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Source Reduction in the Garden

Gardening is a healthy hobby enjoyed by millions of New Jersey citizens. But should a hobby expose you to potentially dangerous chemicals? Learn how to cut down on toxins around your home this spring.

Why Source Reduce?
Many yard chemicals are toxic – they send people to the hospital each year. Not the lawn professionals – just home gardeners like you, who didn’t believe the warning label. Yard chemicals poison pets and wild animals each year. Children touch them if they play on treated lawns, and our feet track them into our homes where they linger in the carpet. Still want to put down that combination lawn care product?

Fertilizers travel with groundwater and turn nearby ponds green with algae. That’s not what residents saw when they bought lakeside homes so many years ago! But populations rise, and homeowners plant lawns, and the yard chemicals run off into streams and lakes. That runoff may degrade drinking water. Are you one of the many people in New Jersey using well water?

Pesticides kill beneficial organisms, and leave your lawn and garden unprotected from pests. After years of heavy chemical applications, close mowing, and automatic watering, your lawn becomes unable to care for itself - it’s chemically dependent!

How do I reduce my toxin use?
Here are four general methods for cutting down on toxics in the garden:

See our pamphlet on how to leave grass clippings on the lawn and retain their nutritive value. You’ll mow higher and build a lawn that fights weeds by itself.

Integrated Pest Management
Integrated pest management, or IPM, offers more ways to protect your plants. Just as there’s a hierarchy of waste management (reduce, reuse, recycle), there’s an order to pest control:
Remove them physically, or use barriers and traps.
Use beneficial insects.
Use organic or botanical pesticides(made from plants): they are toxic but break down quickly.
Use inorganic pesticides as a last resort.
Learn about IPM at Pennsylvania’s website,

Soil Testing
Gardeners often copy neighbors who treat for grubs or fungus. That neighbor is probably wrong. Send samples of soil and sick turf to your agricultural agent for testing, and find out what you really need. In New Jersey, the Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension provides this service for residents. Costs are low. Contact:

Rutgers Soil Testing Laboratory
P.O. Box 902
Milltown, NJ 08850
Telephone: 732/932-9295
Learn more about the Extension at

Going Organic
Most garden shops sell quick-release synthetic fertilizers and inorganic pesticides. Ask if they offer organic options, or shop on line. Read more at:

Here Are Things You Can Do Now

Take inventory in the garage and shed. Note what products you already have so you don’t buy extra.
Buy single products: if you need fertilizer, buy fertilizer. Don’t buy a fertilizer-weedkiller-insecticide mix. This may be harder to find than you think – ask for it!
Keep the chemicals in their original containers, or keep the labels with dry product if you pour it into a bucket. Otherwise, you won’t remember how to use it.
Follow the directions! Don’t spread more than recommended.
Mulch flower beds with 3” of chips or bark or pine needles. It will keep the weeds from germinating, and water from evaporating, so you’ll need less herbicide and water.
Spray infested plants with a soap solution before you use stronger insecticides.
Invest in soaker hoses now, and cover them with mulch, to cut down on water use in the flower and vegetable gardens, and to prevent powdery mildew.
Do you have a butterfly or hummingbird garden? Cut out the pesticides or you’ll be killing the animals you’re trying to attract.
Allow natural growth. Moss and mushrooms will pop up in your shade garden. They are part of the local ecosystem, and don’t require removal.
Consider replacing your lawn with planting beds, tall decorative grasses, and paving stones.
Plant only native species this year. They are able to withstand local weather and insects. Learn about them from your extension agent.

Make yard care safer for you and your community.