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Welcome to the garden area of our website. This is where we offer information and advice to those using plant protection products (PPPs), commonly referred to as pesticides, in their garden, allotment, or on their houseplants.

User habits surveys for 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019 indicate that gardeners don't always use, store and dispose of PPPs correctly. If you use PPPs, you are legally responsible for using these chemicals correctly and effectively. We must keep our gardens and allotments safe for people, pets and wildlife.

What are plant protection products?

Whether you are trying to control the weeds growing on your garden path, the slugs eating the lettuces on your allotment or the black spot on your roses, you may consider using a chemical or spray that is classed as a plant protection product. The term 'plant protection product' (or 'PPP') covers a wide range of products, all of which are used to control plant 'pests'.

PPPs include:

  • weed killers (herbicides)
  • slug pellets (molluscicides)
  • fungicide sprays
  • animal repellents
  • hormone rooting powders
  • insecticides
  • plant growth regulators
  • lawn sand treatments.

Products used by amateur home gardeners or professional users, such as farmers, to protect plants from pests and diseases or to control unwanted weeds must be authorised or permitted before they can be marketed or used in the UK.

This is because these products contain hazardous substances whose risk to human or animal health or to the environment must be assessed and found to be acceptable before they can be marketed or used.

In addition to PPPs, HSE is also responsible for biocides. These include:

  • products for algae and snail control in ponds (aquatic algaecides and molluscicides)
  • fly sprays and ant powder (insect killers and repellents)
  • fungicidal washes and patio cleaners (surface biocides)
  • rat and mouse killers (rodenticides)
  • cat repellents (vertebrate repellents).

You will find details of these products on the biocide pages of the HSE website.

Consider alternatives to plant protection products

Before you buy or use any PPP, ask yourself whether it is really necessary to control the pest, disease or weed and whether there is an alternative to traditional chemical use.

Organic gardening methods are one way that you can reduce PPP use and get nature to help control any pests or diseases. For example, do one or two dandelions or daisies in the lawn mean that the whole lawn needs treatment? Could you remove problem weeds manually by using garden fork instead? Why not remove slugs or snails by hand when they come out at night, or use a physical barrier to discourage them?

The following websites may be helpful in providing information on alternative methods of control to PPPs and encouraging nature to help control the problem:

Which plant protection product can I use in my garden?

Before you buy a PPP, you should check whether you already have some that you can use up.

  • if yes, read the label and check if the product will control the problem you have.
  • then use our garden database to check whether your stored PPP can still be legally used.
  • if the product is not listed on the database it is probably no longer authorised and so will be illegal to use. In this case you will need to dispose of the pesticide safely.

Choosing and buying a plant protection product

If you need to buy a PPP you can check the garden database for a list of products that are authorised for use on particular plants or areas in the garden. Please note that the database does not give details of the pest, weed or disease that each PPP controls.

However, this detail can be found on the product label, or you can usually get advice from garden centres, DIY shops, PPP companies (a list of marketing companies is available on the database), gardening organisations, or you can try, or the Royal Horticultural Society.

Never buy more than you will need for one year.

This is because you may end up with PPP that you will have to dispose of if the product is withdrawn and becomes illegal to use. Also, product labels may deteriorate and become difficult to read if containers are kept for many years.

Do not buy PPP from the internet or when abroad until you have checked the garden database to confirm that they are legal to use in the UK.

If they are not authorised in the UK they may not have been assessed for safety to people or the environment. You could face prosecution for illegal use and storage of such PPPs.

Can allotment societies buy in bulk and sell smaller quantities to members?

It is illegal for allotment societies to buy pesticides in larger containers to sell on to members in smaller quantities where the product is put into alternative packaging without the original label. This is for safety reasons as the original packaging will have been assessed for storage of the pesticide and the label for correct instructions on safe use, storage and disposal of the product. Such situations could lead to incorrect and unsafe use, storage and disposal which may affect the health of people and animals and pollute the environment. Allotment societies found to be doing this risk enforcement action being taken against them.

However, buying product in bulk where the product being sold on to allotment society members remains in the authorised packaging with the authorised label is allowed.

Can I use home-made remedies to control pests, diseases and weeds in my (home) garden?

HSE is aware that some gardeners routinely use home-made remedies that are not authorised to control pests, diseases and weeds. In some cases, these remedies are simple physical barriers and are outside the scope of UK regulations. In other cases, these remedies involve the use of chemicals either from foodstuffs, like coffee grounds, or from household products which are not normally intended to be used as PPPs.

Part of the legal definition of a plant protection product takes into account the intended use of the product. For example, garlic extract sold as a foodstuff doesn't require authorisation under plant protection product regulations, but garlic extract sold as an insecticide does. In practice this means a number of own use home-made remedies such as beer traps or coffee grounds fall outside the scope of regulations.

However, this does not mean that use of these remedies including use of common household chemicals as a PPP is without risk or that it is always legal. For example, in circumstances where a home-made remedy was supplied to another user (whether free of charge or not) this may fall in scope of the regulations, and if so would be illegal without an authorisation. In this sort of circumstance, where HSE (or other enforcing authorities) obtain evidence of such a supply or use we would need to consider appropriate and proportionate enforcement action.

