FAQ: Are pesticides the only effective option to avoid pests and weeds?

A: No! Natural pest and weed control methods are just as effective.

Whether you’re a novice or expert gardener, pests and weeds can be a source of frustration. Pesticides are marketed as a powerful resource for your garden troubles, but their power can quickly become harmful. Overuse of pesticides can cause soil and plant damage, poison wildlife like birds and salmon, and harm human health. So it’s a good idea to avoid pesticides. The good news is it’s possible to maintain a healthy garden or landscape without them! Below are some nontoxic tips if your garden or landscape develops a pest or weed problem.

Controlling Weeds:

  • Long handled weed pullers can pop dandelions (and similar weeds) out easily.
  • Mulching once a year reduces weeds in garden beds.

Avoiding Pests:

  • Consider physical controls like traps, barriers, or fabric row covers for pests.
  • Less toxic products like soaps, horticultural oils, and plant-based insecticides are now available (see a list of safer products here).
  • Beneficial insects that prey on problem bugs are available for sale, or you can attract these “good bugs”—ground beetles, lady bugs, and lacewings to name a few—by planting a variety of plants that provide pollen and nectar all year.
  • If you must use a chemical pesticide, use the least toxic product available and spot apply it (don’t spread it all over your yard). Always use protective gear, follow instructions exactly (more is not better), and keep children and pets out of application areas.

Click here to find more helpful tips and resources for natural pest, weed, and plant disease control. Don’t forget, you can call the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 or email help@gardenhotline.org for expert help.

(Photo courtesy of Ruth Hartnup via flickr.)

FAQ: Whoa! Why is my utility bill so high?

A: The culprit could be an unknown leak, or overuse of water and solid waste services.

Paying bills is task that has unanimous agreement—it’s not fun. If your bill is higher than normal use the guide below to help you figure out what is going on and how to address it.

Eek, leaks!
Leaks are sneaky. Even a small leak can seriously affect your water bill. To avoid being surprised by a leak, make it a habit to search for and fix leaks that may be affecting your water consumption. Check your toilet, indoor and outdoor faucets, and water meter.

Think of ways you can decrease your water usage.
Showering/bathing, washing dishes, doing laundry, and watering your lawn may be contributing to your high bill. Shorten your showering time, do full loads of dishes and laundry, and water wisely to cut down on your water consumption.

Find your Goldilocks container.
The cost for garbage and food and yard waste service is based on the size of your container, so you want to channel Goldilocks and make sure it is just right. If you consistently have extra room in your container, consider downsizing to a smaller one to save money. If you consistently have extra solid waste (the container’s lid does not properly shut) consider getting a larger container. Having an overflowing container will also result in extra fees so finding the perfect size container will help you avoid higher bills. You can estimate the monthly cost of your garbage and yard waste pick-up here.

Recycling services are free so think about how you can recycle more often. However, please only recycle appropriate items!

There you have it. If you have further questions regarding a higher-than-normal bill, give our Contact Center a call at (206) 684-3000. Utility Account Representatives are available Monday through Friday from 7:30 AM to 6:00 PM.

FAQ: What are common watering systems and how do I use them?

A: Three common watering systems are watering wands, automatic irrigation, and soaker hoses. Watering wands are used for individual plants or small garden beds, while automatic irrigation systems are used for larger lawn or garden areas that require regular watering. Soaker hoses are used for food gardens and new trees.

Are you having trouble getting your garden and plants to thrive? Does your lawn have uneven patches of color? Consider looking into different watering systems. Let’s discuss three common watering systems—watering wands, automatic irrigation, and soaker hoses—and their uses, advantages, and disadvantages.

Watering wands

Use: These are commonly used to water individual plants or small garden beds.

Advantages: They are easy to use and allow you to control the amount of water that specific plants receive. Watering wands also allow water to be applied to plant roots; this saves water and encourages plants to grow deeper, stronger roots. Directly watering roots can also prevent fungal diseases since fungi thrive in humid, moist conditions like on leaves that remain wet for long periods of time.

