It’s not taxes, holidays, or a change of season—but it happens every year. You would think we would learn, so why does it keep happening? No matter how much training, no matter how careful we are, it happens again and again. We’ve all witnessed it or heard about it. Sometimes it’s accidental and sometimes there is intent involved. It’s the one thing you hope never happens to you. If it does, you hope it’s only once. What am I talking about? Herbicide mishaps; more specifically, non-selective accidents.
Herbicides tend to be a very large slice of business for many lawn care companies. Used properly, they are an unreplaceable tool in the war on weeds. They also represent the biggest potential for mistakes and easiest opportunity for a nefarious act. The materials in this discussion will be selective and non-selective herbicides. They will go nameless so as to not implicate any manufacturer.
Take Your Time and Mix Product Accurately
Herbicides can be selective and non-selective in nature. Selective, simply put, implies that certain plants are sensitive while others are tolerant at labeled rates. It is the last part of that statement that is important for this conversation. When applied at higher than labeled rates, some of these products can do damage to non-target plants. This is vital information to impart to technicians or to those who mix spray tanks. The message is to take your time and mix accurately.
There was an instance that I helped to sleuth through a little over a decade ago. I was contacted regarding a product that was used to aid in transplant success. This product was used in several landscape installations with the thought that it would help them get off to a good start. The outcome was different from the expectations. It seemed that it was responsible for a broad swath of plant mortality installed by one company. When the product was returned and subsequently analyzed, the lab showed that there were large amounts of three broadleaf herbicides in it. Upon contact with the manufacturer, we learned that they did not use, blend, or formulate any of these types of products. Vandalism? Disgruntled employees? You decide for yourself.
A Whole New Layer of Potential Risk
Non-selective herbicides add a whole other layer of potential risk. These products do not exhibit selectivity; rather they can kill just about any plant material that they touch. These products commonly include the active ingredients glyphosate, diquat dibromide, and glufosinate-ammonium amongst others. Again, these are extremely important tools for situations where one would like to control all of the plant material in a particular application site. They are often used in walkways, along fence lines, and in landscaped and other areas for general weed control. When used properly, they are extremely effective tools allowing one to manage a property efficiently. Without them, the cost of labor to hand weed could be insurmountable. Used improperly, the disaster that is to come may be enough to put a company out of business.
I have heard about this and witnessed it and wished I hadn’t. There is almost never a year that goes by without learning that someone’s spray tank was accidentally filled with a non-selective herbicide. While these are extremely important tools throughout the green industry, misuse or contamination of spray solutions can mean the difference between happy customers and lawsuits.
Is Using Unlabeled Product Worth the Risk? You Decide
I’m sure most of us have heard these stories. I worked with a superintendent who had to reseed his greens because he was told an unlabeled drum was a wetting agent. As it turns out, the drum was a non-selective herbicide and he sprayed 20 putting greens with the product. I don’t know if there was any wrongdoing or if it was an honest mistake, but the fact remains that he had 20 dead greens. My heavy-hearted response was a wish that the greens were heavily infested with Poa annua (annual bluegrass) and would benefit from renovation, but my understanding was that they were actually pretty good prior to the application. This momentary lapse of good judgement cost the club tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in seed, labor, ancillary products, and lost revenue through the season. Is it worth it? In cases like these it may just be better to dispose of the product.
Then there is the story about the football field manager in Southeast Michigan who had some thin areas where crabgrass began to fill in, which is not uncommon. He used a selective herbicide formulated to remove crabgrass from cool season turf. Large areas were treated and upon his return several days later, those areas were straw brown and all of the turf was dead. Was it sabotage?
Then there is the story from Elgin, Illinois, where a football field was destroyed by weed killer.
Sometimes we do this to ourselves; how many times have you poured a little bit of glyphosate in a water bottle for a friend or a family member? Too many times these can end up in a tank inadvertently. The bottom line is it can happen to anyone.
The Best Way to Prevent Non-Selective Accidents—Lock It Up
How do we stop it? Keep all non-selective herbicides under lock and key. Make sure any and all non-selectives remain in their original packaging, with full labeling on them. Not only are these the most often stolen materials—people think they just need a little bit for home—but they pose the biggest risk in loss of your business. I can’t repeat it often enough, no matter what product—glyphosate, diquat, glufosinate, or even the organic materials—keep them locked up.
Secondly, there is bad enough public perception of pesticides. By making these sorts of errors, more attention is drawn to the topic, creating more pressure to ban these substances. Without herbicides, many companies would lose substantial revenue, sometimes enough to shut their doors.
Lastly, and most importantly, is the potential risk of exposure to people as well as potential long-term effects on the environment. As I mentioned, these are very important tools and when used per the label, they solve many problems. When used improperly, they can certainly cause issues.
Have a Question or Need Advice? Lean on Us
Please make sure that read and understand all pesticide labels before you use these products. If you have questions or need advice, reach out to Ewing Technical Services (480-669-8791). You can lean on us to help your crew avoid costly mishaps.