Minimizing herbicide spray drift for homeowners

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.    

Let’s face it. Most of us can’t imagine keeping weeds out of our lawns, gardens and flower beds without herbicides. But several of the products we rely on most, such as Round-up (glyophosate) and Weed-b-gone (2-4-D) can wreak havoc if they drift onto trees and shrubs. Both products are contact, post-emergent herbicides. That is, they kill plants by entering through the leaves and interfering with the plant’s metabolism. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide. When spraying Round-up around your yard, act as though anything green you spray it on will die, because it likely will. 2-4-D is a selective, broadleaf weed killer. It will kill dandelions but not your turfgrass. It can, however, also kill your shade trees, shrubs and bedding plants.

One of the keys to using herbicides safely around the home is reading and following the label directions. One the most important cautions on contact herbicide labels is avoid drift. Here some ways to help keep herbicides on the intended target and avoid collateral damage.

Use the Weather Channel

Professional pesticide applicators carry windspeed gauges to determine if windspeed are within acceptable limits. Most homeowners don’t have an indulge but you can check out your “Weather on the 8’s” to get local windspeeds. There is no magic number for windspeed though ten miles per hour is a common rule of thumb as a limit for spraying. Remember winds are highly variable, especially around buildings and trees. Even through the general windspeed might be acceptable, you can sometimes have windtunnel effects between buildings or between your garage and a tree windbreak.

Spray early in the day

The is usually calmest first thing in the morning and picks up as the day wears on. Try to schedule your spraying as an early Saturday or Sunday morning activity.


In the local weather section of you can select the ‘Hour by hour’ feature, which includes predicted windspeeds, to plan your weekend spray activities.

Back off the pressure, man

Reducing the pressure on your sprayer can help reduce drift by increasing droplet size. Since most homeowners use pump-up handsprayers, this means pumping up the sprayer a little more often, but with fewer strokes.

Adjust your nozzle

Again, larger droplets mean less drift. Avoid fine mists to help keep herbicides off of unintended targets.

Herbicide injury is a common problem in many landscape plants. Avoiding drift is they key to avoiding accidentally frying your prize azalea. Everyone’s time is limited on the weekends. Plan ahead and get your spraying done when the wind is down.

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