After spending considerable time in the garden, the last thing a gardener wants to see is damage to the carefully tended plants. Before bringing out the pesticides, it’s important to identify the problem first.

Observe the pest. Just because it’s present in the garden doesn’t mean it’s the culprit for damage. In addition, that insect may even be beneficial. If you can’t identify it, contact someone who can. Your local Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension office is a great place to start. Not only can Extension help you identify the pest, the professionals there can help with the selection of a pesticide product for its management, if needed.

Keep in mind pesticides are just one option of pest control strategies. Make sure this is the best management option possible. If a pesticide is deemed necessary, read the label before spraying or dusting, especially when applying to fruits and vegetables.

It’s a good idea to rotate pesticides with different active ingredients and modes of action to avoid developing populations of pesticide resistant insects and weeds.

Always follow label instructions for application method, amount of the product that should be applied, how often it should be applied and under what conditions are safe for application. Extra applications can lead to increased residues on food, in the soil and water and could be toxic to humans and wildlife.

When mixing or preparing dusts or sprays, do so in a well-ventilated area. Don’t mix different pesticides unless that’s indicated by label directions and use only special containers for mixing.

Be aware no pesticide and insecticide labels allow application when bees are present or when plants are in bloom. Follow directions to help ensure you don’t accidentally spray or kill bees.

We all know how windy it can get in Oklahoma. It’s never a good idea to apply dust or spray on a windy day. You may run the risk of the pesticide drifting into a neighbor’s landscape. If there’s a slight breeze, apply the dust or spray from the windward side of the area being treated. If it’s quite windy, try again another day.

In addition, don’t apply pesticides near wells, cisterns or any other water sources, such as storm drains or streets. Also, don’t clean application equipment, empty unused or unwanted pesticide or dispose of empty containers near these areas.

If you have pets at home, keep your furry friends out of treated gardens and lawns until the spray has dried or the dusts have settled. Ideally, maintain this course of action even longer than the label indicates.

Keep all pesticides in their original containers and store them away from children and pets. Make sure the containers are tightly closed and labels are intact. Never put pesticides in an empty food or drink container of any kind as this can cause serious illness or even death if ingested.

Wear protective clothing as specified on the label when mixing and applying pesticides to protect yourself from splashes, spills and skin contact. Shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts are musts, along with unlined rubber gloves.

If you happen to spill pesticide mix on your clothing, remove it immediately and wash the exposed skin with soap and water. Launder these clothes separately from your regular wardrobe.

To minimize disposal problems, purchase only what pesticides are needed for one season. Don’t pour any leftover chemicals down the drain, sink, toilet or storm drains. Check with local government offices to see if there is a pesticide disposal day in which residents can bring leftover chemicals for proper disposal.

Keep in mind it’s your responsibility to use pesticides safely. These products are undoubtably useful when used, stored and disposed of properly.

David Hillock is a consumer horticulturist with Oklahoma State University cooperative extension.