February 13, 2007
Have you been out to look at your garage lately? Are they filled with old bottles and cans of weed killers, fungicides, and pesticides, with barely readable labels? Have some of them been on those shelves since the ice age? Then your garage, like mine is a chemical disaster waiting to happen.
Now, I'm not about to tell you that it's time to clean out your garage-just your chemical storage area. If you can't remember how long something has been on your shelves, or you can't read the label (and I mean the entire label), then it's time to get rid of it. Many chemicals change over time, losing their effectiveness. Unfortunately, most garden pesticides, fungicides and weed killers are classified as hazardous waste, and you can't just chuck them in the trash, or pour them down the drain. You can wrap empty containers in newspaper and put them out for collection, but those mysterious, half full fellows need to be taken a Hazardous Waste Collection Center in your area.
Meanwhile, back to your garage. You didn't buy those cans and bottles just to sit on shelves. You bought them to use. And since even organic garden treatments can be deadly if not handled properly, it's important to protect yourself and the environment. Store your chemicals in a locked cabinet, especially if there are children around. Date them when you purchase them. The most important thing you can do is read the entire label each and every time you use a product, and then follow the directions.
Always wear rubber gloves and goggles when mixing, handling and applying them. When applying pesticides, wear long pants and sleeves of a tightly woven material, since most pesticides can be absorbed through the skin. When you are finished, wash your clothes separately from the rest of the laundry. Some products also recommend that you wear some form of respirator or mask. Make sure that you buy one designed to filter out these toxic chemicals, since there are many different kinds available.
Apply your chemicals properly. Always read and re-read the label, and make sure that you mix the product correctly. Too much can cause more damage than the problem you are trying to treat, and too little probably won't be very effective. And be sure you don't apply chemicals to the wrong plant. Something that works on one kind of plant can often kill another. So double check the label, and never apply a chemical to a plant that isn't listed! When in doubt, call the Master Gardener Hotline, or your local garden center.
Don't mix chemicals, especially insecticides and fungicides, together. Not only might the chemicals react to form highly toxic mixes, there is also the chance they may inactivate each other. Separate applications, although twice as much work, ensure that you will apply appropriate and adequate amounts of your product to your plants. Most products which can be mixed together will specify this on their labels, and often will give explicit instructions on just how to do this safely.
Apply your chemicals as early in the morning as you can, The air is usually still, which makes it easier to keep your chemicals going where you want them to. The sun isn't hot and glaring yet, reducing the chance of scorching your plants. And the cool air makes the bugs inactive, so they won't know what hit them! And never apply chemicals on a windy day, as they will blow off target, sometimes killing or damaging another plant.