Reading the Label


There are many reasons why pesticide applicators and company owners don’t read product labels: the perceived stigma that other workers think you don’t know how to do the job, the print is small and hard to see, and the notion that you’ll be able to save 10 minutes and get to the job sooner by sidestepping them.

Reading the chemical label thoroughly can be helpful when targeting tough-to-control insects, such as Japanese beetles.
Photos by John C. Fech, UHL.

Unfortunately, for too many green industry workers, the mantra of “when all else fails, read the label” has become commonplace. However, reading the label is a necessary step in the application protocol. There is a tremendous amount of information available on the label about application techniques and guidelines for improving control. For example, there is information on the optimal temperature ranges and wind speed restrictions.

It’s important to read and understand all label instructions, and it’s even more important to actually follow them. Fungicide, insecticide and herbicide effectiveness is enhanced by the knowledge gained through improved implementation of the recommendations and guidelines on the label.

Start with training

Hold regular application training sessions for new hires, and update sessions for veteran staffers to help address ongoing issues and concerns. A variety of videos and seminars are available through local cooperative extension offices. In some cases, pesticide and equipment manufacturers can also be helpful. Many companies conduct informal training sessions that provide pertinent information on their products, as well as appropriate application techniques.

Labels and rates

The most obvious and immediately useful piece of label information is the application rate, which is the amount of product to be placed in a tank of water. The volume of water in the finished spray is also important, especially when using many of the newer low-volume active ingredients. The goal is to be able to apply sufficient chemistry to control the pest without dumping so much formulated product on the turf that runoff becomes a problem.

Factors affecting product performance

Numerous factors can affect pesticide performance, and many of these factors are addressed on the product label. For example, proper application timing is critical for effective control of many diseases, weeds and insect pests. Most labels clearly describe when in the target pest’s life cycle product applications should be undertaken for optimum control. Likewise, certain characteristics of the product’s chemistry may limit or enhance its performance under a given set of conditions. Traits such as solubility, pH hydrolysis, volatility and photodegradation can all affect product performance. These properties will be spelled out on the label.

Follow-up applications

Depending on the pest being controlled and current weather conditions, follow-up applications may be suggested by the pesticide label. For example, diseases such as brown patch or Pythium blight may require additional applications of a fungicide at regular intervals following the initial treatment. Read the pesticide label and check with your supplier to determine if additional applications are necessary, but most importantly, pay close attention to weather reports. Nighttime temperatures, relative humidity and wind speeds are all important in overall disease management.

In some cases, follow-up applications are referred to as “split applications.” These are most common with preemergence herbicides used to control annual grasses and broadleaf weeds. For optimum control of certain weeds, research studies have determined that treatments consisting of a half rate in midspring followed by a half rate in early summer (or similar sequence) are equally or more effective than a single full-rate application made at the traditional time.


Another important piece of information on a pesticide label is how to handle a pesticide spill. Be prepared for spills by developing a spill contingency plan that can help guide you in the event of a spill. The plan should explain how to prevent spills, who to contact if there is a spill, how to contain and clean up the spill, and where the critical or sensitive areas are likely to be.

In addition to the pesticide label itself, the accompanying material safety data sheet (MSDS) provided by the pesticide distributor is a good source of information on how to deal with pesticide spills. Before applying any pesticide, read the MSDS thoroughly. The MSDS typically contains information about the company; the product’s trade, common and chemical names; typical uses; chemical composition; hazard identification; first aid measures; fire fighting measures; accidental release measures; handling and storage; personal protection equipment recommendations; disposal considerations; and other important pieces of information pertaining to the specific pesticide.

Other important info

The label can tell you lots of helpful information:

  • whether to add a surfactant to the tank mix;
  • restrictions on use at certain high or low ambient temperatures;
  • plants that do not tolerate the application;
  • suggestions on tank mixing with other products;
  • amount of water to add to the tank mix;
  • and much more.
Reading the chemical label will provide useful information about treating plants of different types in close proximity to each other, such as turf, ground covers, shrubs and trees, especially if any restrictions apply.

Other pertinent information to pay attention to:

  • specific guidelines for the amount of the product to mix with water;
  • agitation requirements, if necessary;
  • possible need for circulation of the pesticide mixture through the hoses and spray tank;
  • size of mesh screen to use in the spray system;
  • restrictions on other products that may be perceived to enhance performance;
  • directions for the most appropriate timing of the application;
  • recommendations for the correct amount of water to use as carrier;
  • suggestions on use of spray pattern indicators; and
  • enhancements through the addition of adjuvants, crop oil concentrates or spreader-stickers.

Storage conditions

Specific information pertaining to appropriate storage conditions are also found on the pesticide label. The facilities suitable for proper pesticide storage may vary slightly from product to product, but in general include:

  • ability to be securely locked and posted as a pesticide storage area;
  • able to keep pesticide products dry;
  • fire-resistant and containing a well-functioning exhaust fan for ventilation;
  • capable of maintaining a moderate 60 to 65 degree temperature, low relative humidity, and out of direct sunlight;
  • well-lit so it’s easy to read labels and distinguish between similarly looking products;
  • arranged for easy access and visibility so missing products, torn bags or improperly stored chemicals are readily observable; and
  • adaptable layout that allows for expansion.

John C. Fech is a horticulturist, certified arborist and frequent contributor located in Omaha, Neb. Frederick P. Baxendale is a professor and extension entomologist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.