I AM TRYING TO BE AN environmentally responsible gardener. (Actually, I'm not much of a gardener at all, but I bought a house with a garden and I'm trying not to let it become a mess. I'm also trying not to poison my two kids and my firstborn, a dog.) So after procrastinating for months about a bush on the side of my house that looked, for all intents and purposes, dead, I finally used local resources the way I should and took a little branch in to the horticultural library at Brookside Gardens, one of Montgomery County's parks.

There the volunteers brooded about the little white fungusy sort of things on the branch, checked reference books and finally decided it was scales. "Horticultural oil should be perfect," the man said.

I thought, great. Oil. How poisonous can oil be?

So I go to the store and pick out Ortho's Volck Oil Spray, which controls, according to the label, scale insects and all kinds of other pests.

And then I stand there, captivated by the directions.

First they say that it is a violation of federal law to use the product "in a manner inconsistent with its labeling."

Okay, so I'll read the entire label.

"This product is toxic to fish. Do not apply directly to water." Okay, I'm with you so far. "Do not apply where runoff is likely to occur." Well, that pretty much eliminates the whole outdoors, doesn't it? After all, anywhere rain falls is where runoff occurs.

So already we have determined you shouldn't use the stuff outdoors, which is the only place I want to use it. But there's more.

"Do not contaminate water by cleaning of equipment or disposal of wastes," it says.

So you can't clean up after using it either.

So what does it say about getting rid of it?

"Do not reuse empty bottle. Rinse thoroughly before discarding in trash."

Rinse it? In what? Not in water, right?

Then, at the very end, it says, "Buyer assumes all responsibility for safety and use not in accordance with directions."

Directions? What directions?

In other words, buyer, beware.