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Pesticides should be used responsibly

Spring is approaching, buds are beginning to swell and insects and diseases will soon begin to flourish.

Many of us use pesticides to control various problems in our landscapes. Before we make final plans, let us get some important facts straight.

What is a pesticide?

Pesticides are products used by humans to kill anything they consider a pest – a weed, a bug, a germ, a virus, etc. The most common ones include insect (insecticides), disease (fungicides) and weed killers (herbicides). Pesticides also include many household products such as bleach products used to kill germs.

Who uses pesticides?

Did you know that homeowners use more pesticides than farmers do in the Puget Sound area?

While most homeowners are responsible, there are still too many that have the “if one glug works, two must be better” mentality. Consequently, some are used needlessly.

What about farmers? Let’s face it, folks. When shopping for groceries, most of us would not purchase a scab-covered apple, a wormy ear of corn or an aphid-covered head of lettuce.

Farmers view pesticides as “crop protection insurance” for two reasons: 1, to produce the blemish-free, high-quality products that we consumers demand; and 2, to help make their operations profitable enough to justify remaining in business.

Most farmers consider themselves environmental stewards of the land. They do not wish to poison themselves, their workers, their land or the ultimate consumers.

How safe are pesticides?

Pesticide use is a very emotional and political topic. The anti-pesticide crowd is quite vocal and sometimes controversial. Unfortunately, because of the rhetoric and fear mongering that often occurs, it can be difficult to sort out the facts and truly appreciate the contribution that pesticides have made to our standard of living.

When used with care and according to labeled instructions, pesticides are quite safe. It is the rate of exposure, not the mere presence of pesticides, that should be of concern.

Many public agencies continuously monitor various sites to determine the presence of elements that might be of concern. The amounts found in local waters are nearly always far below toxic levels.

Three Simple Rules for Responsible Use

1. Determine the identity of the pest. This is often easier said than done. Master gardener clinics, extension services or consultants are good sources for assistance.

2. Know which pesticides are legal and effective for the identified pest. This requires careful reading of pesticide labels at stores or pest information often accessible on the Internet.

3. Apply the pesticides at the proper time and in a safe manner. In other words, if a spray will kill only adult insects, do not apply it before the adults have hatched.

If you miss on any of these rules, time, money and chemicals will have been wasted.

Two Approaches for Proper Control

Pesticides are used to either prevent problems before they occur or to control an outbreak after it has become a problem.

For example, fungicides generally are sprayed to prevent various diseases. Insecticides are most often used after an insect attack has become serious enough to warrant control.

Weed killers can be used either before or after an offending plant has started growing – depending upon the weed and type of chemical.

Are Spray Services Necessary?

Many homeowners use services that apply pesticides on a programmed schedule. Such programs commonly require three to four applications per year.

These services have a real challenge because their success is dependent upon weather conditions. Some pests have a narrow window of opportunity for effective control. If foul weather prevents applications within these windows or if rain occurs shortly following an application, the treatments may not work.

Homeowners place great trust in such services. However, families should be aware of the chemicals used, their environmental impact and pests that are targeted. A greater understanding of a spray program will help a homeowner decide if it is truly appropriate for his individual circumstances.

Dennis Tompkins, a Bonney Lake resident, is a certified arborist and certified tree risk assessor. He provides small tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazard tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners. Contact him at 253 863-7469 or email at dlt@blarg.net. Web site: evergreenarborist.com.

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