Disadvantage: Using watering wands for large areas can be time consuming and wasteful.

Automatic irrigation

UseAutomatic irrigation systems are used for larger lawn or garden areas that require regular watering.

Advantages: The advantage of automatic irrigation systems is their convenience. Automatic watering saves you time and energy and is helpful when you’re busy or out of town.

Disadvantages: These systems are less efficient than other methods, can be expensive to install, and require regular maintenance. You should weigh the pros and cons of convenience vs. efficiency.

Already have an irrigation system? Consider installing a smart timer to make it more efficient. You may even qualify for a $100 rebate for the irrigation timer!

Soaker hoses

Use: Soaker hoses are best used for level garden or tree beds, and for food gardens.

Advantages: Soaker hoses require less time than hand-watering and result in less water evaporation than hose-end (overhead) sprinklers.

Disadvantages: They are not suitable for uneven or sloped beds and require proper placement to ensure that the soil is evenly moist. Overwatering can also be a concern since it is hard to see the amount of water being used. They only work in lengths of up to 200 feet because the flow of water decreases beyond that length.

As you can see, different watering systems have different benefits and drawbacks, so be sure to match the correct system to your yard’s needs. Click here to learn about other types of watering systems, like sprinklers and drip irrigation systems.

Remember: watering wisely not only saves you money on your utility bill, it helps ensure that we’ll have enough water for generations—of people and wildlife—to come.

FAQ: How often and how much should I water in the summer?

A: That’s a tricky question. There are no hard and fast rules for watering (it depends on the soil, type of plant, weather, and other factors) but a quick and easy tip is to check your soil. Use your hand or a trowel to dig a couple inches down into the soil to see if it is dry or moist. If the soil is dry, then you know it’s time to water.


Here are some other tips to make watering efficient—to conserve a precious resource and save you time and money:

  • Water deeply, but less frequently. An hour after watering, check the soil again to see if the water has reached the root zone. Adjust your watering time to moisten the whole root zone, but then wait until the upper few inches of soil are dry before watering again. This will encourage deeper roots for a stronger plant.


  • Water slowly and give water time to penetrate. If you don’t give water time to penetrate, you can risk over watering, and too much water can cause soil to be oxygen deficient. Remember that plants (and their roots) need a balance of water and oxygen to thrive.


  • Get water right to the roots. Consider using a watering wand for small areas, and drip irrigation or soaker hoses for larger areas. Getting water directly to roots is not only efficient, it can also prevent fungal diseases since fungi thrive in humid, moist conditions like on leaves that remain wet.


  • Water early or late in the day to reduce evaporation. Watering during dawn or dusk also saves your skin from the sun’s harsh rays.


Click here to learn more about how often and how much to water, including general watering guidelines for trees, shrubs, and lawns. You can also call the experts at the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 or email help@gardenhotline.org.

Remember: watering wisely not only saves you money on your utility bill, it helps ensure that we’ll have enough water for generations—of people and wildlife—to come.

FAQ: How do I discard bulky items like mattresses?

Answer: Request a bulky item pick up!

We all know moving can be a drag. After the physical and mental toll of packing and unpacking, no one has the energy to think of what to do with the items that didn’t make the cut. It’s tempting to leave discarded furniture, mattresses, and/or appliances at your collection point and forget about them, but don’t do that. Not only are improperly discarded bulky items an eyesore, they can pose a safety hazard too.

Instead, call SPU Customer Service at (206) 684-3000 to request a bulky item pick up. Then place your item outside by 7:00 AM the following day.  Make sure your item is on a flat, level surface on your property that is easily accessible from the street. The item will be collected within 5 business days (Monday through Friday only).

While unwanted bulky items usually show up during the moving process, the protocol above applies any time you need to dispose of bulky items.

For more details regarding bulky items including examples, restrictions, and fees please click here.

Photo courtesy of Alan Stanton via flickr