Monday, March 24, 2014

Common Sense Gardening: Lawn Mower Tips

Spring is here, the grass is growing, the sun sets later, and it’s time to get some exercise in your own backyard!  Yard work is a great way to get exercise and so rewarding to see the beauty that came out of your hard work.  Maintaining your lawn may be a big part of your yard work, and if so it may be time for you to purchase a new lawn mower. There are many factors to consider when deciding which mower to buy. We’d like to help you with a list of types of lawn mowers and some lawn mower tips. 

Types of Mowers

Mulching mowers are designed to finely chop clippings and blow them down into the turf. This gives nitrogen back to the soil. Keep in mind that any mower can return grass clippings to the soil by removing the bag. This helps fertilize the soil and keep it healthy.

Reel/push mowers work great on small, flat yards.  Preserve the peace and quiet in your neighborhood, and feel good breathing in fresh air. Reel mowers have a hard time with long, wet grass and large weeds.  Keep blades sharp to prevent brown, ripped ends.

Corded electric mowers are another good option for smaller yards.  They work great, and they keep the peace and fresh air but the cord can be a challenge to maneuver around.

Cordless electric mowers can be great for smaller yards or areas that don’t need to be done all at once since they will need to re-charge after an hour or two.  They don’t have a cord to deal with and preserve the peace, quiet and clean air.

Walk behind gas powered mowers are what most of us have experience with.  They can be challenging when turning around trees and shrubs and can be somewhat heavy to push.  Gas powered engines contribute to the noise and air pollution that are familiar to many of us living in neighborhoods.

Walk behind, self-propelled mowers are easier to push since they are self propelled.  Most can be set to accommodate different walking paces and abilities. They work well around trees and corners and you don’t have to work as hard going up slopes.  As with any gas engine, there are air quality and noise concerns.

Riding mowers are fine for yards without too much slope when push mowers aren’t practical because of lawn size or mower ambition.

Lawn tractors are deluxe riders for larger land areas.  They can handle slopes and turn well. 

Lawn Mower Tips 

These tips can help keep your lawn healthy so there is no need for toxic weed and bug killers, which can make their way into our groundwater (which we drink!) and stormwater system.
  • Keep blades sharp with annual sharpening.  This gives a clean cut to your grass that looks good and prevents disease. 

  • Mow grass at two inches to encourage root growth. 
  • Try to mow when grass is dry and leave cuttings on the lawn to give nitrogen back to the soil. Any mower can do this when the bag is removed.
There are many ways to support a healthy lawn, yard, and garden without the use of toxic weed and bug killers.Visit our Common Sense Gardening webpage to learn more.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dog Waste: Scoop it and trash it - for your health!

Our furry best friends bring great joy into our lives. They comfort us, help us get exercise, make us smile, and if YouTube has taught us anything, dogs are extremely entertaining. With the joy of having dogs, comes responsibility. Pets require food, baths, exercise, training, and course – cleaning up!

Pet waste left on the ground unnoticed or incorrectly left to fertilize or compost can harm people, animals, fish, shellfish, and impact water quality.

Beyond the yuck factor
Dog poop contains twice the amount of coliform bacteria than human feces. It can also contain viruses and parasitic worms which can transmit disease to humans. Some of the disease transmitting germs can be transferred among pets, other domestic animals, and even marine mammals.

An average dog poops ½ - ¾ pounds a day, containing 5.2-7.8 BILLION fecal coliform bacteria per pet.  It may seem as though it’s just one dog, or one pile of poop, but clearly these bacteria add up and impact public health.

Many studies clearly link pet wastes and waterborne bacterial pollution. Once it gets into our rivers, lakes, and streams the bacteria end up in fish and other aquatic life. Pet waste can reduce the oxygen content in waterways and make it difficult for aquatic life to survive.  Dog poop is raw sewage that gets into our waterways – where we fish, swim, boat, and gather food.

The solution? Scoop the poop!
This should be done out on walks and at home.

