What Are Pesticides?

spray a pesticide

Do you have a flourishing garden but wonder how to work around the threat of pests? You know other gardeners have been using pesticides, but should you?

Read on to understand more about pesticides, why they matter, what kinds you should use, and how to be responsible for their application.

Why Pesticides Matter and How You Should Use Them

Gardening may be rewarding, but it’s never the easiest job on earth. Perhaps the toughest part is controlling pests and battling against unexpected weather conditions.

If you’re relatively new to gardening, the challenge may even be tougher. Often, you would encounter pests of different kinds and classes — all disrupting your thriving little ecosystem.

Now, which kind of pesticide should you be using? Isn’t there a substance that strikes all and kills all? Or would such a substance be dangerous to the environment’s health and yours?

Read on and discover the many different types of pesticides, what they’re used for, the potential harm they could cause, and how you should apply them in your garden.

Let’s get digging.

What Are Pesticides?

The term “pesticide” comes from the root word “pest” and the suffix “-cide,” which means “to kill.”

Simply put, a pesticide is any substance that mitigates, destroys, repels, prevents, and/or kills the growth and proliferation of pests. Although not all pesticides kill.

It’s a general term that includes herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, and many others.

Pesticides serve to protect your crops from unwanted plants and organisms that compete for nutrients and space. While their purpose seems to be noble enough, there are pesticide formulas that might be too potent for your crops to stay unharmed.

Different Types of Pesticides

Pests come in the form of weeds, insects, fungi, other microorganisms, and even bigger organisms. Pesticides of specific formulations are manufactured for each of these pests.

Note that the use of pesticides is not only limited to gardening, farming, or agriculture in general. On a larger scale, we use pesticides to get rid of disease carriers. On the smaller scale of daily living, we use pesticides in the form of insect repellents, disinfectants, and mildew killers.

That is to say that there are pesticides for garden pests, household pests, and pests on pets. What characterizes all of these pests is that they are nuisance organisms affecting crops, livestock, food, and health.

Now here are the most common types of pesticides and what they’re used for.

1. Herbicides

Herbicides inhibit the growth of or kill unwanted plants, a.k.a., the weeds in your garden.

2. Fungicides

Plants may sometimes suffer from fungal infestation. Fungicides work to control such fungal growths, which include mold and mildew.

3. Insecticides

An insecticide focuses on controlling a particular insect species that are attracted to specific plants in your garden.

4. Plant Growth Regulators

Plant growth regulators serve to control or modify the growing patterns of individual plants. For instance, these substances may delay the flowering schedule.

5. Desiccants

Desiccants work by drying up living plant tissues. 

6. Defoliants

Defoliants weaken plants, causing them to drop their leaves.

7. Repellents

Repellents deter pests such as insects from approaching your plants or settling in your garden.

8. Rodenticides

Rodenticides are used in farms to drive out rats, mice, and gophers.

9. Molluscicides

Molluscicides work specifically against mollusks such as snails and slugs.

10. Wood Preservatives

Wood preservatives serve to make wood more resistant to fungal and insect infestation.

11. Natural and Biological Pesticides

Also termed as biopesticides, these natural and biological pesticides are derived from natural sources such as bacteria, plants, animals, and some minerals.

Among the notable examples are canola oil and baking soda.

Using biopesticides is often recommended because they’re inherently less toxic compared to conventional pesticides.

Biopesticides are often effective even in tiny quantities and would decompose quickly. Thus, they lower the risks of exposure and minimize environmental pollution that’s often attributed to pesticides.

Other Pesticide Variants

Other pesticides are algaecides, antimicrobial products, and disinfectants.

Interestingly, some substances are banned as illegal household pesticides. These haven’t gone through the registration and safety testing process required by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). They’re typically sold in small neighborhood stores and may include tick and flea repellents, mothballs, and antibacterial cleansers.

What Are Pesticides Made Of?

Each pesticide product has two major components: active ingredients and inert ingredients.

Active Ingredients

The active component in a pesticide is the substance that can prevent, repel, mitigate, or destroy a pest. Plant-regulating, defoliating, desiccating, and nitrogen-stabilizing substances are also classified as active ingredients.

Active pesticide ingredients are categorized as follows.

  • Antimicrobial. These work against harmful microorganisms.
  • Biopesticides. These ingredients are derived from natural materials.
  • Conventional. This is where all the other active ingredients are categorized.

Inert Ingredients

Pesticide products include at least one active ingredient along with inert substances. The inert ingredients are intentionally added, meant to fulfill the following roles in the pesticide product:

  • As solvent. The inert ingredient aids the active component in penetrating the surface of a plant’s leaf, for instance.
  • To prevent caking or foaming. This will eventually make the application of the product easier.
  • To extend the shelf-life of the pesticide.
  • For improved safety.
  • To prevent degradation from sunlight exposure.

