Pesticide Practices

We've all seen them. The obvious signs that pests are feasting on the plants that you're paid to take care of, destroying their beauty with each bite. Aesthetics aside, pests will not only converge on the plants and grounds you're responsible for, they'll quickly eat away at your bottom line as well. In order to keep pests from feasting on your hard work and profits, pesticide treatment is a must. A proper pesticide treatment method ensures safety, while at the same time keeping slugs, snails and other pests from readily dining on the fruits — or foliage — of your labor.


Pesticides are a solution to maintaining grounds or repairing grounds to their original state, but improper use can put more than pests at risk. If not used properly, children, animals and workers within the proximity of pesticide treatment can be exposed to harmful chemicals, with risks severe enough to hospitalize individuals and kill small animals.

For instance, opening pesticide containers, connecting application equipment or transferring pesticides to another container for application all entail the possibility of exposure. For their own safety, applicators should observe safety precautions carefully. Workers should be sure to read all labels, wear adequate protective clothing and equipment, and carefully choose the pesticide-handling area.

When used properly, though, pesticides can be safe and effective. For instance, popular insect baits use metaldehyde as an active ingredient. To reduce the possibility of a hungry pet or curious toddler sampling the bait, evenly disperse metaldehyde-based pellets 10 to 20 centimeters apart. Doing so will not adversely reduce effectiveness, and safety will be increased.

A pet should not be on grounds recently treated with pesticides, and a young child clearly should not be unattended in such an area. You can avoid mistakes like these by following guidelines and addressing these issues with your clients prior to application.

Two factors affecting your pesticide treatment method include the present season and the time of day you make pesticide applications. Some pests are night feeders, seeking damp shelter during the day. Therefore, dusk is an optimal time to spread some baits. Dusk treatments are also beneficial from a safety standpoint because most people are no longer on the grounds or property.

As a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure that all employees who handle pesticides are properly trained. Each of your employees should have a copy of your training program. Employee training should include:

  • Learning to read and understand the product labels and directions.

  • Chemical hazards, including signs and symptoms of acute exposure.

  • Common ways that pesticides can enter or be absorbed into the body.

  • Emergency aid procedures.

  • Safety procedures, including proper handling techniques.


The type of treatments grounds professionals can use varies. For safety purposes, some varieties of pesticides should have formulations with repellents. Insect baits often contain a sweetener to lure targeted pests. While this attracts pests, it can also catch the attention of other animals, specifically dogs. To combat this, bittering agents are added to some baits in order to repel children and pets that mistake them for a snack. One of the more popular bittering agents is Bitrex, the most bitter substance yet to be discovered. It is odorless, so even animals with the keenest sense of smell cannot detect its presence until they taste it. Specifically targeted pests are still attracted to the bait, while non-targeted and beneficial animals remain at a much lower risk.

Of course, all pesticides are tested carefully before they can be registered by the EPA and before they are sold. Part of this testing includes determining possible effects on non-target organisms, such as pets. You should follow the same re-entry procedures for cats and dogs as is recommended for humans. Wait until the treated area dries (in the case of liquid application) and, for granular materials, comply with labeled directions for re-entering the treated area.


While proper pesticide application drastically reduces the likelihood for poison exposures, safe storage is equally significant. Before planning out your storage facility, consider that there are some guidelines already established by regulatory bodies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and you must be in compliance with their standards. Your first step toward compliance with established safety standards is designing a proper maintenance site, mix-and-load area and storage facility. Select an area that is spacious, away from any body of water or stream, and where you can restrict entry of unauthorized persons. Next, design and build a non-pervious, permanent concrete pad adjacent to the chemical storage shed for mixing and loading, and a separate, sealed concrete pad on which to wash equipment.

This is necessary because, according to university and EPA studies, even small amounts of chemicals repeatedly dropped on the ground in the same location can build up over time and contaminate the soil, ground and surface water. Ideally, you should construct a shelter over both pads to protect employees from inclement weather and minimize the rainfall-based runoff from the pads. Install a chemical-resistant sump basin and pump to facilitate the collection of any spills, and design them to pump into a chemical holding unit.

Make sure your storage shed includes these options:

  • Secondary leak-proof flooring below chemical-resistant grating to collect spills and prevent runoff and contamination.

  • Chemical-resistant shelving.

  • Hands-free mix-and-load enclosed chamber.

  • Automatic ventilation system.

  • Hand- and eye-wash basin with a hookup to a potable water source.

  • Sump system in the flooring.

  • Special chemical-resistant interior lighting.

  • Employee safety posters.

  • Leaflets and material safety data sheets (MSDS) written in English and Spanish.

  • Temperature control or insulation, depending on climatic conditions.

