Most Australian households with gardens would have at least a few garden chemicals. Some of these products can be harmful to people, and if used incorrectly can also be harmful to animals and the environment. All commercial garden pesticides and herbicides need to be registered with the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) prior to sale in Australia.

The term Pesticide covers a wide range of groups and there are some specific examples, some of which are below.

Examples of Pesticides and their target

Type Target
Herbicide Plants
Fungicide Fungus
Rodenticide Rodents e.g. rats and mice
Miticide Mites
Molluscide Snails and Slugs
Insecticide 6 legged insects e.g. beetles, flies, moths


  • Incorporate Integrated Pest Management (IPM) into your pest control
  • Look for a less toxic alternative
  • Ensure that pesticides are used by a responsible and competent adult
  • Read and understand the information on the label and only use the product for its intended purpose
  • Be especially aware when mixing concentrates
  • Ensure that you use the correct dilution rates
  • Ensure you wear the correct personal protective equipment as directed by the label
  • Ensure that other people and pets are away from the area where you will be applying the pesticide
  • Think about where the chemical will end up. Consider the climatic conditions and the impact this may have such as wind causing spray drift or rain causing entry into waterways
  • For fruits and vegetables be aware of withholding periods
  • Store chemicals in a suitable manner. Keep them out of access to children and store them in the original containers. Do not use food containers to store chemicals in e.g. soft drink bottles
  • Dispose of empty containers thoughtfully

In an emergency contact triple 0 (000) or the poisons information hotline 131 126

Disclaimer: Further advice should also be sought from your local health care professional

The label on a garden chemical is very important. It is a legal document approved and registered by the APVMA. It contains information on the safe preparation and use of the chemical and is the result of broad scientific testing. The following give an indication of some of the information you’ll find on the label.

The signal heading

Poisonous substances will have a signal heading. This gives an indication of the toxicity of the product. Garden chemicals will fall into one of the following categories.

Signal heading Meaning
No signal heading This chemical is relatively safe to people and is unscheduled. You should still however treat it with respect as it may still affect health
CAUTION This chemical is low to moderately toxic.
POISON This chemical is very hazardous to health
DANGEROUS POISON This chemical is extremely hazardous to health. There are restrictions on purchasing product which has this signal heading and these are usually not available to home gardeners

The active constituent

This is the key ingredient or the actual chemical component that does the work of the pesticide or herbicide. It will also indicate the concentration of the chemical. An example could be 450g/L Glyphosate present as isopropylamine salt

The use
This indicates what pests the product will kill or control and in what situation, such as on what plants or crops. Use outside of these situations can be illegal.

Indicates how the product should be prepared and applied.

Safety Precautions
Indicates what precautions need to be undertaken prior to application, this could include the weather conditions and the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to wear.

Withholding period
This is very important for fruits and vegetables. The withholding period indicates how long you must wait before harvesting after application. If harvested before the withholding period the pesticide may still be present in or on the fruit or vegetable as a pesticide residue.

First Aid instructions
Information if poisoning has occurred and contact details for the Poisons Information Centre.

Manufacturing details
Includes details such as date of manufacture, expiration date, and the contact details of the manufacturer

In the home garden consider using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach for pest control. IPM is a methodical holistic approach which uses a range of options to control pests. It offers an alternative to going for the “big guns” first.

Damage threshold
Know what your damage threshold is, that is when do the losses from the pests become a problem? If the pests are below this threshold then you do not need to act. For example one snail in a small vegetable patch may not be a problem but 50 may be.

Identify and monitor
Learn to identify the insects in your garden as not all are pests, in fact some can even be beneficial to have as they eat pest species. The ability to identify common insects will allow you to understand their life cycles and intervene at the appropriate times with the appropriate controls.

This aspect of an IPM approach looks at steps you can take to prevent the pest numbers rising in the first place. This could be through; the use of new disease resistant varieties of plants, removing weeds which could be a habitat for pests or practicing crop rotation in the vegetable patch.

Control forms the final option in an IPM program. Control activities should escalate from the least impact to the most impact with monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of the action. An example of this is the progression listed below;

  • mechanical means such as hand removing weeds or pests
  • biological means such as pheromone lures, targeted bacteria applications (e.g. Dipel) or beneficial insect releases
  • Controlled application of low toxicity, targeted pesticides
  • Wide or blanket application of non-targeted pesticides should be the very last resort.

For further information contact the product manufacturer or the following sources may be useful