Toxins Which Can Ruin Your Garden and What To Do About It

Back in ancient times victors would salt the earth of the cities they conquered to make it difficult to rehabilitate.

While you probably won’t go conquesting, it is important to know how certain chemical compounds can affect your yard and garden.

A lot of these toxins arrive by water runoff while sometimes homeowners do it to their own plants without even knowing.

Contaminant Sources for Your Yard


Salt is naturally occurring in the environment and traces of it is commonly found the soil. Rain water runs over formation and picks up minerals, salt among them, and carries them along their path.

As the water evaporates it leaves the minerals behind. Some of these can be good while others affect the pH and composition of the soil.

If this is a problem for your garden or yard, evaluate how water drains through your property.

Try to divert water away or change up soil composition in spots with dead plants. A little bit of sand mixed in with the soil will help water flow through faster. If the water does not stay, it will not evaporate and leave behind chemicals.


Have you ever noticed dead spots in a lawn or garden where pets urinate?

It is caused from the nitrogen within the urine. This might seem counterintuitive since nitrogen is used in many fertilizers, but in high concentrations it creates a chemical burn.

The best thing to do here is keep pets to an area where it will not be noticed. Also, washing the grass and plants with water after pets do their thing will help to dilute the nitrogen.


A common source of contamination for gardens and yards during the winter is chemicals used to remove ice. It is not an easy task to remove ice and a deicer does a good job, but caution is needed.

Deicers can damage concrete, ruin soil, and kill plants.

It ruins concrete and landscaping by allowing water to melt, run into cracks, refreeze, and exert a tremendous force. This pressure will further expand the crack and chip the surface. These effect is known as concrete spalling.

sodium_deicerThe chlorides and sodium in many of the deicers are responsible for the gardening problems. These chemicals are very hard on plants and kill most. Also, when they come into contact with soil they deplete the oxygen and makes it almost impossible for plants to grow.

Try to avoid using these products.

If you do, use potassium acetate or CMA (Calcium Magnesium Acetate). These two are the least poisonous for plants and concrete. Potassium acetate works well down to minus fifteen Fahrenheit.

CMA only works to twenty Fahrenheit and is more expensive but it is best for use near plants or on concrete.


lead_paintFor older homes built before 1980, lead can be a big problem.

It makes its way into the soil from chipping paint. The area within 6 feet of a house is the danger zone. The dust and paint chips usually land here. Water dripping down the side of the house exacerbates the issue.

There are three solutions for lead:

  1. immobilize the lead
  2. mix the soil
  3. eliminate the source of the problem

To immobilize the lead raise the pH of the soil and add extra organic material on top of the soil (e.g. mulch) to protect plants.

Another task that can help is mixing the top soil with clean soil that is lower down. The last solution, which is the best but most expensive, is to remove the source of the problem. This can be difficult and expensive, but a good short-term solution is to cover it with a high quality primer and an oil-based paint.


Older homes have another problem; arsenic can be found in preservatives for wood. Like the lead in paint, the arsenic can be leached out from rain and makes its way into the soil near the house.

Also similar, unless you can remove the source the only solution is a temporarily cover it up.

The other possible source of arsenic, but more unlikely, is herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers used from back in the 90’s. Rain and water will slowly wash these chemicals away over time. Turning over the soil can help speed up this process.

Another solution would be to plant an elevated bed with clean soil.


Pay attention to indications your plants give you. If there are small yellow spot in the grass here and there, it is probably an animal.

If an entire bed of flowers next to the house keeps dieing, check the paint, wood preservatives, and water runoff. A test kit can be found in a local home improvement store for confirmation. Then all there is to do is determine which solution is best to remedy the problem.

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