  • Visible signage written in English and Spanish on the exterior of the buildings.

Once you have installed your storage facility, you are ready to stock it. Some simple, common-sense rules pertain to the safe storage of these pesticides. Keep similar pesticides together. For example, if you keep herbicides with herbicides and fungicides with fungicides, an employee who is conducting the application will be less likely to make a mistake in mixing the wrong ones together. Also, you should store flammable chemicals in a separate area. Once these containers are empty, triple rinse and crush them so that they can be transported to an approved landfill or waste facility.

A curious child can easily wander to an unlocked shed or cabinet that houses pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. To reduce this risk, keep the pesticide at least 4 feet off the ground in a well-ventilated area. Additionally, buying only as much pesticide as is needed per application can prevent a surplus of poisonous chemicals from sitting for long amounts of time without use. This method is not cost-efficient for landscapers or groundskeepers, so it is important that pesticides are stored properly.

While it is imperative to keep dangerous chemicals out of children's hands, it is as important to take the proper precautions to keep pesticides from harming the environment. A pesticide spill can seep into the ground, possibly entering a nearby water supply or contaminating the landscape or turfgrass. In order to prevent this, use caution when applying pesticides near natural water sources such as reservoirs, lakes, ponds and wells.

In the event an accidental spill or large leak occurs, you must be prepared to locate and control the source. Re-direct large spills away from water sources, ditches or storm drains. Instruct employees, as part of their training, to report the spill as soon as possible. Keep a supply of absorbent materials such as kitty litter or dry sawdust close by to reduce the spread of a spill, should one take place.

Once a pesticide is in your possession, you are responsible for its safe transport. The safest way to carry pesticides is in the back of a truck. Flatbed trucks should have side and tail racks. Never carry pesticides in the passenger compartment of a vehicle: hazardous fumes may be released and spills may cause injury and be impossible to remove from seats. Never carry pesticides in the same compartment with fertilizers, seed, food or feed. Inspect containers before loading to be sure all caps and plugs are closed tightly and legible labels are attached.

Also, never leave a vehicle unattended when transporting pesticides in an unlocked trunk compartment or open-bed truck. You are legally responsible if curious children or careless adults are accidentally poisoned by pesticides left unattended and exposed in your vehicle. Whenever possible, transport pesticides in a locked compartment.


Each time you water a landscape, the leftover moisture attracts pests such as slugs and snails, leaving them primed to assault plants by nightfall. Because water is obviously imperative to maintaining attractive grounds, snails and slugs are expected to remain in the increasingly damp conditions. A pesticide must then be equally effective when wet as it is in dry conditions.

Professional formulations include active ingredients such as metaldehyde at levels that are high enough to kill pests the size of slugs and snails, but not dogs or cats. For example, for a dog to ingest a potentially fatal amount of a metaldehyde-based bait, it would have to consume such a highly concentrated amount of pellets that they would have to be eaten straight from a container. By using the treatment method mentioned earlier, the spreading of pellets evenly across a desired area will work against a dog's or cat's innate hunger to automatically eat substances that look and smell like food. Plus, the bittering agent will take affect before the pet can ingest too much bait if it is spread evenly. Also, animals that prey on target pests already contaminated with a pesticide are at virtually no risk.

Another consideration is wind drift. While applicators are trained to follow precautions to minimize off-target movement of pesticides, a combination of wind and application conditions occasionally may cause drift if precautions aren't taken. Two types of drift may cause chemicals to move off target. Particle drift occurs when the wind scatters small spray droplets off the application site onto neighboring shrubs, flowers or lawns. Less common, vapor drift occurs when chemicals evaporate and move with air currents to other sites. In either case, an applicator should be aware of wind conditions to any drift potential.


Pests are a serious problem for grounds professionals because they can devour acres of property and fine landscaping. Without the threat of pesticide, a single species of pest can consume a property in a matter of days. Pesticides offer a solution to this problem, but to ensure safety it is crucial for professionals to learn the proper methods for handling chemicals. This will make certain that landscapes will be restored to their original beauty while people, pets and non-target animals can safely continue to enjoy pest-free treated property.

Thomas Brancato is director of marketing and sales for Lonza, Inc. (Allendale, N.J.).

Other sources include Sharon Rinehimer with RGF Environmental Group, Inc., and the Michigan State University Pesticide Education Program.


  • Spread pesticides smoothly and evenly, while making sure there are no clumps that can be mistaken as pet food.

  • A bittering agent is added to some pesticides to help deter children, pets and beneficial animals from ingesting toxins

  • Keep pesticides out of the reach of children and pets by storing them in a well-ventilated area at least four feet off the ground and away from food.

  • Keep absorbent materials handy such as kitty litter or dry sawdust, to minimize the effects of a spill.

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