The Use of Pesticides and Herbicides


Bugs, diseases and weeds sometimes seem to invade your garden from every angle, harming or killing your plants. Pesticides provide one option for dealing with unwanted visitors in your garden. However, pesticides are poison and require careful, thoughtful use to protect you, your plants and your local ecosystem.


The term "pesticides" refers to a broad category of chemicals and methods used to control unwanted organisms. Herbicides are a specific type of pesticide used to kill unwanted plants. Other pesticides include insecticides, fungicides, miticides and rodenticides. Pesticides may use chemicals or naturally occurring organisms and compounds, such as microorganisms that infect and kill a particular pest or plant extracts that repel it. Among herbicides, there are two types: pre-emergence and post-emergence. You apply pre-emergent herbicides before seeds germinate. Post-emergent herbicides kill the plant after it has started to grow.


Before choosing a pesticide, you need to correctly identify the pest and evaluate the pest's potential impact on your plants. Not all plant problems can blame a pest, so it's important to identify the source of the problem before applying pesticides. Once you've identified the source of the problem, you can evaluate the risk to your plants. Also consider whether it costs more to treat the problem or if you can tolerate a small amount of damage. Proper identification applies to herbicide use as well. The University of Missouri Extension highlights that correct weed identification allows you to choose the most effective herbicide.


Always carefully read the label before selecting a pesticide and again before using it. Many consumers find pesticide labels confusing, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, but the label includes safety precautions, as well as information about how and in what situations to use the product. Check that the product is approved and safe for the plants you intend to apply it to. If you have questions about the label, contact your local extension office or the product manufacturer for clarification before using the pesticide.


Good cultural practices often eliminate the need for pesticides. For example, rather than using herbicides to control weeds, consider applying a thick layer of mulch and hand-pulling any stragglers. Healthy soil, adequate watering and proper planting help to boost a plant's ability to withstand bugs, diseases and negative impacts from the occasional weed.


Especially when using herbicides, be aware of the potential of pesticides to harm your plants. Non-selective herbicides, for example, will kill weeds but also many garden plants. Also consider the root zones of any nearby trees. Applying herbicides over the root zone could kill the tree.

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About this Author

First published in 2000, Dawn Walls-Thumma has served as an editor for Bartleby and Antithesis Common literary magazines. Her work has been published academically and in creative journals. Walls-Thumma writes about education, gardening, and sustainable living. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and writing from University of Maryland, and is a graduate student in education at American Public University.