Clean Water and Landscaping Tips

ParkA healthy lawn will probably always have some weeds and insect pests, but it will also have beneficial insects and organisms, like earthworms, that keep pests under control. Improper use of insecticides can kill these beneficial organisms. 

Best Fertilization and Watering Practices
Don’t fertilize or apply pesticides when rain is forecast in the next 48 hours because they could get washed into a manhole or down a storm drain. After applying fertilizer or granular pesticides, sweep your sidewalks and driveways, placing the swept up fertilizer or pesticide on your lawn or back in the container for use next time. 

To minimize pesticide needs, choose plants that are native or adapted to the soils and climate of this area. Look for those that are drought and heat tolerant. Avoid those plants most susceptible to disease. Click here to search the native plant database. 

Test your soil every two to three years. When plants get the nutrients they need, you can avoid the expense, effort and possible contamination from unnecessary fertilizer applications. Use slow-release nitrogen fertilizers to ensure healthier plants while minimizing the chance of polluting our precious groundwater. 

Place plants in locations where they will get the proper amounts of direct sun or shade and adequate air flow. Proper air movement over leaf surfaces will greatly aid in preventing foliar diseases. Leave ample room for plants when they reach their mature size. Plants placed in the proper location are healthier and require less maintenance and fewer pesticides. 

When it rains, pollutants are carried from streets, parking lots and our lawns directly into our local creeks by storm drains. Prevent water pollution by keeping all outdoor areas at your home or place of business clean and free of pollution. 

Adding large amounts of organic matter will greatly aid in overcoming any physical problems with the soil, such as too much sand or clay. It also improves the retention of nutrients and moisture and increases the populations of beneficial soil organisms. You can create probably the finest soil amendment by building your own compost pile from yard and kitchen wastes. 

Raising your flowers beds at least six inches above the surrounding soil will result in better drained and aerated soils, which are much more conducive to proper root growth. Don’t put plants with high water needs next to those with low water needs. Improper watering can cause unhealthy plants. Healthy plants don’t need as many pesticides.

Use mulches whenever possible because they are a gardener’s "secret weapon." Mulches protect roots from extreme temperatures and increase gaseous exchange in the soil by reducing surface crusting following rainfall or irrigation. Mulches also reduce the spread of certain diseases, increase ease of harvesting and greatly reduce water usage. Organic mulches also gradually decompose to improve the soil. Healthy plants don’t need as many pesticides.

Water early enough during the day so leaf surfaces are dry going into the evening hours. Watering early in the morning also reduces wasteful evaporation. If you use sprinklers, choose those that put out large droplets rather than a fine mist. Drip irrigation results in healthier plants, fewer disease problems, greatly reduced water bills and easier harvests.

Growing the same plant in the same spot every year allows diseases specific for that plant to build up in the soil. Rotating plants to different areas can prevent this from occurring.

Reduce pesticide use by pulling weeds instead of poisoning them whenever you can. The use of netting rather than chemicals can keep birds from reaching your vegetables or fruit, and proper fencing can keep out pets and wild animals. 

If you wash your car or boat at home, use a minimal about of detergent and wash on a grassy area. Detergents running into the street means detergents in our creeks.

Whether a pesticide is natural or synthetic, following the label directions is very important to prevent polluting local waterways. It is not true that if a little is good, a lot must be better. Just because a pesticide is organic does not mean that it is less toxic to humans. In fact, some synthetic materials are actually less toxic and more efficient than some natural insecticides.

Thoroughly clean sprayer nozzles, spreaders and other application equipment over the yard so residue is absorbed into the lawn. Triple rinse empty containers of liquid pesticides and pour the rinse water into your sprayer for use next time. Wrap the rinsed container in newspaper and throw it out with your garbage. 

Mow high, mow often and make sure the lawnmower blades are sharp. Keeping your grass a bit long will produce stronger, healthier grass with deeper roots and fewer pest problems. Grass adjusts better to frequent rather than infrequent mowing. The rule of thumb is to mow often enough that you never cut more than one-third of the height of the grass blades. When you mow this way, you can leave the clippings on the lawn, returning valuable nutrients to the soil. 

