To me, summer means spending long evenings in the backyard with family and friends. For others, summer brings backyard barbecues, gardening, tossing a ball for the dog, playing tag with the kids or even sleeping out under the stars.
Whatever you like to do in your garden, how you care for it can affect your family’s health and public health.
In Thurston County, our drinking water is groundwater. About half the rain that falls on our yards soaks into the ground and is pulled back up by wells and delivered to our faucets. Much of the rest of the rainfall runs off into streams, lakes and Puget Sound.
Along the way, chemicals, including lawn and garden products, can be picked up and carried with the water. Anything that gets put onto the ground, such as fertilizers and weed and bug killers, can end up in our community’s surface and drinking water.
Of course, we don’t have to wait for weed and bug killers to get into our water for them to be a problem. These products are designed to kill things, which can make them potentially harmful to us, especially children and pets. The Washington Poison Control Center reports, “Many pesticides can be absorbed through the skin. Many can also enter the body by breathing in the fumes. Some can affect the nervous system or make it hard to breathe.”
There are many choices for people who want to maintain their yards without chemicals. Thurston County departments follow an integrated pest management process that emphasizes mechanical and biological controls, and practices that create healthy landscapes, while minimizing or eliminating the use of chemicals. We have developed a number of IPM “prescriptions” for the home gardener, which address common problems in our area like blackberries and Scotch broom. You can find the prescriptions online and in some local nurseries.
Good gardening and lawn care practices include building healthy soil with compost, mulching to suppress weeds, planting right for your site, smart watering and other strategies that help avoid problems before they get started. A resource to help you choose safer yard care products is Grow Smart, Grow Safe. There you will find more than 1,000 yard care products rated according to their health and environmental hazards, as well as effective tips to help your garden grow.
It is also available as an iPhone App. The Grow Smart, Grow Safe consumer guide was created in collaboration with King County and Portland METRO.
We partner with many Thurston County nurseries and garden centers to train their staff on least-toxic gardening approaches. These locations also carry our free Common Sense Gardening guides (available online). The guides focus on topics such as lawn care, aphids, weeds, roses and more. There is also a plant guide to help you choose plants that thrive in our region without extra fertilizers or bug killers.
If you have questions or would like to sign up for our monthly yard and garden tips emails launching later this year, call the Common Sense Gardening Program at 360-867-2674.
If you prefer to hire someone to take care of your yard, look for an ecoPRO certified sustainable landscape professional. This advanced certification was developed in partnership with professional landscapers, health professionals, environmental and water specialists, and universities and community colleges. A Thurston County ecoPRO training will take place next February. Ask your landscape professional to manage your yard in a manner that protects health and the environment.
Protecting water quality and the environment is a matter of protecting public health, and professionals work throughout the county to safeguard these precious resources. The vision that our community’s environment contributes to everyone’s health is what drives the strategies behind Thurston Thrives’ Environment Action Team. All of us, individually and working together, whether it’s simply by focusing on what we do around our homes and yards or by getting involved with Thurston Thrives, make a difference in protecting our environment.
Whatever summer means to you, I hope you enjoy all that it offers. And remember, there are many ways you can maintain a beautiful yard. Why not choose to do so in a manner that protects water quality and public health at the same time?