If you're planning to apply pesticides or fertilizer around your home this spring, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection urges you to use caution.

(Christian Delbert, ThinkStock)

The DEP is advising residents to employ only licensed commercial pesticide applicators. If you are using lawn and garden fertilizers, follow the instructions closely.

"While this is typically the time of year when we care for and beautify our properties, it's important to remember we have an obligation to the environment, to our neighbors and to ourselves," said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin in a press release on Wednesday. "When it comes to applying pesticides, we suggest using them sparingly or to explore non-chemical alternatives whenever possible."

Martin said using too much of certain pesticides can actually harm plants and cause weeds to grow.

"An overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer can hurt lawns and plants, stimulate algae and weed growth in our waterways through stormwater runoff, and ultimately choke healthy aquatic life," Martin said. "It is important to remember the steps we can all take to reduce these risks."

Professional pesticide applicators are licensed through the DEP's Pesticide Control Program.

"Improper use can cause harm or damage to human health or the environment," said Kerry Kirk Pflugh, DEP manager of constituent services.

Those who plan to apply fertilizer on their own are advised to read the instructions very carefully and follow them to the letter using proper spreader settings, according to Kirk Pflugh.

"It's also recommended that you do not apply fertilizer if heavy rain is expected," she said.

Residents who suspect a misapplication of pesticide or wish to report an unlicensed applicator can call 609-984-6568, or the DEP's 24-hour hotline at 1-877-WARN-DEP.  For a pesticide health emergency, call the New Jersey Poison Information System at 1-800-222-1222.

For more information, visit www.nj.gov/dep/healthylawnshealthywater or www.pcpnj.org.