Stocky, well-acclimated transplants produce faster and are normally more disease resistant than seedlings. Transplants set out in the fall may yield higher production with fewer pest problems. Don’t try to make heat-hammered, mite-infested plants last from spring through fall. 

Water only when the lawn really needs it, and then water slowly and deeply. Apply about an inch of water, which should be enough to soak six to eight inches into the soil. The best rule is to water only when the lawn begins to wilt from dryness – when the color dulls and when footprints stay compressed for more than a few seconds. Water early in the morning to reduce wasteful evaporation and so leaf surfaces are dry going into the evening hours. Use sprinklers that put out large droplets rather than a fine mist. 

Controlling Insects
Fire ants can be controlled effectively by using the Two-Step Method, developed by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. The first step is to broadcast a bait over the entire yard. The second step is to treat individual problem mounds with a mound drench, granule or dust insecticide. 

Don’t pour leftover pesticides down the sink, into the toilet or down a sewer or street drain. Share your extra pesticides with a friend or neighbor or dispose of them appropriately. 

If fleas are a problem, try using commercial flea traps or place a light bulb over a pan of soapy water to help catch them. Also, try using products that contain an insect growth regulator to prevent the emergence of adult fleas. Look for products that contain methoprene (Precor®, vIGRin) or pyriproxifen. Ask your veterinarian about other safe products for treating fleas. 

By tolerating minor surface imperfections and damage to our fruits, vegetables or ornamental plants, we could dramatically reduce pesticide use almost overnight. You probably don’t need to treat a smattering of grasshopper nibbles in a tomato plant or because a few white grubs are in your lawn. 

When you have a pest problem, the first step is to correctly diagnose it. Use all available cultural controls first, and use pesticides only as a last resort. If pesticide application is absolutely necessary, choose the material proven to be the safest and most effective.  

Use biological controls whenever feasible. Ladybugs and their larvae eat aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and mites. Encourage and protect beneficial organisms. Other beneficial predators are centipedes, spiders, ground beetles, lacewings, dragonflies, big-eyed bugs and ants. Birds eat mosquitoes and other insects. Encourage birds into your yard by installing a bird feeder.  

If cockroaches are a problem for you, try using boric acid, which is available for use as a dust, paste or bait station. It is toxic if ingested. When applying boric acid dusts, wear a mask and avoid breathing in the dust. Dust lightly with a bulb duster. If kept dry and undisturbed, boric acid won’t need to be reapplied for a long time. It is a slow but effective and safe treatment. It is available at drug stores and organic gardening supply outlets. 

Try less toxic alternatives such as pyrethrums and pyrethrins, natural insecticides derived from chrysanthemums. They are used for ants, aphids, beetles, caterpillars, roaches, fleas, flies, leafhoppers, mosquitoes and ticks. Pyrethrums and pyrethrins can be found in powders and sprays as well as in flea and tick products for pets. Pyrethrins can be toxic to cats. 

Keep pests out of your home by caulking or sealing all cracks on exterior and interior walls. A mouse can pass through a hole the size of a dime; ants can pass through even smaller cracks. Make sure all doors and windows shut tightly. Use weather-stripping to fill any gaps. This not only keeps out unwanted pests, it saves energy costs by reducing loss of heat in winter or cool air in summer. Clean out rain gutters to prevent standing water that serves as breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

If you have a plant infested with soft-bodied insects such as aphids, whiteflies or mites, try using an insecticidal soap, which is non-toxic unless consumed in large quantities. Insecticidal soaps may be used indoors and are available in liquid concentrate or ready-to-use sprays. 

If ticks are a problem for your pet, pyrethrum flea or tick powders are the safest, but read the label carefully because some are toxic to cats. Also try bathing your pet. Any soap will do, but those with limonene or linalool are best.