Use fertilizers and pesticides with care in your yards this spring

Spring is here and many Minnesotans are thinking about their lawns, trees and gardens. Fertilizers and pesticides can be a useful management tool when used appropriately on these sites.

fertilizers and pesticides

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture wants to remind you to be careful when working on your lawns, trees, or gardens this spring. Make sure you keep product when it needs to be to avoid it washing into the water supply. (Photo from thespruce.com)

Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) urges the safe use of fertilizers and pesticides by reading and following all label directions. In Minnesota, it is unlawful to apply products without following label instructions.

Follow these tips and have a safe and successful gardening season.

If you use pesticide and fertilizers yourself:

  1. Read and follow all label directions.
  2. Do not apply products in windy or adverse weather conditions that can cause products to drift and potentially harm people, pets, or plants.
  3. Sweep sidewalks and hard surfaces of unused product and reapply to their intended site. Pesticides left on these surfaces easily wash into our water supply.
  4. Buy only what you need to avoid leftovers. Unused fertilizers and pesticides can go bad quickly, they are difficult to dispose of and turn into a hazardous nuisance.

Do some homework if you hire a commercial applicator to treat your lawn and trees. Select a licensed professional that comes with experience and recommendations. Commercial applicators must show that they know how to use fertilizers and pesticides safely and properly before MDA awards them a license. When hiring a professional:

Ask to see their MDA issued license before they start work.

  1. Be wary of claims that products are completely safe, or of pressure to sign a long-term service contract.
  2. Recognize posted warning signs and avoid areas that have been chemically treated.
  3. Review the application record that shows what was used and how much was applied.
  4. Insist that sidewalks and hard surfaces are swept clean of product to protect our water supply.

For information about applicator licenses, call the MDA at 651-201-6615. To report unlicensed applicators, please file a complaint on the MDA website (www.mda.state.mn.us) or call 651-201-6333.

Consumers can call the Better Business Bureau at 800-646-6222 and check customer satisfaction histories for lawn care companies.

Here’s a few fertilizing tips from the Lawn Care Nut (Nice name, right?):

March Weed of the Month: Edible and Dangerous

Minnesota Department of Ag Logo In Minnesota, we have some poisonous plants commonly growing in home and community gardens of which we can safely eat certain parts (like tomatoes or other nightshades). In this article we will focus on a few of these vegetable and fruit crops that have poisonous parts—Nightshades, Prunus species, and Rhubarb.

The Solanaceous family, also known as the Nightshade family, includes such plants as tomato, potato, pepper, and eggplant. These plants all contain the toxin solanine in varying amounts in the green plant parts. The leaves of Solanaceous plants usually must be ingested in large quantities to produce harmful effects in humans and animals. Potatoes have the potential to be the most dangerous; tubers that have turned green and/or sprouted due to sunlight exposure or improper storage have high amounts of solanine, and should never be eaten. A small percentage of the population is allergic to Solanaceous fruits. For some with sensitive skin, brushing against the hairy and resinous leaves can cause irritation or rash.

 The Prunus (stone fruit) family includes plum, cherry, apricot, almond, and native fruit trees like chokecherry, black cherry, and wild plum. These trees all have trace amounts of cyanolipids in the leaves and amygdalin in the seeds. These compounds can be converted into the toxin cyanide when the leaves are crushed and exposed to air (as after mulching or chipping) or upon chewing and digestion. After this decomposition process, poisonous amounts of cyanide may be released. Accidental poisoning may occur in humans, especially by curious children, but it most commonly occurs in livestock and pets. The smaller size of dogs and cats can make them particularly susceptible.

Edible and dangerous, all at the same time

There are toxic compounds in the leaves of a rhubarb plant, but humans must ingest large amounts to be dangerous. However, small animals like cats and dogs wouldn’t have to ingest much to be toxic. (contributed photo)

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a beloved vegetable grown in Minnesota’s home and community gardens. An herbaceous perennial with thick rhizomes, it is grown for its tart, fleshy stalks. Most people do not realize that rhubarb’s leaves contain oxalic acid, among other unidentified poisonous substances. The stalks contain trace amounts of this compound but are obviously safe for consumption. There are a number of references to accidental poisonings occurring in Europe during World War I, as the rhubarb leaves were apparently recommended as food during the scarcity of wartime. People must ingest large quantities of leaves to experience the toxic effect, but small animals like cats and dogs can fairly easily ingest too much. 

