Don’t be ripped off: spray guns of pre-diluted pest control are expensive and unnecessary

For the same price as a one-litre spray gun, I can buy a 200ml bottle of concentrate that will make up to ten litres.

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I recently spotted the first rose aphids of the season: so when I was in our local gardening store last week (a branch of a major national chain), I decided to take the opportunity to replenish my RoseClear pest and disease control. Although roses are usually the only plants I spray with anything, I do find it essential to keep aphids, mildew and black spot in check if the plants are to look other than awful. But my visit took an unexpected turn.

My first concern was to discover the store did not sell packs of concentrate for making up into spray solution; they only had the diluted product in a plastic spray gun. It was charging around £6 for a one-litre RoseClear Ultra spray gun. Elsewhere, for the same price or just a little more, I know I can buy a 200ml bottle of concentrate that will make up to ten litres. I have always considered the convenience of these ready to use sprays to be outweighed by their significantly greater expense, but frankly I find this disparity ludicrous. I have used RoseClear as an example but the position is similar with other products. For instance, the treatment called Fungus Fighter, which will also combat box blight, costs about £6 for an 800ml spray gun or around £8 for 125 ml of concentrate to make up to 36 litres.

I then looked further along the store’s shelves. There were many dozens more plastic containers, some of other pesticides and fungicides, some of ready to use liquid fertiliser, but even more worrying was row after row of plastic spray guns of ready to use weedkiller.

That really troubles me. A hand-pump sprayer only contains sufficient weedkiller for a really tiny garden, but it is my view that if your garden is small enough to be treated all season with just one litre of chemical spray, you should not be using weedkiller in any event, even if it is labelled “organic” or of plant origin.

What is wrong with a Dutch hoe or a small hand weeding fork? Call me a masochist or an oddball if you will, but hand weeding is one of my favourite garden tasks. It takes you down among the plants, close to the smell of the soil, and offers a window into the miniature safari of creatures that exist at ground level.

The time has come for garden chemical manufacturers to begin to cut back on costly ready-mixed sprays in plastic containers. I encourage gardeners to buy an inexpensive reusable sprayer and then dilute the concentrated product. Otherwise, check with your local authority if ready to use spray containers can be recycled (after being triple-washed). Recent research by Defra suggests they can, but the advice I saw varied. And I hope retailers will seriously start a move away from filling metre after metre of shelf space with chemical weedkillers that are largely unnecessary other than for the most deep-seated perennial weeds.

But back to the roses. Although this is just the time of year you should begin treatment, I recognise of course that some gardeners are committed to using no sprays of any sort. In which case I suggest you concentrate on growing the most modern roses, such as the David Austin varieties, which will have been through a careful evaluation process before being committed for sale. There is no certainty they will remain disease- or aphid-free but they will at least give you a far better chance than the older kinds, glorious as they are. 

This article appears in the 08 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Age of extremes