Friday, February 28, 2014

Why choose native plants?

Flowering Red Currant

Spring is approaching (yay!) and it is time to start planning garden and landscape projects. 

Native plants are a great choice for a healthy landscape because they are part of our region’s natural ecosystem. They require less maintenance and they grow well in our climate. Look for natives when you are selecting plants. Often there is a native plant that matches or is comparable to the look or effect you are planning for your landscape.   

 There are many reasons to choose native plants.

Mock Orange
  • Native plants are adapted to our climate of wet winters and dry summers.
  • Once native plants are established, they require less water than non-native plants.
  • Native plants are naturally more resistant to pests and diseases.
  • Native plants require less fertilizer and do not need pesticides. This helps improve local water quality and lower chemical exposure for your household, pets, and wildlife.
  • Native plants support natural habitat for wildlife.
  • Native plants intercept stormwater, which is often contaminated with pollutants, so that it filters into the ground, instead of into our streams, rivers, and Puget Sound. This is why native plants are a key aspect of rain gardens.

Discover more about landscaping with native plants from the Washington Native Plant Society.

Native plants make garden and yard care easier for you and they encourage a healthy environment.  Why choose native plants? There are so many reasons!

Pacific Ninebark

Want to know more about native plants? Contact Native Plant Salvage Project at


Friday, February 21, 2014

Mysterious Storm Drains

On your next trip to the supermarket, on a rainy day, take a look at the parking lot as you walk into the store. Chances are you’ll see puddles, and even some water flowing across the parking lot. All that water is headed directly into one of the storm drains located throughout the parking lot.

Where the water goes from there depends on when the shopping center was built, as regulations and design standards for handling stormwater have changed over the years. However, regardless of the different types of piping, catch basins and ponds the water flows through, the water will either flow into the ground to filter into an underground aquifer, or be directed to the nearest creek, stream, or river.
Most people recognize storm drains when they see them, but they probably don’t realize how closely connected they are to the creeks, streams, and rivers that we enjoy for fishing and recreation. That close link is important to keep in mind when we’re thinking about how to dispose of household hazardous wastes.

Old or unwanted household products, such as motor oil, pesticides and herbicides, and leftover paints and stains should never be dumped into storm drains, ditches, or stormwater ponds. Once dumped, pollutants make the dizzying journey through the stormwater system during rain storms. These pollutants can make groundwater and surface water unhealthy for human contact and consumption, as well as harming the plants and animals living in our creeks, streams and rivers.

While people may not think they are doing anything wrong because “…there’s not enough oil to make it to the river…”, or “…I was told that latex paint isn’t a hazardous waste…” ANY material in a stormwater conveyance other than rain water is a pollutant.

For more information about safeguarding stormwater in Thurston County, please visit:

To safely dispose of unwanted or old household chemicals, carefully transport them to HazoHouse, at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center, 2418 Hogum Bay Rd NE, Lacey 98516. HazoHouse is open Friday through Tuesday, from 8-5 pm, and accepts materials like used motor oil, hobby chemicals, oil-based paints, pesticides and herbicides, and pool chemicals. Latex (or acrylic) paint should be solidified to an oatmeal-like consistency, and disposed of with your trash.

Disposing of hazardous products properly is something we can do to help keep our environment safer for people, animals, and plants.

Friday, February 14, 2014

10 things to do to prep your yard & garden for spring

Cabin fever setting in? Spring will be here in no time and the pace will pick up for growing – we promise!  Here are some ideas to be ready when it all begins to bloom.

1. Plan/day dream/get inspired!
It’s important to spend time thinking about what worked well last year, what the biggest challenges were, and give yourself time to plan the changes you want to make.  Garden shows, seed catalogs, Thurston County’s Plant List, and nurseries are fun ways to begin to imagine your spring garden, today.

2. Weed, weed, weed
Any weeding done now means fewer weeds in the future!

3. Mulch
Leaves, compost, wood chips all make great mulch.  Place mulch around plants, not against trunks or stems to help prevent spring’s weeds. 
Ready to make a new planting bed or take out some lawn?  Sheet mulch with cardboard, add compost, cover with leaves and you’ll be ready to plant this summer!

