Green Garden, Green Home Natural Yard Care Newsletter

Last week we saw that bright yellow ball in the sky, also known as the sun, for five or six days in a row. I don’t know about you, but it certainly energized me to start doing things that I tend to avoid when it is cold and wet outside. In this edition, we cover mulch. Mulch is something you hear a lot about when discussing good garden practices, but can be confusing when deciding what to purchase. We’ll introduce a local resource, WSU Snohomish County Extension master gardeners and touch upon a “usual suspect” that I am sure most of you have spotted in your yard. Happy gardening!

Seasonal garden tips-Mulch
various mulches

WHAT is mulch?

Mulch is a layer of organic material, a lot of which you can find right in your yard, which is spread around plants and garden beds. It can be leaves, grass clippings, compost or wood chips. Buying wood chips can be tricky since there are so many different types on the market: medium grind, woody strips, arborist chips, hog fuel, etc. In general, it really comes down to what aesthetically works best for you since most of these are just variants of trees, ground up in different ways and sizes.
 
There are a two exceptions that should give you pause: colored wood mulch and large bark nuggets. Wood mulch with added color may have objectionable additives because it is mostly comprised of recycled treated wood. Bark nuggets are not necessarily a bad choice, but it is important to note that they tend to behave like bark on a tree, which is a protectant seal to what is underneath. It has water repellant qualities and it takes a very long time to break down. Therefore it does not necessarily feed your soil with nutrients and it has a tendency to float when there is standing water. 

WHY use mulch?
Mulch stops weeds, conserves water and builds healthy soil for healthier plants. Mulch slows water down, allowing it to slowly penetrate to the roots of the plant. By using mulch around plants, the soil and roots stay much cooler so less evaporation occurs, leaving more moisture for the plants. Mulch slowly breaks down and allows nutrients to replenish the soil with nitrogen, calcium and others that plants and the soil need. 
 
WHEN to use mulch?
You can mulch your yard at any time. Grass clippings are good to use on your lawn to help create a natural fertilizer. They are full of nitrogen, something that grass loves. Leaves and compost are good mulches for flower beds and vegetable gardens. Trees, shrubs and other woody perennials prefer wood chips, but leaves also work. 
 
HOW to use mulch?
It is recommended to use 1-3 inches of mulch around flower and vegetable gardens and up to 4 inches around trees and shrubs. Make sure to spread mulch at least 1 inch away from plant stems and the bases of trees. When using grass clippings on lawn, make sure not to use so much that you smother the growing grass underneath. 

Stormwater and you - Pet Waste
Scoop the Poop

Pet Waste

When pet waste is not properly disposed of it can pose a health risk to dogs and humans, especially children. It’s full of bacteria that can make people sick. It’s also a source of water pollution. When it rains, pet waste is carried into storm drains, ditches and streams that feed rivers, lakes and marine waters.
 
Pet owners might be surprised to learn that in Snohomish County alone, dogs produce more than 20 tons of fecal waste every day. Pet waste is raw sewage and can contain bacteria and various parasites that can survive up to four years. A single gram of pet waste has the potential to contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria.
 
The best solution is to scoop up the waste, bag it and place it in the trash. Many modern landfills are lined and are able to ensure that these harmful bacteria and parasites are contained, monitored and not allowed to leach into the surrounding environment. Some wonder why pet waste can’t be composted. Dog waste contains parasites that our yard waste bins and compost piles cannot destroy because there is no way to ensure that they get hot enough to kill them.

The usual suspects
sow bug

Good bug

This is actually a good bug for your yard and a pretty interesting one to boot. Sow bugs are actually isopods and are related to crustaceans. Yes, the same family as lobsters! Sow bugs feed on decaying leaves and other organic matter, so they are a good worker in your yard or compost bin. They require damp habitats due to the delicate gill-like breathing organs on their undersides, which must be kept moist to work. They prefer to live in humid sheltered areas that have plentiful decaying vegetation, such as under logs, stones, leaves and leaf litter, or under pots or bricks.   

I decided to use this example for a pest since I was recently on a website where someone was asking how to get rid of this “yucky bug.” This seems like a good time to remind everyone that a pest refers to an insect, animal, plant or microorganism that causes problems in the garden. There are many beneficial insects and microorganisms that reside in our yards that may look like they are up to no good, but are actually doing just the opposite. In fact, less than 1 percent of garden insects actually damage plants. Correctly identifying what might be causing your specific issue (holes in leaves, black spots, or curling leaves) is very important so that the appropriate fix, whether it be physical (using a natural repellant or setting a beer trap) or biological (soapy water or beneficial insects), is used to help alleviate the problem and not create additional ones.

In the news - Master gardeners
Master gardener at work

A great resource

Do you have a plant in your yard that you just can’t identify? What about a plant that has suddenly dropped all of its leaves? Did you know that your local master gardeners are a great resource to help identify unknown plants, diagnose mysterious plant symptoms and make recommendations for right plant, right place. The WSU Snohomish County Extension Master Gardeners have an office at McCollum Park that welcomes walk-in visitors. Their office hours are Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They also hold garden clinics on Saturdays at the local Everett Lowe’s.

Here are some tips on how best to gather your sample, before bringing it in:

  1. The sample you collect should represent the types of damage you are seeing on the plant. Make sure it a big enough sample to see the problem on more than one leaf. For example, cut a section of a branch, instead of just bringing in one leaf.
  2. Take pictures of the problem since the WSU master gardener volunteer will likely not be able to visit the site. You may also want pictures demonstrating the distribution of the problem on the plant and how the plant is situated in the garden or landscape.
Upcoming programs
rain garden

Rain Garden Rebate 2018 Program – deadline quickly approaching
We are in the final stages of putting together our class of 2018 rain garden rebate recipients. We do have a few slots still available for site assessments. If you are interested, please contact Apryl Hynes soon to schedule a site assessment before all the slots are filled.   

spray nossel

Use water wisely
Throughout the year, Everett supplies clean, fresh drinking water to approximately 603,000 customers, or 80% of Snohomish County. In the summer, household water use can double. To help homeowners conserve water, Everett offers a variety of free water conservation items. These include hose nozzles, watering timers and soil moisture meters for outdoor water conservation.
For details everettwa.gov/SaveOutdoors

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