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Pesticide, Herbicide, and Fertilizer Application

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Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can potentially migrate into our drinking water supplies. Storm water runoff containing these chemicals can enter into water bodies, which will change the natural ecosystem of those water bodies by killing or damaging a wide variety of organisms. The chemicals can collect and accumulate (this is known as bioaccumulation) in the food chain, becoming more concentrated the further up the food chain they move. Fertilizers can disrupt natural biological communities by increasing plant and microbial growth, thus again disrupting the food chain. This condition is known as eutrophication and can drastically change natural water ecosystems and create a whole new set of problems or pollution concerns.

Improper application of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can also have an impact on storm water infiltration into groundwater. When these contaminants dissolve in storm water they may infiltrate into the groundwater, which can then contaminate drinking water supplies or end up in surface waters.

Using Fertilizers

Overuse of fertilizers can be detrimental to the intended use of an area. Too much nitrogen will cause plants to produce shallow roots. Applying unnecessary amounts of fertilizer is not only a waste of money; it can also be detrimental to water quality. Excess fertilizers can wash into waterways, stimulating nuisance weeds and algae growth. Excessive plant growth can choke slow moving waters, take up oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic life, and release ammonia which is toxic to fish. Before applying fertilizer, have the soil tested to determine what nutrients must be added.

Apply fertilizer at the proper time. Lawn fertilization programs should begin in early October, not early May. When applying fertilizers, follow the directions exactly and keep fertilizers off paved areas. If a liquid fertilizer is used, be careful to avoid overspray and drift. Sweep granular fertilizer back onto the grass to keep it from being washed into the storm water drainage system.

Healthy trees and shrubs do not require annual fertilizing. If woody plants appear unhealthy, it may be due to poor soils, insects, disease, or current weather patterns. Fertilizers should be applied only when a tree or shrub is growing poorly, and the problem can’t be traced to other causes. If trees or shrubs do need fertilizer, apply it when the plants are dormant in late fall or early spring. Fertilizing in early fall or late spring stimulates growth that was previously limited by depleted stored food supplies, and the plant’s inability to survive harsh winters and summers. Over-fertilized shrubs will actually produce more growth, and in turn require more pruning.

You can help keep the environment safe by following these tips and suggestions:

  • Use special care when applying pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer to yards. Carefully follow the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Buy only the amount of product you need, because disposal of excess can sometimes be tricky. Apply only the recommended amount of each product.
  • Apply pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers only to grassy or landscaped areas and avoid driveways and sidewalks.
  • Sweep up excess product from driveways, sidewalks, etc. Never wash them into the street, alley, or storm drain.
  • Avoid applying pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer near waterways, or if rain is forecast, and irrigate only as directed on the label. Store leftover quantities of these products under a roof away from rainfall.
  • For healthy lawns and gardens, plant food must be applied in the correct form, at the right time, and correct amount. Excessive amounts are not healthy for plant growth or the environment.
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) advocates a balanced combination of natural, chemical, and organic controls.
  • Pesticides are most commonly used to control insects, diseases, and weeds. When applying pesticides, always use the least toxic material to man and the environment to get the job done.
  • Always apply pesticides in accordance with label instructions. It is the law!
  • Organic, non-chemical alternatives also exist.
  • Carefully read product labels, which contain information about the persistence and toxicity of the chemical. The words “natural,” “organic,” or “biodegradable” do not guarantee that it is safe. Persistence refers to the length of time it takes to break down to one-half its previous concentration also known as half-life). The half-life should be printed on the product label.
  • Understand the problem you are trying to remedy. Avoid a “one size fits all” approach. Target the insect or disease specifically. Learn the life cycle to find the time when the pest is the most vulnerable, this is when the least amount of product will be required.
  • Avoid pesticides with half-lives longer than 21 days.
  • Practices to reduce pesticide runoff include monitoring of weather conditions and careful application of irrigation water.
  • Use a spray mix additive to enhance pesticide retention on foliage, and incorporating the pesticide into the soil.
  • Handle all chemicals responsibly.
  • Choose the correct pesticide – the one with the lowest toxicity that will safely and effectively control the pest. Read the label carefully. Obey all cautions. Do not use the chemical for uses or in mixtures other than specified on the label.
  • Transport the pesticide in the trunk of the car or in the back of a truck to avoid potential contamination problems should the container break.
  • Before applying the chemical, examine the area to be treated to determine if there are plants, animals, or pets that could be harmed by the pesticide.
  • Wear protective gear indicated on the label. Don’t eat, drink, or smoke when using pesticides. Avoid wearing soft contact lenses when using pesticides.
  • Buy only the amount you will use. Avoid having large supplies of pesticides on hand. Store pesticides in their original containers with the original labels visible and intact. Mark the date on the containers and use the oldest first.
  • Store in a dry area to prevent corrosion of metal containers and caking of bagged dry materials. Check for temperature requirements.
  • Don’t allow chemicals to become mixed with other chemicals. Dangerous and deadly interactions can result.
  • It is best to set pesticide containers in plastic tubs or bins to catch any spills and protect from corroded containers.
  • Dispose of chemicals properly. Do not flush them down the toilet or down the sink. Do not pour them out on the ground or down a storm drain. City storm drains flow to area lakes and creeks, not wastewater treatment plants.

Mixing and Use of Pesticides and Herbicide

Risks associated with using pesticides and herbicides are the greatest when the directions are not followed exactly. The mixing and use of pesticides and herbicides is of major concern because this is the time at which many spills occur. It is critical to follow instructions for mixing and use exactly. Be concerned with cleanup and disposal at all times during the use process. Any leftover chemical, the storage containers used in all stages of the application process, and the application equipment must be considered in the cleanup process. Below are guidelines to follow when using pesticides and herbicides:


  • Always wear appropriate protective clothing. Do not wash contaminated clothing with other clothing.
  • Take precautions to prevent spills. For example, close containers tightly after each use, even if you plan to reopen them soon.
  • Know what to do if a spill occurs.
  • Mix only the amount needed for the job.
  • Follow the directions on the label exactly.


  • Avoid spraying over impervious surfaces.
  • Do not spray on a windy day.
  • Do not apply to bare or eroding soil.
  • Do not apply near water systems such as wells, streams, and lakes. Reduce cleaning and waste by clustering jobs that use the same solution.

Cleaning and Disposing of Empty Pesticide and Herbicide Containers

The best methods for cleaning containers and equipment are to triple rinse or pressure rinse in the field. To triple rinse: allow the concentrate to drain from the empty pesticide container for 30 seconds. Fill one-quarter of the container, replace the lid, and shake the container so that all interior surfaces are rinsed. Drain the rinse water into the spray tank for at least 30 seconds. Repeat the process twice for a total of three rinses. Rinse water must be collected and applied to a compatible site at or below the labeled rate. Empty pesticide and herbicide containers cannot be refilled, reconditioned, recycled, or sent back to the manufacturer. They must be crushed, broken, or punctured so that they cannot be used again. In general, small containers that are used in the home can be disposed of in the trash pickup after they have been rendered unusable and then wrapped in plastic.