Using Landscape Chemicals Responsibly

This past summer, a homeowner called the local Extension office concerned about cicada killers. I immediately set about my normal talk describing the benefits of cicada killers and how they are not prone to sting humans. The homeowner graciously listened to my pitch and then said they understand, but they do not appreciate how the cicada killer makes their lawn surface so bumpy. I conceded their point and set about gathering more information for chemical treatment recommendations. The homeowners described how they enjoy relaxing on the shore by their pond, where it turns out along with their lawn is now residence to the cicada killers. Bodies of water always raise a red flag when it comes to pesticides. You should always check the pesticide label to make sure it can be sprayed near water. I also learned, in the past the homeowner had been treating with an ammonia-based home concoction they found on the internet. The home remedy had worked before, but doesn't seem to be doing the trick anymore.

This is where my point comes in- which is we must use pesticides responsibly. Obviously, in the above-mentioned scenario there was no registered chemical, it was a mixture of ingredients obtained on the internet. Still, there are many nefarious do-it-yourself instructions online, least among them home pesticide recipes. Just because it is posted online does not make it safe even if it is claimed to be all organic ingredients. In fact, one of the most toxic substances on the planet, nicotine, can be considered organic, yet there are pages on the internet explaining how to make nicotine-based pesticides. Moral of the story: Internet readers beware.

Another call I received earlier this summer involved a vegetable garden and a frugal husband. The client had purchased a restricted use home defense insecticide, meant to be sprayed around the perimeter of a building by a licensed applicator. After spraying his home the client had some insecticide leftover and decided to apply the remainder to the family vegetable plot; with logic dictating that if this kills insects entering my home, it should take care of the ones going after my veggies.

Immediately, the alarms went off in my head when hearing an unlicensed applicator had sprayed a restricted use pesticide. There are two types of pesticides defined by the EPA: Restricted Use Pesticide and General Use Pesticide. General use pesticides include spray formulations a homeowner can purchase at any retail outlet or garden center. Restricted use pesticides can only be purchased and applied by licensed applicators. To become licensed an individual must pass a pesticide exam conducted by Illinois Department of Agriculture. There are many different types of pesticide licenses, so make sure you choose the right one. University of Illinois Extension along with Illinois Department of Agriculture team up each year to hold pesticide trainings across the state, with the goal of preparing participants for the pesticide exam. If interested feel free to contact your local Extension office for a training or testing location near you.

Back to the logic of the homeowner spraying a home defense insecticide on his vegetables. The purpose of the client's call to me was they were worried the vegetables may not be safe to eat and if the fruit and greens that had been sprayed should be picked and thrown away. When consulting the label of the insecticide, it was apparent this spray was never intended for use on edible crops. After speaking with the manufacturer of the chemical I had to break the news that the entire garden would have to be culled and lay dormant for a year. For a family that loves gardening and perhaps depends on home-grown produce this can be disastrous. A very poignant lesson on why we must always be responsible with landscape chemicals.

The takeaway: Always follow pesticide label directions. Pesticide labels are there to ensure the proper use of the product which protects you, your family, your neighbors and the environment. If you have questions about what pesticide is well-suited to your situation, feel free to contact your local Extension office.