Pollution Prevention - Hiring a Gardener
Know what you are paying for and what impact it has on the environment.
Gardeners frequently state that they would adopt environmentally preferable
lawn care practices if their customers didn’t insist on "business
as usual". Read the suggestions below and choose the practices that
you would like your gardener to follow. Keeping your yard healthy will
not only save you money, but will protect your family’s health
and the environment.
Make sure that you and your gardener understand that when debris enters
the storm drains, it flows to the creeks where it decomposes, dropping
oxygen levels in the water too low for fish to survive. Sediment from
our yards usually accompanies the debris, which cause the creeks to
be over silted, greatly impacting the environmental health of our waterways.
Inquire if the gardener is a licensed landscape contractor. Often,
when gardeners are licensed, their license number is displayed on their
business card and on their vehicle. When serious pest infestations
do occur, call a licensed pest control operator and inquire if their
practices are less-toxic. Ensure that your gardener is knowledgeable
in pest identification and disease diagnosis as well as Integrated
Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a decision-making process that encourages
people to use environmentally compatible techniques and products. IPM
recognizes that pests are part of our eco-system, but seeks to prevent
damage from pest populations reaching unacceptable levels. Regular
monitoring and record-keeping of pest populations becomes a valuable
reference to establish your own personal tolerance level. Once a pest
infestation reaches beyond that threshold, a decision can be made as
to which means of control will be used: cultural (modification of plant
care activities, water, plant placement and pruning), physical (picking
the pests off the plants by hand), mechanical (use of a weed-block
or sticky traps), biological (use of beneficial insects to prey on
harmful insects) or chemical (use of least toxic pesticides where serious
damage would be done).
When applying pesticides, please know that “the label is the
law”, which means it is unlawful and environmentally unsound
to use the pesticide in any manner other than how it is stated on the
label. Pesticides are labeled either Caution, Warning or Danger. Even
with Caution-labeled pesticides, there are safety practices users should
Quick Tips for Designing your lawn and garden
- If you have a yard that is being re-designed or hasn’t been
landscaped yet, you have an opportunity to be well-informed
about the best foundation for your garden.
- Select plants that grow
well in our local environment while considering growth patterns
and maintenance requirements to help your garden achieve and retain
its optimal health... in other words, use the right plant in its
- Healthy plants have the most resistance to pest infestation.
Looking at the plants and noting any changes in their condition
will provide an opportunity to address any problems before the
situation is serious.
- Minimize annual flowers, which require as much
water as a lawn and must be replaced 3-4 times each year.
California native and Mediterranean-climate plants first. They
are drought tolerant and hardy in this area.
Quick Tips for Lawn Choice and Care
- Consider lawn alternatives that can handle some foot traffic: Caraway-Scented
Thyme, (which doesn’t require any mowing), Woolly Yarrow, Mother
of Thyme, O’Connor’s Legume or Garden Chamomile.
- Plant Tall
Fescue, Dwarf Tall Fescue, Red Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass. These
are preferred grasses in the Bay Area that require fewer inputs of
water, fertilizer, mowing, pesticide and maintenance time and are
referred to as “cool season” grasses.
- Where you have an existing lawn,
familiarize yourself with what soil and grass type you have.
Know the potential problems and pests of your grass. Learn what time
of year to monitor for those pests. When treatment is called for,
select the least-toxic method as a preventive measure, rather than
waiting until the problem requires a more aggressive treatment.
some of the following and give your gardener clear instructions
on how to maintain your lawn. These will help build fertile soil
and vigorous, deep-rooted lawns. A healthy lawn can resist disease
and drought damage, and out-compete most weeds without reliance on
chemicals. An unhealthy lawn (or any tree or plant) is prone to attacks
- Use a mulching mower that leaves grass clippings on the
lawn which provides free fertilizer, keeps refuse charges down
and helps lawns grow more green and dense.
- In fall and spring, aeration
of the lawn by hand or with a power aerator eliminates thatch
build up and allows water to penetrate to the root zone.
Another option when there is an advanced pest infestation or disease
on an annual or perennial, is to remove and replace the plant. It may
be that the environmental cost of applying chemicals in this situation
is greater than a removal and replacement. Analyze if the plant is
in its preferred location, with proper soil, moisture and sun.
Checklist for your gardener
If your landscaper or gardener also designs and chooses your plants:
- Analyze and prepare soil for planting using appropriate amendments,
tillage and grading.
- Design and plan the garden based on how it will be used, water efficiency,
ease of maintenance and low waste.
- Design and install the irrigation system to efficiently water desired
plants, minimizing weeds, waste, and costs.
- Use the right plant in the right place. Plants are healthiest when
placed in their preferred environment. Consider the sun exposure and
shade received, amount of irrigation needed, and pruning practices.
- Plant insectary plants – those that attract beneficial insects
to your yard to prey on the harmful insects.
- Maintain the perennial lawn without seeding with annual grass, retaining
the drought tolerant, lower-maintenance perennial grass lawn.
- Set mower height up to 2 - 2.5" on perennial tall fescues (1.5" on
annual or bentgrass lawns) to increase drought tolerance and discourage
invasive weedy grasses.
- Aerate the soil by inserting a 6" garden fork every 4" and levering
to loosen the soil. To eliminate thatch accumulation, avoid over-watering
- Avoid pesticides or weed killers on the lawn. Studies have shown that
commonly used chemicals (quick-release fertilizers, pesticides and
weed-&-feed products) can kill beneficial soil organisms and contribute
to soil compaction, thatch build up and lawn disease. These same chemicals
harm human health, pets, wildlife, creeks and rivers.
- Do not apply fertilizer on perennial lawns (no more than twice per
year for annual lawns, and slow-release fertilizers only). Over-fertilized
lawns, blue green in color, are unhealthy and prone to thatch build-up,
pest infestation and drought damage.
- Use a rake or industrial-duty broom to clean up yard debris, pathways
and sidewalks. Leaf blowers cause air and noise pollution, offer less
control over the debris and require the same amount of time to do the
same job by broom. Definitely don’t allow any area to be cleaned
by hosing down method. Make it clear to your gardener to avoid any
debris entering storm drains.
- Control weeds with layers of mulch, biodegradable fabric, cultivation
and water management to prevent nutrient loss and waste generation.
- Water lawn deeply and evenly at a rate appropriate for the grass variety,
climate and season.
- Utilize a water-conserving irrigation schedule, delivering water to
the root zones and not exceeding the amount needed by the plants. Watering
in the morning avoids (when the sun and wind are low) the high-evaporation
rates between 10am-4pm.
- Store fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and oils out of the way
of rain or irrigation, as even the residues on the containers can be
washed off and into storm drain system and flow to nearby creeks.
- Place yard clippings in a compost pile and monitor it so that it
effectively breaks down and can be used again in your yard. Or, place
it in yard debris bins for pick up or ask your gardener to haul it
away as part of their service. Composting provides high quality soil
and helps keep refuse fees down.