Scary Lawn Products

Are there some scary lawn products out there?  It depends how you define “scary”.  The products in question here are insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and to some, even lawn fertilizer raises a level of concern.  For the most part, it’s not so much the products, but how they are applied.  Pest control and lawn improvement products have gone through extensive testing and governmental approval protocols to be permitted to be sold in the marketplace.  In short, the products themselves are safe; what may be “scary” is the mixing, method of spraying and possibly even the identification of the pest or the need for fertilization in the first place.

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To reduce any level of concern that one may have in using lawn products, the most important first step is to read the label thoroughly before opening the bottle or bag.  It will outline in detail any personal protective equipment or clothing that must or should be used, the rate of application, mixing instructions, application equipment, disposal guidelines, application locations and any restrictions for allowing people or pets back onto the lawn after application.


One of the most concerning application factors that we see is when homeowners put a product on the lawn at the wrong time.  Most, if not all, fungicides that are available to homeowners are designed to be applied before the disease is developing or the symptoms are observed in the turf.  However, the common scenario is one where a lawn looks funny, the homeowner thinks about it for a couple of weeks, maybe talks to a neighbor about it, then decides to go to a store and buy a product that claims to control lawn diseases.  In this situation, the disease is fully raging before an application is made, regardless if the product was applied correctly.

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Another situation involves the rate of application.  A common human tendency is “if a little is good, a lot more is better”.  In the instance of applying lawn products, if the label calls for 2 teaspoons, the temptation to apply 2 tablespoons is hard to resist.  After all, the goal is for the product to work, to kill the insects or weeds, not just make them mad.  And so, more than the desired amount is used.  The scary part is the fate of the extra product, or where does that additional material end up?  In some situations, it’s simply held in the canopy of the grass blades and later decomposes; in others it rolls or flows out into the sidewalk/driveway/street, where it makes its way to the water supply.  Definitely a result we all want to avoid.


Yet another piece in this awareness is the toxicity of the product.  Most are less toxic than they have the reputation for.  For example, I recently visited a lawn where the homeowner didn’t want any “poisons” applied on the lawn, but wanted every weed to be removed.  I mentioned just how hard that it would be to accomplish her goal, but yes, it could be done.  It would have been interesting to look under the sink to see if any household cleaners and cleansers were there…many of which are more toxic than any diluted product that could be sprayed on the lawn to kill weeds.


Overall, consider that products available for sale at hardware stores, garden centers and box stores are safe for application – if, and only if – they are properly applied in terms of equipment, timing, rate and presence of the pest or need for the health of the lawn.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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