Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hazardous Roses 2: Protect Yourself!

This is the second of several articles I will be posting about the hazards of growing roses, both to the rose gardener and the environment. I am the first to admit that I have been guilty of creating these hazards, both to the environment and to myself, through the extensive use of fungicides and insecticides in my gardens. By the same token, I have also learned a great deal over the years about minimizing the use of chemicals through integrated pest management (IPM), which I would like to pass along to my readers.

To repeat myself from my last post on this subject:

...I believe it is necessary to use at least some insecticides and fungicides in growing roses. All roses are susceptible to attacks by spider mites, aphids, Japanese beetles (JBs) etc., and it is virtually impossible to completely control these insects in a large garden by sharp sprays of water or, in the case of JBs, by hand picking. By the same token, it is virtually impossible to grow exhibition quality roses without controlling the multiple spores of black spot and anthracnose funguses through the use of fungicides.  

I would add to this that there are some wonderful roses that are quite resistant to black spot. Several of the Buck roses, such as Carefree Beauty, Earth Song and Prairie Harvest are good examples.  I have two beds that contain these roses, exclusively, and I seldom have to spray fungicide.  However, even they will show signs of anthracnose and some spores of black spot, once they are present elsewhere in the garden,  The bottom line is that selectively using the "right" fungicide, once or twice in an IPM discipline, will control these problems but, in my experience, the fact still remains that I always end up using some fungicide each year. (I will be writing more about what is the "right" fungicide and how often to use it, in a subsequent post.)

So, starting from that premise, I'd like to focus first on something that doesn't get enough attention among rosarians; that is, protecting yourself from the dangers of spraying insecticides and fungicides, whatever they may be. So, let's start where most articles seem  to give only lip service, and talk about how not to breathe in rose chemicals or get them on your clothing or skin.

With the exception of spraying diluted dish-washing soap on certain insects, or baking soda on funguses like powdery mildew, there is no such thing as a safe insectide or fungicide, and the most important thing is not to get this stuff in your eyes, breathe it into your lungs or get it on your skin.

Let's start with what to wear over your clothes.  Tyvek coverall suits, which are made from coated paper, are by far the best thing available for overall bodily protection.  They are inexpensive, comfortable,  and can be washed off with a hose after using them.  I find that one Tyvek suit lasts me at least one whole summer and sometimes more, if I don't have to spray too often (I still have last year's suit hanging in my garage, so that should tell you something).  They come in a variety of sizes and some have hoods, which are very desirable.  Tyvek suits are available from Rosemania: .

What to wear on your hands?  I use disposable nitrile gloves.  They are very protective and can be either washed off or thrown away after each use.  They are also very useful around the garden, especially working in the soil and weeding.  Mills Fleet Farm sells them in their catalog as milking gloves.  I wear the "Milkhouse" brand and here is their catalog page:

What to wear on your face?  Let's start with what not to wear:  Do not wear the ubiquitous, cheap paper masks.  They filter dust and not much more and provide very little protection from fluid sprays.  If you can smell what you're spraying, you're breathing in the chemical, and you definitely smell it when you wear a paper mask.  You need a really good respirator and one for which you can easily get replacement canisters.  The world leader in respirators is the 3M company, here in Minnesota, and I highly recommend their products, not only because they are designed to fit perfectly, but also because you will have no problem finding replacement canisters at the same place you buy your respirator.  The less expensive 3M respirators cover just your nose and mouth, leaving your eyes and the rest of your face uncovered.  You can use safety glasses, but they are open around the edges, allowing any back-spray from wind etc. to find its way inside.  I highly recommend spending a little more and buying one of 3M's "Ultimate" full face-mask respirators.  I have been using one for several years and can tell you that when you put it on you are completely isolated from the spray environment.  The neighbors might look askance and my cat is afraid of me, but who cares, I'm safe inside this mask.  The mask shown below is the 3M Ultimate FX Full Facepiece Respirator and the cartridge is their "Organic Vapor/Acid Gas Cartridge/Filter 60923", which is their best cartridge that filters out virtually everything.  These are the "pink" cartridges on their website. I have done some research with 3M about how often to replace these canisters and they have informed me that if I can smell acetate (nail polish remover) when sniffing the bottle it's time to replace the cannister (that hasn't happened yet).  Note that you can buy these products directly on-line from 3M or from one of their distributors, which are shown by clicking the "Where to Buy" tab on the upper-right corner of the page. The address of the respirator website page is below.  You can cut and paste this URL into your browser address bar:

3M(TM) Ultimate FX Full Facepiece Reusable Respirator FF-401CHIMD 60923 P100/OV/AG Cartridge

Without going into great detail, I know from personal experience how important a good full facepiece respirator is. I had been using a half-facepiece respirator with a much lower quality canister than recommended above and I incurred a pretty serious health problem, probably from spraying the miticide Avid.   That's when I bought my full-face respirator and became much more conscious of how much spraying is really necessary, given both health and environmental concerns.

As a final consideration, it is very important to put your respirator and gloves on when you mix your chemicals, not just when you start spraying. Many compounds, especially the wettable powders, give off a little "puff" when they hit the water and you certainly do not want to inhale that concentrated little cloud.  It is very tempting to leave off your protective gear, especially the respirator, until you're ready to begin spraying, but that is a mistake, no matter how inconvenient it may seem.

Next time, I will deal with some ideas about not using chemical sprays on your roses at all, or at least significantly minimizing them.

Please let me know if you have any questions or opinions.  Send me an e-mail to or leave me a comment at the bottom of this page.

Jack Falker


  1. Those of us who care who care write about these topics, as I did in "The other Big C".

    1. Elena... I didn't see that article. Can you send it to me?