Gardening: Read all labels (and this column) all the way through

For the News-DemocratJune 21, 2013 

Q. I was helping a neighbor clean up the weeds in his vegetable garden and I made a horrible mistake. I thought I was using a product called Preen to keep weeds from germinating. It tuned out to be salt, which I scattered on the tomato plants.

There was a mix-up on what was in the container. We both thought it looked like table salt that I sprinkled on the tomato plants. (My husband uses salt to prevent weeds in the asparagus rows). A short time later, the tomato plants began to wilt. Eventually they died. What should we have done to save the plants?

-- C.L. of Belleville

A. Your question brings to everyone's attention the need for proper storage of pesticides: THEY SHOULD ALWAYS BE STORED IN THE ORIGINAL CONTAINER AND NOT IN ANY OTHER CONTAINERS.

I was glad to read that you did not try to taste it to make sure it was salt. There have been too many accidental poisonings of people who stored pesticides in food product containers. Do not trust that you will remember from time to time what has been stored in what container.

Also, you did not read the label on the Preen container before applying. It states "not to apply directly to growing plants" but on soil. This product controls and prevents the germination of seeds. Even if you think you know the label by heart, READ IT AGAIN BEFORE USING EACH TIME.

When make a mistake of using too much of a fertilizer or pesticide, try to remove as much of the material as you can as soon as you discover the error. In the case of this salt sprinkling, you needed to remove as much salt off the plant's leaves and stems. Use rubber gloves to do it. Then dig up the plant and clean off as much of the foreign product as you can from the surface of the soil. Transplant the plants to another area and water these plants well to dilute any remaining chemical.

You can also use a product called horticultural charcoal. This is not the charcoal used for cooking purposes. This small granulated charcoal can absorb any foreign product when it is mixed into the soil or media, then watered. It will absorb pesticides and too much fertilizer so that the roots of the plant cannot pick it up.

Gardening centers can order the product but usually do not have it on hand. This product is not too expensive and can also help save areas where gasoline has been spilled, such as lawns when the lawn mower runs out of gas. If you are accident prone, get a bag of horticultural charcoal to keep on hand.

Some former students in horticulture might remember a reading test to help them train to read the whole label before doing anything. This assignment gave many goofy directions and some students followed them to the letter, screaming their name out loud and "I am the first to get to this part of the test, and doing a loud NASA countdown to learn at the very end that all they were required to do was to sign their name at the top of the page. Embarrassment helps a number of people remember.

Thanks for your letter as it helps everyone to slow down and not rush through gardening chores.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

Do it now

OUTSIDE PLANTS: At least weekly, check for insects, diseases and other problems.

BULBS: Cut off the tops of spring flowering bulbs when they begin to dry up.

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