HSE's policy on enforcement and the circumstances in which enforcement is appropriate is set out in more detail in our Enforcement Policy Statement.

'Amateur' and 'professional' use

Most of the PPPs that you can use in the home, garden or allotment are approved for amateur use. This means that you do not need specific training to use these products. The label will be worded so that the instructions are easy to follow, to ensure that the product is used safely. These products are most likely to be found in your local garden centre, DIY store or supermarket.

Many other PPPs, such as those used on farms, or in public areas are approved for use in much larger commercial situations. The labels of these 'professional' products can be more complicated, and by law they must be used only by those who have had the appropriate training. Professional products should never be used by the untrained amateur gardener. Someone with the right training can use a professional product in the home, garden or allotment so long as the intended use appears on the label.

For further information on whether you can use professional products in your garden, please check our Frequently Asked Questions on the use of professional products (particularly Question 8).

Volunteer gardeners

An increasing number of members of the public are getting involved with allotment societies or volunteer groups taking on larger gardening projects which may previously have been undertaken by paid contractors. For example, volunteer groups now manage parts of some public parks, take on 'Britain in Bloom' or similar projects and some allotment societies are now responsible for maintaining the whole allotment site rather than just individual plots. These activities span the borderline between amateur and professional uses of PPPs.

For further information about using PPPs when working as a volunteer in parks, gardens, or other areas open to the public, please check the Frequently Asked Questions on the use of professional products (particularly question 11).

Withdrawn garden plant protection products

Each year, manufacturers may withdraw some PPPs used by gardeners for a variety of commercial reasons.

PPPs may also be withdrawn as a result of review by HSE. When a PPP is withdrawn, HSE allows a period of time for the product to be used up safely until a specific expiry date, after which it cannot legally be used. You can check the garden database for expiry dates of products.

However, withdrawn products are often replaced by new ones. In most cases there will be other PPPs available to control a particular problem. Garden centres, DIY shops, or PPP companies can provide information or advice about alternative or replacement PPPs or you can try or the Royal Horticultural Society.

PPPs would only be 'banned' if there were serious safety reasons. This rarely occurs now due to the stringent data requirements and authorisation process for PPPs.

How do I use a plant protection product?

Always use PPPs as instructed on the label.

The label will explain how to use the product safely and any special precautions you need to take. For example, you may need to keep children and pets out of treated areas, or you may need to wait for a certain length of time before eating the fruit or vegetables you have treated.

  • always read the label before you buy the product, and again before you use it
  • always follow the instructions carefully
  • where appropriate, dilute the product with water and apply it evenly

Never make up more than you will need on that day.

  • do not be tempted to add extra product to make it stronger – this isn't necessary and could even damage the plant or lawn that you are treating
  • for weed killers that you use on lawns, it is particularly important to make sure that you apply the product evenly – too much can damage or even kill the lawn
  • apply slug pellets thinly to avoid the risk of poisoning wildlife and pets, particularly dogs , as some pellets may be toxic in larger quantities

When the job is finished, always wash your hands before you do anything else.

Storing plant protection products

Always store PPPs in their original containers. This is for safety reasons and is a legal requirement.

  • After you have used a PPP, make sure that the packaging is tightly closed or sealed to avoid spillage
  • Store PPPs in a safe place, out of reach of children and pets
  • Take particular care to store slug pellets safely to avoid accidental poisoning of children and pets – particularly dogs , as some pellets may be toxic in larger quantities
  • Garden sheds and greenhouses are not ideal for storing PPPs as they can get very hot in summer or cold in winter. Products are best stored at an even temperature
  • If you have surplus product left at the end of the year, it should be effective for use the following year if you store it carefully. You can check whether it is still legal to use by visiting our garden database
  • Never store left-over solution from diluted concentrate PPPs

Concentrate PPPs that have been diluted and stored may not work as well when you next use them. It is also illegal to store PPPs that are unlabelled and not in their original container for safety reasons. Remember to only dilute enough for that day's use.

Disposing of plant protection products

Never pour PPPs down the drain, toilet or sink.

  • Whether you've diluted it or not, never pour PPPs down a drain or any other water drainage system (for example sink or toilet) because of the risk of contaminating water and harming wildlife. You could face prosecution
  • Empty concentrate containers (PPPs requiring dilution before use) should be rinsed three times, adding the washings to the final spray solution. The empty container must then be placed in the normal household waste
  • Empty ready-to-use containers - Recycling of home garden pesticide containers - PS2808 research recommended that empty plastic PPP containers of 'ready-to-use' products (for example trigger sprays and other products that do not require dilution) can be disposed of directly into your household recycling waste. Some labels may still contain instructions to dispose of it in the normal household waste, but labels of suitable products changed as of 31 December 2015, to instruct disposal of the empty container to recycling
  • Other empty PPP containers, for example bags and cardboard boxes, can also be disposed of in your household waste
  • Always check the label for advice on disposal of the product or empty container

Do not burn any PPP packaging.

Contacting us

Please contact us using the details on our contact page.

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Updated 2021-08-23