This blog is a Kitsap Sun reader blog. The Kitsap Sun neither edits nor previews reader blog posts. Their content is the sole creation and responsibility of the readers who produce them. Reader bloggers are asked to adhere to our reader blog agreement. If you have a concern or would like to start a reader blog of your own, please contact

Pesticides – What’s a Gardener to Do?

Plant Life Blog – April 21, 2013
Pesticides – What’s a gardener to do?
By Peg Tillery

This is the time of year when abundant dollars are pumped into advertising about various yardcare products. Many of which fall into the pesticide category. Pesticide is the general term for products that kill or eliminate a pest. The suffix “cide” means “to kill.” Herbicides kill plants; insecticides kill insects; rodenticides kill rodents and arachnicides kill spiders. Fungicides to control fungus conditions also fall under the pesticide category.

How do we learn and know which products to use and if we even need to use them? Are organic products better than other products (often referred to as synthetic based)? Are certain products time sensitive and even though the commercials and advertisements say to use them now, should we? This blog will attempt to answer some of the questions. In addition I’ve added other links so you can do some research yourselves at your leisure. Remember too, that consulting with staff at the local Kitsap Extension Office or CPH (Certified Professional Horticulturist) staff at reputable local nurseries can often answer your questions. Also know that reputable licensed pesticide applicators have to meet strict state standards and can be a good resource when necessary.

Be wary of products on the shelves of the big box stores, whether they’re garden centers, home improvement centers or “everything in one place” stores. Many of these businesses have buyers who order the shelve stocks for every situation nationwide and the products on the shelves may not even be applicable for our pest problems here in our region. In addition, know that “organic” does not always mean safe. Organic means it’s derived from a fruit, vegetable or other plant based source. Organic products to control pests or plant conditions are not as strictly regulated as the “synthetic” based products. Also in either situation, organic or non-organic, the liquids and fillers used to help the product adhere to or be consumed by the pest are not always tested as rigorously as the base chemical has been. Sometimes the “inerts” or other ingredients in a product can be harmful too. Know that if something can kill, it may be able to cause residual harm to other non-target organisms.

Keep in mind that pesticide based liquids and powders that stay on a plant or other surface can potentially wash or soak into the soil or nearby water bodies. The majority of the water we drink in Kitsap County comes to us from groundwater. What we put on the land and into our streams and lakes ultimately ends up in our groundwater table and is pumped up into our wells and reservoirs. What doesn’t stay in these water tables (also known as aquifers) ends up in the marine environment surrounding our peninsula. The same waters where we harvest or catch fin fish and shellfish and other edibles and where we swim and recreate.

It’s important that we know what we’re putting on our plants and property. The only way to know that is if we determine first if we even need to use a pesticide. In most cases, no pesticide is necessary. But if we do need a pesticide then we need to determine how serious the problem is. We also need to thoroughly read the labels on the products. This can be a real challenge at times. You may want to bring a magnifying glass with you to read the fine print. Product labels can be folded up in accordion pleat fashion – you are, by law, allowed to open up the label to read all the instructions and caveats. You’ll also want to look for “signal” words. Some of these words, usually in bigger print are: caution, warning, danger, hazard and poison. This 2 page downloadable publication explains the signal words:

Many home and yardcare products are broad spectrum or combinations of products. Another term commonly seen on these products is systemic. It is best to avoid broad spectrum and systemic products. Most plant pests and conditions involve one organism, not a broad sweep of several organisms. It’s best to target only the pest that is damaging or destroying something, not other organisms in the vicinity. Insects in particular can build up tolerances to various pesticides so it’s good to only resort to the pesticide when it’s needed, not to use it “just in case.” It’s also important to know the life cycle of various pests. Applying a pesticide when it won’t work is also not good. Be aware too that killing off beneficial insects can be an unintended consequence.

“The label is the law” is a term that is used with regard to pesticides. This means that the product will only work on the target plants and pests listed on the label and that it must legally only be used as directed on the label. The product must also be disposed of as stated on the label. If you do resort to pesticide use, be wise and only purchase the smallest needed quantity. Unused products can be delivered to the county hazardous waste disposal sites.

Pesticide use in schools was a topic of concern in the late 90s and early 2000s in Washington State. The Washington State Department of Agriculture has legal oversight of the use of pesticide products in Washington State schools. Each K-12 school and licensed day-care and adult-care center must post notices 48 hours before pesticides are used inside or onsite of the facilities. Many such schools and facilities in Washington State have adopted IPM (Integrated Pest Management) processes and procedures in addition to following the WSDA rules for posting pesticide use.

IPM means assessing what is causing the problem or damage and then using the least toxic and most efficient methods and products to remedy or remove the problem. It is a suite of processes and techniques. Examples of IPM are: right plant/right place – selecting the correct plants for the soil, water and light requirements of a particular site; correct pruning at the right time of year; and eliminating food sources for vermin. Without food sources and entrances to buildings vermin cannot become a nuisance, or they will be less of a nuisance and not as many pesticides will be employed.

Even though this piece is a bit lengthy for a blog post, it’s only the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Learn to become well-informed consumers before picking up that advertised pesticide. Don’t forget to consult with our numerous local resources – Master Gardeners, Extension Office staff, and Certified Professional Horticulturists at reputable local nurseries. We all want to help you make sense of the myriad products on the market, many of which you’ll never need to use.

Here are a few more links to resources for further reading: – National Pesticide Information Center, Oregon State University – excellent research based portal for abundant information on safe use of pesticides and how/when to use pesticides – section of the above site dedicated to Washington State resources and information – 2 page publication with information on signal words and how to interpret labels on pesticide containers – publication from University of Florida Extension – how to interpret the “alerting” words on pesticide containers/products – We don’t all have the time to become Master Gardeners or licensed pesticide applicators but this link to the Clemson University Extension curricula has a great question and answer format with all kinds of information about what pesticide labeling involves and how to interpret information to make good educated decisions. – Here’s the whole manual from Clemson that is used for training pesticide applicators, but the information is also helpful to home gardeners. It’s worth spending time with this document.

Controversy has surrounded the use of 2-4-D an ingredient in many yardcare and agriculture products. Here are just a few links to articles and research about 2-4-D. In 2012 the EPA denied the requests from Ecology and numerous states and organizations to ban or limit this broad spectrum broadleaf herbicide. You can read through the information provided within these links and decide whether to use this product or not at your own gardens. You may want to take note of the studies performed with regard to several cancers found in dogs who spent time on lawns and turf where 2-4-D was used.