seem to make sense to put a stronger application than recommended on your plants to get quicker results, but it isn't the right thing to do, and it isn't legal. Using too much pesticide in an application can cause a long-lasting and dangerous buildup in the soil, get into our water supply, become airborne and poison other plants, humans, birds, fish and animals that it was not intended to affect.

This is also why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates pesticide use and has in place rules and regulations on dosages, frequency of application and manner of application, among other issues. Besides the harm to our environment, the consequences of improper use of a pesticide can range from a letter of notice to an administrative order, with or without penalties, to civil or criminal actions, which can lead to fines and imprisonment.

On the plus side, one of the wonderful benefits of our high mountain climate in Routt County is that it is not very friendly to most garden pests, so there is not a lot of need for the use of pesticides here.

That being said, if you decide to address a pest problem with chemical pesticides, here are some things to keep in mind:

• Carefully choose the right pesticide product for your problem. The staff at the CSU Extension office or the knowledgeable people at our local garden centers can help.

• Read the product label, which includes ingredients, warnings, precautions, directions for use, first-aid instructions as well as storage and disposal directions.

• Apply the pesticide only where the label says it can be applied.

• Determine the right amount to be purchased, and don't get more than you need.

• Use the product in accordance with the directions provided. Never apply more pesticide than the label calls for.

• Store and dispose of pesticides properly following instructions on the label.

• Look for markings on the label with the words “danger” meaning highly poisonous, “warning” meaning moderately hazardous and “caution” meaning least hazardous. Those marked with “restricted use” require formal training and applicator certification.

There are other alternatives to chemical pesticides if you are having a problem in your garden. Integrated Pest Management is a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining the use of all practical methods of pest control — including biological, cultural, physical and chemical — in a manner that reaches your goals while minimizing risks to the environment.

For more information, contact the CUS Extension office or go to www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/xcm220.pdf for the Homeowner's Guide to Pesticide Use fact sheet.

Deb Babcock is a Colorado master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Contact 970879-0825 or csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us with questions.

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