While inert ingredients are non-toxic substances, they still had to be approved by the EPA before manufacturers are allowed to add them to pesticide products.

Under US laws, inert ingredients don’t have to be disclosed in the product label. That’s because they’re considered to be business information. At the very least, manufacturers would only reveal the total percentage of the inert components, but even that is not a requirement.

Potential Dangers to Human Health

Aside from the potential environmental harm of pesticide use, other issues may arise concerning one’s personal health. If you have been exposed to pesticides by inhalation, ingestion, or contact with skin, you may experience dizziness, nausea, or headache.

In case of such accidents, be sure to contact a medical professional immediately.

Ingredients to Watch Out For

Some classes of pesticides are too potent to handle irresponsibly. Watch out for these ingredients and know the dangers of getting exposed to them.

  • Fumigants. They can severely injure any kind of tissue they touch. Examples of these are metam sodium and methyl bromide. Those exposed may suffer from itching or burning eyes or skin, coughing, nose bleeds, and respiratory tract infection.
  • Pyrethroids. These are considered as synthetic copies of a natural poison. They may be least toxic to humans, but they are highly toxic to fish, birds, and insects. They can also persist in the environment for several weeks and are even regarded as carcinogenic.
  • Organophosphates and Carbamates. These attack the nervous system like nerve gas. Exposure can result in headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and even vomiting. Worst-case scenarios include difficulty breathing, coma, and death.
  • Organochlorines. Although generally banned, these pesticide ingredients are nervous system stimulants. They persist in the environment and can be passed on to the food chain. When they do, they become extremely hazardous and can cause hyperexcitability and seizures.

Applying Pesticides In Your Garden

Spraying pesticides is nowhere near like watering your garden. Because of the potential dangers they pose, pesticides must be used with much care.

What to Wear

To prevent emergencies in the future, be sure to read the labels before using pesticides. Also, you should always wear protective clothing when mixing and spreading the product.

In general, you should be wearing the following:

  • Gloves
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Full-length trousers
  • Coveralls (better than a shirt and pants)
  • Protective goggles
  • Face shield

It would be best for these protective items to be both waterproof and chemical-resistant.

How Much To Apply

The general rule, “more is better” doesn’t apply when it comes to applying pesticides. Keep in mind that most of these substances contain potent chemical properties. Thus, it’s best to use pesticides only as directed.

In particular, you need to be vigilant against using pesticides excessively. Any excess can potentially harm the environment. For instance, pesticides may contaminate water sources such as wells or groundwater.

When To Apply Pesticides

Timing can be crucial to how effective your pesticide use would be. In most cases, it’s best to apply the pesticide when the pests are still nymphs or are in their larval stage.

Carefully read the instructions that come along with the pesticide product. The product’s ingredients may have been optimized to attack a particular stage of, for instance, an insect’s development.

Also, avoid applying pesticides just before a rain. The pesticide components can leach through the soil, eventually contaminating downstream bodies of water.

You should not use pesticides when there’s wind. This is to prevent the chemicals from spreading out to areas you’re not supposed to target.

Most gardeners would use a pesticide on cloudy days when the soil is just moderately dry, and rain is not expected.

Tips for Pesticide Application

To get the most benefits of pesticides, take note of the following tips when using them.

  • Try using more natural pesticides first.
  • If natural methods don’t work, begin using mild pesticides.
  • Use only the appropriate pesticide for your target pest species.
  • Read all the pesticide’s product information first.
  • Follow all the pesticide product’s instructions carefully.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Don’t spray pesticides during rainy and windy days.
  • Never eat or smoke while preparing or applying pesticides.
  • Do the pesticide mixing in a well-ventilated area.
  • Keep children away from the mixing area.
  • Keep your pet animals from contacting the pesticides.
  • If your clothes have been exposed to a concentrated amount of the pesticide, dispose of them.
  • Wash your hands and any exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water after pesticide application.
  • Keep your pesticide products in their original containers. Never place them into food containers.
  • In case of any pesticide spill, don’t wash it away. Sprinkle it with kitty litter, sawdust, or vermiculite to absorb the spill. Dispose of everything responsibly.
  • Consider clean-up materials as pesticide waste. Don’t reuse them.

Use Pesticides Responsibly

Pesticide application may not be the most desirable task you have to undertake when gardening. And yet, it may be necessary when certain pests try to destroy what you really prioritize — your own garden plants.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is to use pesticides responsibly. Be mindful of the pesticide products you choose to use. Strive to use only the most natural and the safest ones. Protect yourself and all non-targets during the application, and clean up everything properly after spraying.

May your garden keep flourishing and thriving.

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