The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Sorting through the mystery of pesticide names

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

If someone offered you a twisted sodium chloride encrusted baked ground wheat product, would you accept it? Probably not, but if they said a "salted pretzel" their offer would be more appealing. Names or phrases for items may be correct, but if they aren't in common usage they can be as foreign as any second language.

Many people are familiar with generic names for drugs. Generally generic drugs are cheaper and work just as well as their brand name counterparts. However you may not realize the concept of generics and brand names can also affect how we purchase pesticides.

By law pesticide labels, organic or inorganic, must list the active ingredient(s) as well as inert ingredients. Active ingredient(s) are the part of the formulation that affects the intended pest. The label will include the accepted common name for the active ingredient followed by the chemical name which usually causes glazed eyes and tied tongues. Inert ingredients help the active ingredient to be more effective or to be safer for the applicator or the environment. For example inert ingredients might allow easier mixing or better plant coverage.

So why does this matter?

Price can vary tremendously depending on the product in much the same way generic drugs and name-brand drugs vary in price.

While I was wandering a store's garden aisle, I decided to compare pesticides. Roundup, a well known non-selective herbicide, was available as an 18% concentrate. The common name for the chemical in Roundup is glyphosate (gly'-fo-sate). Hardly a well known name. A competitor brand to Roundup offered a 41% concentrate of glyphosate for the same purpose at a less expensive price. So not only was the initial purchase cheaper but because of the higher concentration of the no-name brand, less product was needed per mixing. I call that more bang for your buck.

So what is the moral of the name game story?

Learn the common names of products you purchase regularly so you can look for the less expensive brands.

Bring your reading glasses with you when you shop for pesticides. You will need them to read the tiny print on the container label.

While you are looking for the common name you can read if the product is appropriate for the intended purpose and any warnings. Remember it is illegal to use a pesticide against label directions.

Keep in mind although pesticides may contain the same active ingredient their intended use may be very different and the inert ingredients can vary between products. Inert ingredients effect how the active ingredients work but can also dictate the intended use. For instance do not use a product on vegetable gardens when the label says it's for flowers even if the active ingredients are the same. In this example the inert ingredients may not be appropriate or safe for edible crops. It all goes back to reading and following the label directions.

Here are a few common names for pesticides and examples of just some of their brand names:

  • Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki = B.t.; Dipel; Safer Caterpillar Killer; Thuricide
  • Glyphosate = Roundup; Kleenup; many different brand names of grass and weed killers
  • Carbaryl = Sevin; Bayer Advanced Insect Killer for Gardens; Bonide Bug Beater Yard and Garden
  • Permethrin = Bonide Eight Yard and Garden; Bonide Eight Vegetable, Fruit and Flower Spray
  • Potassium salts of fatty acids = Bon-Neem Insecticidal Soap; Safer's Insecticidal Soap

Pesticides are just one of the options available to manage pests. Remember to always choose the least toxic solution. For assistance in managing garden related problems, contact your local UI Extension office.

The new and improved UI Extension Home, Yard and Garden Pest Guide is now available. It is a quick and easy reference for managing insects, weeds and diseases. Available at local UI Extension offices or PH:1-800-345-6087.

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