4. Cover crop
Didn’t get everything covered before winter set in?  Clover, buckwheat, or vetch can be planted now to help keep soil and nutrients in place.  With lengthening sunlight and thawing soils, seeds will sprout quickly and seeing green will bring hope back to your cold winter heart!  Turn cover crops into the soil with a shovel or rototiller before planting desired plants in late-spring to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

5. Prepare lawn mower
Gasoline that has been left in the mower over the winter should be drained and taken to HazoHouse. Mower blades work best when sharpened every year. Take care of mowers now and you’ll be ready to mow as soon as grass is dry enough to not stick to the wheels!

6. Prune
Fruit, flowering and shade trees can be pruned in dry weather while temperatures are above freezing. DO NOT prune spring flowering plants such as azaleas or rhododendrons.  Those plants are best pruned just after they flower, in late-spring.

7. Soil test
Plan fertilizer needs now by getting a professional soil test.  Thurston Conservation District provides soil tests – see their web site at
Black Lake Organic also provides soil test – more information at

 8. Tool maintenance

Clean tools store best – wipe down, oil wooden handles, sharpen blades as needed.

9. Transplant small trees, shrubs, and perennials
Prepare the hole twice as wide as the root system.  Mix compost into the top six inches of soil and water deeply.

10. Plant starts for seed
Start seeds in a warm window sill or greenhouse
Get a head start on warm weather plants now!

Get your hands dirty, observe what is already growing, and breath in the wet freshness of late winter to get you and your garden ready for spring!

What do you do to get your patch of paradise ready for spring?  Share in the comments!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bleach: When do I use it and how much?

By Kateri Wimsett, Education & Outreach Specialist

As a mom of young children, I try to be careful with hazardous products in and around my home. I do my best to keep household hazardous items, such as cleaners and polishes, locked and in upper cabinets so they are out of reach of my little people’s busy hands. And because I want to limit their chemical exposures, for daily cleaning projects I use non-toxic, green cleaning methods.  It costs less, it’s safer, and it gets the job done.

But there are situations when I need not just to clean, but to sanitize or disinfect.  If you’ve had a kid down with the flu, or even worse if your whole household has been down with the flu, you can appreciate where I’m coming from.  Cleaning has to do with removing dirt, dust, and spills. This can be accomplished with soap and water. But sanitizing and disinfecting are about killing germs and in many homes this means using bleach. 

Bleach is a common household chemical. It is used widely in the home in laundry as a whitener and elsewhere as a disinfectant and sanitizer.  If used correctly bleach is both an economical and an effective way of killing harmful bacteria and viruses.  But we need to remember that bleach is a hazardous product. There is nothing worse than holes in your clothing or getting bleach, which is harmfully corrosive, in your eyes or on your skin—yikes! 

How much bleach do I need?

Bleach is powerful stuff —but add too little and it won’t do the job, add too much and you expose yourself and your family to harmful irritants. 

Sanitizing: for anything that has contact with food – this means refrigerators, freezers, countertops, high chair trays, or my favorite, toys that have been or are likely to be mouthed
  • ¼ teaspoon of bleach per 1 quart of water (1 teaspoon of bleach per 1 gallon of water)  
 Disinfecting: for anything like a diapering area and a hand washing area
  • 1 tablespoon of bleach per quart of water (¼ cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water) 
And let’s not forget the final step (this is a biggie) — once you apply the bleach solution let it air dry.  If you can’t wait until it is completely dry, wait at least two minutes then wipe dry.  If you don’t wait the appropriate time, the bleach won’t adequately kill the germs.

Tips for using bleach:

  • NEVER (Notice the bold and underline here!) mix bleach with any other household or cleaning product.  Mixing it can cause poisonous gasses to be released. 
  • Wear gloves and eye protection when mixing bleach.
  • Add bleach to the water, not water to the bleach.
  • Mix bleach with room temperature water.
  • Purchase fragrance-free, regular strength bleach.
  • When using bleach at home, open doors and windows to let fresh air in.
  • Clean surfaces with soap and water first.  If an area is dirty it stops the disinfectant from working properly.  Rinse the area with clean water, then sanitize or disinfect.