Environmentally-friendly tips and advice for maintaining sustainable gardens and lawns

Published on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 by Ian Ferguson

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There are many benefits to gardening in an environmentally friendly way, not the least of which is reducing the amount of harmful chemicals that get washed into local waterways.

According to the Washington Department of Ecology, 60 percent of water pollution comes from non-point sources. Non-point pollution includes things like failing septic tanks and cars leaking oil, but a significant chunk of the problem comes from fertilizers and pesticides used on farms, gardens and lawns. 

Many people use fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides to maintain their lawns and gardens, but rainwater carries these pollutants into streams, rivers, lakes and bays where they cause harm to wildlife. Wild plants and animals aren’t the only ones who stand to suffer. Polluted runoff can affect drinking water and cause algae blooms in bays and harbors that often lead to beach closures.

Fortunately there are ways to lessen the negative impacts of your garden or landscape while still maintaining its beauty. The DOE recommends these tips:

Read the labels and follow the instructions when applying any inputs to your lawn or garden.
Use fertilizer sparingly. Many plants don’t need as much as you might think. Test the soil to find the right dose and type to match the needs of your plants.
Don’t treat your lawn or garden just before a rainstorm, as the rain will just wash it away.
Use slow-release fertilizers and other more environmentally friendly products.
Try non-chemical alternatives such as compost, companion plants that deter pests and mulch to deter weeds. Mulch has the added benefit of retaining moisture in the soil.
Pull weeds by hand.
Convert lawn to native groundcover or shrubs.

A free class offered by Washington State University’s Whatcom County Extension brings in master gardeners to teach simple yet powerful solutions for more sustainable gardening. The class incorporates presentations, demonstrations, hands-on experiences, a nature walk and tours of nine sustainable landscapes. While the 

April classes are already full, classes will be offered again in September. 

For more information, visit whatcom.wsu.edu.