Changes due to Brexit
Your health and safety responsibilities will not change when the UK leaves the EU. This guidance is under review.
Welcome to the garden area of our website. This is where we offer information and advice to those using pesticides in their garden, allotment, or on their houseplants.
- What are pesticides?
- Alternatives to pesticides
- Which pesticides can I use in my garden?
- Withdrawn garden pesticides
- How do I use a pesticide?
- Storing pesticides
- Disposing of pesticides
- Contact us
User habits surveys for 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016 indicate that gardeners don't always use, store and dispose of pesticides correctly, although 2016 indicates some further improvements in good practice. If you use pesticides, you are legally responsible for using these chemicals correctly and effectively. We must keep our gardens and allotments safe for children, pets and wildlife.
What are pesticides?
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 pesticide. The term 'pesticide' covers a wide range of products, all of which are used to control plant 'pests'.
Pesticides for plant protection purposes include:
- weed killers (herbicides)
- slug pellets (molluscicides)
- fungicide sprays
- animal repellents
- hormone rooting powders
- 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, which regulations refer to as "Plant Protection Products" (but which are more commonly called "pesticides"), 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 pesticides for plant protection purposes, the Chemicals Regulation Division (CRD) is also responsible for pesticides that are not used for plant protection (called 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 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.
Consider alternatives to pesticides
Is it necessary to use a pesticide?
Before you buy or use any pesticide, 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 pesticide 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 by using a knife or garden fork instead? Why not remove slugs or snails 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 to pesticides and encouraging nature to help control the problem:
Which pesticides can I use in my garden?
Before you buy any more pesticide, do 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 pesticides 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 pesticide
If you need to buy some pesticide 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 pesticide controls.
However, this detail can be found on the product label, or you can usually get advice from garden centres, DIY shops, pesticide companies (a list of marketing companies is available on the database), gardening organisations, or you can try www.garden-care.org.uk.
Never buy more than you will need for one year.
This is because you may end up with pesticide 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 pesticides from the internet or when abroad until you have checked the garden database 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 humans or the environment. You could face prosecution for illegal use and storage of such pesticides.
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, 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 are 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 and EU 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 pesticides.
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 pesticide 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 pesticides 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 pesticides, 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 must only be used 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 see the following link to a page of Frequently Asked Questions on the use of Professional Products:
- Link to FAQ on Agricultural / Horticultural / Amenity Use of Pesticides (see particularly Question 8)
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 pesticides.
For further information about using pesticides when working as a volunteer in parks, gardens, or other areas open to the public, please see the following link to a page of Frequently Asked Questions on the use of Professional Products:
- Link to FAQ on Agricultural / Horticultural / Amenity Use of Pesticides (see particularly Question 11)
Withdrawn garden pesticides
Each year, manufacturers may withdraw some pesticide products used by gardeners for a variety of commercial reasons.
Pesticides may also be withdrawn as a result of review by the European Community (EC). When a pesticide is withdrawn, the Chemicals Regulation Division (CRD) 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 pesticides available to control a particular problem. Garden centres, DIY shops, or pesticide companies can provide information or advice about alternative or replacement pesticide products or you can try www.garden-care.org.uk.
Pesticides would only be 'banned' if there were serious safety reasons. This rarely occurs now due to the stringent data requirements for pesticides.
How do I use a pesticide?
Always use pesticides 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 pesticide/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.
When the job is finished, always wash your hands before you do anything else.
Always store pesticides in their original containers. This is for safety reasons and is a legal requirement.
- After you have used a pesticide, make sure that the packaging is tightly closed or sealed to avoid spillage.
- Store pesticides 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.
- Garden sheds and greenhouses are not ideal for storing pesticides as they can get very hot in summer or cold in winter. Pesticide products are best stored at an even temperature.
- If you store it carefully, any remaining pesticide will be effective for some years to come. You can check whether it is still legal to use by visiting our garden database.
Never store diluted pesticides.
Concentrate pesticides that have been diluted and stored may not work as well when you next use them. It is also illegal to store pesticides that are unlabelled and not in their original container for safety reasons. Remember to only dilute enough for that day's use.
Disposing of pesticides
Never pour pesticides down the drain, toilet or sink.
- Whether you've diluted it or not, never pour pesticides down a drain or any other water drainage system (eg sink or toilet) because of the risk of contaminating water and harming wildlife. You could face prosecution.
- Empty concentrate containers - concentrate pesticide products (ie 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 - recent research has recommended that empty plastic pesticide containers of Ready-to-Use products (eg 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 to the normal household waste, but labels of suitable products will change, by 31 December 2015, to instruct disposal of the empty container to recycling.
- Other empty pesticide containers - eg 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 pesticide packaging.
- Ask your local Council for advice on disposal of unwanted pesticide or empty containers. Details can be found at: http://gardenchemicaldisposal.co.uk/ or https://www.gov.uk/hazardous-waste-disposal or you can phone your council direct (usually the waste disposal section of your council which can be found in the phone book).
Please contact us using the details on our Contact Page.
- Garden database
- How to use and understand the garden database
- Frequently asked questions about pesticides