In an ideal world, pesticides would never be needed in the garden. In the real world, they occasionally are.
That doesn't mean you need harsh chemicals. A pesticide is anything that kills a pest, from DDT, which kills just about every insect, to baking soda, which is effective against certain fungal diseases. If you decide a pesticide is absolutely needed, choose and spray the material with utmost care to avoid harm to the environment, to yourself and to the plants you are trying to protect.
And don't think that you can be slipshod just because you are spraying something "natural," such as rotenone. Rotenone was used by primitive fishermen as fish poison (makes for easy fishing), and is still deadly to fish if it seeps into any stream or pond. Rotenone is also quite toxic to you and me.
As elementary as it sounds, reading the label is the first step to correct use of any pesticide. Read the list of plants and pest problems. Is your particular plant and problem on that list? If not, don't use that pesticide; it may be not be effective.
Before you reach for pesticide, figure out which pest — whether it's a mite, an insect, a fungus, or a bacterium — is causing the problem. (Pesticides cannot control virus diseases.) Your local extension service office can help here.
The next thing you will want to find out is just how toxic the pesticide is — to you. Look for one of three signal words:
• CAUTION means that the product is only slightly toxic, or relatively nontoxic.
• WARNING signifies a moderately toxic pesticide.
• DANGER — POISON means that the material is highly toxic. A teaspoon or less could kill you.
More detailed information on the label, or perhaps in a booklet attached to the label, will tell you what protective gear, such as gloves or a respirator, is recommended when using the pesticide.
A few general precautions with any pesticide will keep you from ever having to call your local poison control center (usually listed at the beginning of your telephone directory):
• Always store pesticides in their original containers. People have been known to take a sip of pesticide stored in an old water bottle.
• Store pesticides well out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.
• Never eat, smoke, or drink when handling pesticides.
• The biggest danger in using pesticides comes when mixing them (unless they are premixed) because then you're dealing with concentrated material. Avoid getting splashed, and never stick the end of your hose into the spray solution. A drop in water pressure could have that solution siphoning back into your water lines.
• Protective clothing, when called for, needs to be of nonabsorbent material.
• Take precautions to minimize adverse impacts on the environment and the plants you are spraying. Generally, the best time to spray is early morning or late evening, because the air is calm and bees, back home in their hives, will be spared exposure.
• If you spray more than one pesticide, check the labels before mixing them for compatibility.
• Reserve a sprayer for weedkillers, if you use them, because they are hard to thoroughly clean from a sprayer. The smallest residue might kill your plant.
• Lastly, think twice before using any pesticide. Be aware that plants tolerate a certain amount of pest damage. You might also.