Environmental Health
  5 steps to natural yard care  

1 — Build Healthy Soil with Compost and Mulch

Shovel graphicSoil is alive, and soil life matters. A teaspoonful of soil contains about 4 billion organisms! They keep soil loose, recycle nutrients for plants, help store water, and protect plants from disease.

  • Feed your soil with compost. Dig 1-4 inches of compost into beds when planting.
  • Make compost at home, or buy it in bags or bulk.
  • Mulch it! Spread 1-3 inches of compost, leaves, grass, bark, or wood chips to conserve water, prevent weeds, and feed the soil.
  • Need fertilizer? Go organic! Organic or slow release fertilizers feed plants longer and are less likely to wash off into our streams.

Remember, healthy plants grow in healthy soil.

2 — Plant Right for Your Site

Plant graphicGet to know your yard. Where is it sunny or shady? Is the soil dry or soggy? Then choose the right plant for the right place — select plants that grow well in the Northwest, and in the conditions in your yard.

  • Pick plants that resist pests and use less water.
  • Group plants by their needs for water, sun and soil.
  • Lawns and vegetables are picky. They’ll only grow in sunny, well drained, level sites.
  • Give plants a good start by preparing the soil with compost.
  • Make space for wildlife by planting trees and native plants.

3 — Practice Smart Watering

Watercan graphicMany plant problems are caused by over watering. Save money on water bills and grow healthier plants by watering deeply, but infrequently.

  • Moisten the whole root zone, then let the soil dry before watering again.
  • Make every drop count by mulching, selecting drought-tolerant plants, using soaker hoses and water timers, and watering only in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation.
  • Use automatic irrigation systems efficiently.
  • Have a professional test and adjust annually. Check for leaks every month. Don’t water if it’s rained recently.
  • Let the rain soak in. Direct downspouts out into lawns or beds. Use open pavers. Help soil absorb rainfall by using compost and mulch.

4 — Think Twice Before Using Pesticides

Insect graphicScientists have found 23 pesticides (including weed and bug killers) in our local streams. Overuse of these products is bad for the soil, bad for fish and wildlife, and bad for our families’ health.

  • Start with prevention. Select disease-resistant plants, and pull weeds by hand before they spread.
  • Identify the problem before you spray, squash or stomp. Most bugs are good bugs!
  • Accept a little damage – give natural predators time to control pests.
  • Select the least toxic control method. Many less-toxic products are now available.
  • Use chemical pesticides as a last resort.
  • Replace problem plants with more pest-resistant ones.
  • Got a tough pest problem? Call the Common Sense Gardening program (see sidebar, "Contacts") or see the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site for prescriptions for dealing with weeds and pests.

5 — Practice Natural Lawn Care

Lawnmower graphicIt’s easy to put all these steps to work in our lawns, where we often use the most chemicals and water, produce the most waste, and work too hard!

  • Mow higher (1-2 inches) and leave the clippings. “Grasscycling” does not cause thatch — it makes lawns healthier and provides free fertilizer.
  • Fertilize moderately in May and September with a “natural organic” or “slow release” fertilizer.
  • Water deeply, to moisten the whole root zone, but infrequently.
  • Improve poor lawns with aeration, overseeding and top-dressing with compost.
  • Think twice before using “weed and feed” or other pesticides. Long-handled weed pullers pop weeds out easily.
  • Consider alternatives to lawns for steep slopes, shady areas, or near streams and lakes.

Information compiled from "Natural Yard Care" by King County, City of Seattle, and Saving Water Partnership.

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