  1. Pick it up.
  2. Bag it. 
  3. Throw it in the trash.

Can I flush it?
No. Water treatment facilities and septic systems are not designed to handle pet wastes.

Can I compost it?
No. It is not safe. Composting will not kill the fecal coliform bacteria in pet waste.

Can I bury it?
Unless you are using an approved product such as Doggy Dooley or another pet waste digester, this is not a good option.  Buried pet waste can get into groundwater - our source of drinking water.

Why should I pick up my pet’s waste?

  • Ensure a healthier environment
  • Prevent messes on shoes
  • Avoid fines
  • Keep shellfish beds and swimming beaches open
  • It’s the right thing to do!

Pet waste collected from home should be double bagged and thrown into the trash. Pet waste picked up on walks or at your local dog park can be placed in a single plastic bag and put into trash.

If pet waste is a problem in your neighborhood, consider installing a pet waste bag dispenser. They are free and available from Stream Team.  Contact an educator at (360) 867-2674 for more information or to request one today!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Plan Before You Plant

When we know what a plant needs to be healthy, we can take better care of it. Planning out your landscape carefully can allow for plants to thrive without the need for any toxic bug and weed killers. A common thought is, “Why should anyone care what I do on my lawn?” When it comes to using toxic bug and weed killers - one person’s use can affect the surrounding community.

Whatever is placed on the ground can make its way into the groundwater – which is what most Thurston County residents drink. It can also contribute pollutants to stormwater runoff, the water that comes from the rain that falls on lawns, rooftops, sidewalks, parking lots, and other hard surfaces and flows to the nearest creek, rivers, and Puget Sound. Stormwater is untreated and often full of other contaminants.

A healthy landscape can be achieved without the use of toxic bug and weed killers, just be sure to plan before you plant

Here are some tips:

  • Build healthy soil for healthy plants – Soil that is rich in organic matter is less susceptible to pests. Compost and composted manure hold water and nutrients in the soil for plants to use.
  • Cover the ground – bare soil is a happy home to weeds, so cover it. You can add more plants or use mulch. Mulch can include: leaves, straw, grass clippings, wood chips, bark, or straw.
  • Choose the right place for each plant – When deciding what plants you want to grow, figure out what the growing conditions are for each location and be sure to select plants accordingly. It can also be helpful to keep plants that require a lot of watering and attention in areas that are highly visible and easy to water.

  • Encourage beneficial insects and birds – Not all bugs are bad. In fact, many insects, along with birds, can be garden heroes that eat pests. A concern of using pesticides is that it often results in killing the good bugs along with the pests. Flowers in the sunflower and parsley families such as parsley, sunflower, zinnia, caraway, yarrow, daisies, and asters attract beneficial insects. Encourage birds by adding a bird bath, shrubs, or a small wild area.
  • Use water wisely – Deep, infrequent watering encourages plants to develop healthy root systems. Water only the areas that need watering - this will help keep unwanted plants (weeds!) from growing. Avoid watering cemented areas such as sidewalks and driveways – it will save you the cost of the wasted water and reduce runoff. If you notice water running off of your lawn, the soil may be saturated or so dry that it hasn’t absorbed the water. In that case, watering in cycles to allow time for the water to soak in can help.
  • Observe your plants – Spend time in the lovely landscape you have created. Observe the health of your plants to see how they are recovering from a stressor such as a heat wave or if there is any fungus growing on them. This can help you deal with any problems at the earliest stages.
  • Indentify the problem and act wisely – The most common landscaping problems are because of weak, stressed plants. This can be weather stresses, poor soil, over fertilization, plants placed in the wrong growing conditions, or from too much or not enough water. Be sure that you know what the problem is before taking action. Research solutions to the problem and put thought into your choice. Find prescriptions for common landscaping issues visit our Common Sense Gardening web page.

Planning out your landscape carefully can make a huge difference in its health. 

Take the time to plan it out – it’s worth it.