Small hand-held sprayers: an easy and inexpensive tool to combat lawn and garden pests.
Small hand-held pump sprayers are a relatively inexpensive and easy way to control pests and weeds around the home and in the landscape. They can be purchased at most lawn and garden centers and retail nursery outlets for less than $20. Of course before thinking about using any pesticide, first identify what the pest or weed problem is and whether it warrants controlling.
Get a strategy. Once you know what you are dealing with, consider management options. If the population is very low, hand removal may solve the problem. If the problem is significant or if you are seeing damage to your plants, then a pesticide may be necessary. If so, try to use the least toxic option that will get the job done. Typically, those are caution label products. In the case of insecticides, look for products that conserve beneficials, like lady bugs and lacewings. We need them in our yards and gardens because they can help us battle the real pests. Neem and other horticultural oils are examples of products that would be considered “soft” on beneficial insects.
Protect yourself and time your application. Once you have the product in hand, read the label for use directions. That includes the rate of product to use and the required personal protective equipment. Examples may include neoprene gloves, long pants or sleeves and/or protective eye wear. Time your application to coincide with good weather conditions. Windy weather, prolonged drought or imminent rainfall will likely mean that you need to delay the application. In the case of herbicides, the label will usually indicate whether a rain-free period is necessary and for how long.
Fill your sprayer. To begin, I like to add a little water to the sprayer before adding the pesticide. Measure out the amount of product needed to make up the volume of solution you will need. The label will often specify this. Pour the measured product into the sprayer and then add enough water to make the volume needed to get the job done. As you are filling up the sprayer, rinse out your measuring cup thoroughly and pour the rinsate into the spray tank. I recommend doing this three times. Turn off the water and secure the pump assembly and spray wand to the tank. Make sure your nozzle is in the closed position. Pressurize your sprayer by pumping it until you begin to encounter resistance.
Get ready to spray. Take the sprayer over to the application site, press the trigger and open your nozzle to provide the desired spray pattern. The nature of the product you are using—contact or systemic—will dictate the needed coverage. Pesticides that are contact in nature typically require more coverage than systemics. Generally speaking, contact pesticides require complete coverage of both upper and lower leaf surfaces. The label should specify this.
Apply the product. Carefully spray your target application site taking care not to spray off-target plants or get pesticide on yourself. Use up all of the tank contents on the target site. You do not want to leave unused pesticide stored in your spray tank. Some pesticide solutions can cause damage to sprayer components if left to sit for long periods of time in the spray tank. There is also the possibility that the sprayer contents could be accidentally used on the wrong site at some point in the future. For example, if left over herbicide is sprayed on valuable ornamentals, serious plant damage could result.
Clean out the spray tank. When finished making your application, depressurize and clean out the spray tank. Some models have a handy relief valve on the side that can be opened to safely depressurize the sprayer. For those that do not, hold the trigger down and the wand over the target application site until all of the pressure has been released. Open up the sprayer and triple rinse the tank. Be sure to dump the rinsate out on the floor of the landscape bed where the application was made. Do not dump rinsate into the storm drain or onto a site that is not on the label!!!
Clean the sprayer hose, wand and personal protective equipment. Next clean out the sprayer hose and wand. Fill the clean sprayer about 1/3 full with clean water, connect the pump assembly and spray wand to the spray tank. Pressurize the spray tank once more and go back to your application site. Press the trigger to run clean water through the hose and wand for about 30 seconds. Be sure to wet the floor of the landscape bed and not the plants that you just treated. Depressurize the sprayer and dump out any remaining water in the spray tank. Turn the water back on and hose off the outside of the sprayer, your gloves and any other personal protective equipment. When finished, turn off the water and take your sprayer to an appropriate storage site. Turn the spray tank upside down to dry. Remove your clean personal protective equipment and store it in a safe place until it will be needed again.
By following these simple steps, you can efficiently and economically manage many common lawn and garden pest problems in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.