Chemical labels explained

Pests, diseases and weeds can be controlled by good cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, so should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used in a minimal and highly targeted manner. Before using or even buying garden chemicals, it is important to read the label; this contains vital information on how to use the product safely and effectively.

Reading instructions and statutory conditions relating to use

Quick facts

When used as directed, chemicals are safe to use in the garden
Always read the label before purchase
It is illegal NOT to follow the instructions on the label

Why are pesticide labels so important?

The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods,

cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner. For example, where pests, diseases or weeds pose a serious threat to the wider environment, to important heritage specimens, to habitat, or to native wildlife.

Chemicals in the garden

Chemical products are used to control pests, diseases and weeds or to modify plant growth, e.g. rooting powders. When carefully used as directed by the manufacturer they are safe and effective.

Reading the label before you make a purchase means:

  • You can compare and choose products best suited to your situation, as the active ingredients (normally given in grams per litre) are listed on the label
  • You can also be sure you do not buy more than you need; many chemicals have a short shelf-life and are best not kept from year to year

Brand names and packaging

Gardeners should be aware that manufacturers sometimes use similar brand names and packaging for different types of pesticide so that it is easy to inadvertently use the wrong product. If a pesticide that is not approved for edible crops is used on herbs, vegetables or fruit it may be necessary to discard treated produce. Herbicides mistaken for insecticides and fungicides and inadvertently applied to garden plants can result in extensive and costly losses.

Label requirements

Much research is carried out by manufacturers to ensure chemicals are safe for users, consumers and the environment. Following label instructions means that gardeners can use products accurately without harm to themselves, others or their surroundings. Chemicals for organic use must also carry usage instructions.

It is illegal not to follow the instructions on the label. Although your Local Authority Environmental Health Officer is unlikely to raid potting sheds, it’s important that gardeners use chemicals lawfully.

What is on the label?

Instructions for use

These usually provide information on:

  • When to use, e.g. at what stage of development, frequency of use
  • Where to use, e.g. in which garden situations, on what crops
  • How to use, e.g. Shake well before use

Safety instructions

This section of the label normally includes:

  • Protection during use, e.g. Wash hands and exposed skin after use
  • Environmental protection, e.g. Harmful to fish or other aquatic life
  • Storage and disposal, e.g. Store in original container

Additional label information

The label should also provide the following information:

  • Field of use restrictions, e.g. For use only as a home garden insecticide
  • Maximum individual dose/application rate. e.g. 15ml of product per 10 sq m
  • Maximum number of treatments or maximum total dose. e.g. One per year
  • Latest time of application before harvest, replanting or re-entry interval. e.g. At transplanting or The minimum interval between applications to the following crops must be observed. Strawberry, apple, pears: 14 days
  • If your product is for protecting plants it should have a five figure 'ministerially approved pesticide product' (MAPP) number that identifies the product and means that it has been tested and is safe to use for the purposes stated
  • If it is a biocide for use in the home and other buildings (e.g. sprays and powders for controlling ants, wasps and wasp nests, woodlice and flying insects indoors), it should have a four figure Health and Safety Executive (HSE) number
  • A few insecticides with physical actions that smother or gum up insects and mites, rather than directly poisoning them, are exempt from the requirement to have MAPP or HSE numbers under current national legislation
  • Chemicals used to monitor pest populations, such as moth pheromone traps, are also exempt
  • There will also be a phrase advising gardeners of the following; To avoid risks to man and environment, comply with the instructions for use. The safety instructions and instructions for use listed on the label, sometimes with a hazard symbol, contain essential advice on using the product safely, and for some products, on what to do in the event of a mishap

Contact details and advice

The manufacturers’ contact details, including a helpline telephone number, must also be included on labels. The MAPP or HSE number will assist the helpline staff in the event of queries. Helpline staff have access to all the data from research and can advise on their products.

Availability of products

Changes in pesticide legislation affects the availability of products, both in terms of being able to buy a certain product, and being able to use it in the garden.

For further information see:

Crop Life Uk, Common Sense Gardening
Health and Safety Executive: Garden Pesticides Search
Withdrawn chemicals (please note, this list does not include products that have simply been discontinued)

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