Spring Cleaning: Fertilizer and Pesticides

A garage cabinet full of bottles
Fertilizers and pesticides should not be stored together or alongside fuels and other flammable substances. Having these chemicals locked up and out of reach of children is a good idea, however. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Do you have unused fertilizer or pesticide sitting in your garage or garden shed? Even those of us who practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) have a few chemicals lying around.

When it’s time to use it or lose it, read the label! Pesticides are heavily regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By law the labels must contain safety information, including directions for disposal. Fertilizers labels are less complete, but safe disposal is still critical.

Below are answers to some of the questions UF/IFAS Extension agents and staff receive about gardening chemicals. We hope you find this list helpful, but if you still have questions, Extension is here to help. Call or email us at your county Extension office. For specific questions about pesticides, contact the UF/IFAS Pesticide Information Office.

Do fertilizers and pesticides go bad?

All chemicals break down over time. Directions for safe pesticide storage are printed on the labels under “storage and disposal.” If you find pesticide was stored the wrong way, it is time to get rid of it. Directions for disposal are also printed on the label. (Read on for more information.)

Fertilizers are not as heavily regulated as pesticides. Their labels rarely come with directions for storage. In general, store fertilizers in a dry place, protected from extreme changes in temperature. Do not store them next to machinery, pesticides, fuels, or solvents.

How do I get rid of unwanted fertilizer and pesticides?

If you have extra product that is still usable and in the original packaging, you could offer it to another gardener. If there is only a little left, you can apply it to a site listed as appropriate on the label. If, however, the product is no longer usable or the label is damaged, do not use it or pass it along. This includes chemicals that have been mixed, diluted, or contaminated.

Highly detailed pamphlet attached to pesticide bottle
Storage and disposal information is included on all pesticide labels. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Pesticide labels always contain information about storage and disposal. Read the label for disposal instructions. Some products include instructions for dilution and application to specific landscape sites. Most simply instruct you to contact your local waste management agency.

For companies looking to dispose of pesticides, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and its partners may be able to help. Learn more about Operation Clean Sweep.

Most fertilizers do not come with disposal directions included on the label. In some areas, fertilizers are considered hazardous waste. Contact your area’s waste management agency to for disposal directions.

Finally, never dump unused chemicals down drains or toilets. If you’re not sure what to do with the product call your area’s waste management agency.

What do I do if I spill or ingest fertilizer or pesticide?

For ingested chemicals, call poison control immediately: 1-800-222-1222. Have the container on hand and keep someone nearby.

If you spill fertilizer, sweep it up and put it back in the bag right away. Never try to rinse it off, even when the spill is on the lawn. The fertilizer-charged rinse water will find its way down a storm drain eventually. From there it can contaminate the water supply.

What do I do with an empty container?

Never re-use pesticide containers unless instructed to by the label. If the label does specify that you can refill them, refill with the same chemical mixture. Some containers will offer instructions for rinsing the container. If there are no rinse instructions, do not rinse the container at all. There is no safe way to dispose of the rinse water. Most containers for ready-to-use products can be recycled along with your other plastic or paper recycling.

Similarly, most fertilizer containers sold to homeowners can be recycled. If your area does not recycle, throw them away with other solid waste.

Can I avoid storing chemicals at all?

Yes! When in doubt, buy only what you need for a specific job. Avoid concentrates and bulk packs when possible. Plan to use it all or pass it along to a neighbor. It won’t save you money, but it will save you time and energy.

Deciding how to manage chemicals can be complicated. When in doubt, call the UF/IFAS Pesticide Information Office for help with storing and disposing of pesticides.

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