Follow the Water – What’s Your Lawn Style?

Written by Roy Iwai (Multnomah County) and Keri Handaly (City of Gresham)

Hello friends, we’re here from Follow the Water, the new statewide clean water campaign for Oregon and SW Washington.  This exciting effort is supported by over 60 government and non-profit partners, including the Johnson Creek Watershed Council! Check out our new digital content that celebrates rivers, science, art, and culture to connect people to water and help them engage in water protection actions.  We’re also excited about our amazing river connection video series, co-created with the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.  Please join us at Follow the Water, also on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube!

We are so happy Spring is nearly here! This is the time of year when we see many home and garden stores with many plants for sale.  But many also promote a variety of fertilizers, along with weed and insect control chemicals.  We’re guessing that many of you are conscious of pesticide use.  And yet, there are times when managing an outdoor space might require chemical pesticides, like with stubborn noxious weeds.  To learn how your choices and techniques contribute to water health, please read on!

The state publishes a report of toxics in our rivers from time to time.  

According to the Department of Environmental Quality’s report from 2020, nine pesticides were found in Johnson Creek.  While none of these exceeded the values that were imminently harmful to people or fish, half of these chemicals have been banned since that report was published.  All nine pesticides were weed killers.  

There will always be new products on the shelves, so it’s how we use them that matters. 

We launched a yard care campaign called What’s Your Lawn Style with OSU Extension staff that includes top tips for great results that are also safe for people, pets, and our local waterways.  

This campaign meets people where they are.  For example, lawns are practical for many reasons.  Are you someone who mostly mows and calls it good?  That’s the low maintenance yard care routine.  Someone who makes lawn care part of their outdoor hobby time, that’s the more labor-intensive approach.  Whatever your goals, there are tips for you.

One category of lawn products we wanted to highlight here includes the “Weed and Feed” products that combine fertilizers and weed control.  The primary active ingredient,  2,4-D, has been found in the rain runoff into Johnson Creek.  

2,4-D in Johnson Creek is concerning especially during spring lawn season, which is the same time as fish spawning.  Scientific studies show that 2,4-D can impact fish larval stages.  It can affect their ability to escape from predators and decrease survivability rates.

Turf experts warn that Weed and Feed products are a waste of money because they apply weed killer where it isn’t needed.  They also suggest separating weed control from fertilization because the best time to apply them is different.  Raking in compost (or slow release fertilizer) after spreading grass seed is a good practice in the fall.  And in the spring, it’s a good practice to limit your use to spot-spraying, if you do use weed killers.

If you are looking for new strategies for yard care, visit What’s Your Lawn Style.  If you’re looking to control specific weeds or pests, visit OSU’s Solve Pest Problems.  You’ll find lots of useful information there.  Being smart about how you use chemicals is just as important as not using them at all.  It’s all about sharing your love for our streams.

Roy Iwai and Keri Handaly are Steering Committee members for Follow The Water

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