Edible and dangerous, all at the same time.

The leaves of the potato plant contain a toxin called solanine, which much be ingested in large amounts to be toxic. However, a potato that’s turned green or sprouted due to too much sunlight or improper storage will contain high amounts of the toxin, and should never be eaten. (contributed photo)

 We clearly are intimately linked to these plants and will continue to grow and harvest from them in our home and community gardens. With the knowledge that specific plant parts can be harmful to pets or children if ingested, we should use them with precaution. Please contact Minnesota Poison Control with any concerns about potential human poisoning at 800-222-1222poisonhelp@hcmed.org, or www.mnpoison.org.

Feb weed of the month hits gardens hard

February’s Weed of the Month is about the poisonous ornamental plants that may be found growing in Minnesota community gardens. Some poisonous plants commonly grown in gardens have specific parts which are safe to eat (like tomatoes or other nightshades), while other plants are entirely poisonous. We will focus on plants which are wholly poisonous. The most common of these in Minnesota are castor bean, jimsonweed or Datura, and foxglove.

Weeds in gardens

The castor bean plant is an African transplant into Minnesota whose seeds contains ricin, an incredibly toxic compound. Be careful to avoid accidental ingestion. (contributed photo)

Castor bean plant, or castor oil plant, (Ricinus communis) is native to Africa and occasionally grown for medicinal and ornamental purposes in Minnesota. It has become naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, such as California. In Minnesota, it is a robust annual, growing to heights of 6- 15 feet. It has large, colorful, palmate leaves and pink or red flowers found along its stalks, which become soft, spiky, fruit-containing balls. The seeds contain ricin, an incredibly toxic compound which can be deadly if ingested. Ricin also occurs in lesser amounts in tissue throughout the plant. The seeds of this plant are so poisonous, it is said that ingestion of a single seed can kill a child. For this reason, castor bean should not be planted in any area that might be accessed by children, such as a community garden.

 

Weeds in gardens

Jimsonweed is an annual ornamental plant occasionally grown in Minnesota. All parts of the plant, including seeds, contain alkaloids, which are toxic when ingested. (contributed photo)

Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) is an annual ornamental plant in the Nightshade family occasionally found growing in Minnesota. It grows to a height of two to four feet and has long, trumpet-shaped, white to lavender blooms which extend above the leaf canopy, and distinctive, spiky, ball-shaped fruit. All parts of this plant, including the seeds, contain alkaloids which are toxic when ingested. If the plant were to go to seed, it could spread seedlings around a garden, which could then become intermixed with crops and accidentally ingested. Jimsonweed historically has been used as a recreational drug, occasionally resulting in overdose and death. The potential for accidental or intentional poisoning is high enough that it is advisable to prohibit these plants from growing in a garden alongside edible crops.

Weeds in Gardens

Foxglove is occasionally planted in Minnesota for ornamental purposes, but the entire plant is extremely toxic if ingested. It’s also a self-feeder, and can become extremely invasive if left unchecked. (contributed photo)

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a popular biennial ornamental plant. The foliage begins as a basal rosette in the first year. In the second year, it sends up long stalks which grow up to five feet tall and are lined with trumpet-shaped flowers. Many varieties are available, with flower colors ranging from white to pink to yellow. It is commonly grown to attract pollinators like bumblebees and hummingbirds. The entire plant is extremely toxic. Intentional ingestion can occur by individuals seeking medicinal folk-remedies and accidental ingestion by confusing foxglove with other edible herbs or by curious children. Foxglove is also prolific self-seeder and can become an aggressive invasive weed.

The best way to prevent issues with these plants is not to plant them in the first place, or strictly limit them. These plants, and all poisonous plants, should be prohibited from any community garden. They should not be planted anywhere where children might encounter them or close to any edible crops. Please contact Minnesota Poison Control with any concerns about potential human poisoning at 800-222-1222poisonhelp@hcmed.org, or www.mnpoison.org.