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New homeowner seeks advice about gardening in contaminated soil: 'The presence of vegetation doesn't mean it's safe for consumption'

"Is it not something we should worry about?"

"Is it not something we should worry about?"

Photo Credit: iStock

Sometimes, when you move into a new home, you have to deal with the choices of the previous tenant, good and bad. You could be blessed with a vegetable garden or disappointed at finding landscape fabric. One person went to Reddit for some advice about how to deal with potentially dubious soil quality.

When planting a garden, there are a lot of factors to consider, such as how much sun the area gets, how much rain you can expect, and if you want to plan for success, you can consider the soil makeup and condition. 

One Redditor based in San Francisco asked for help with their soil: "We moved into our house about 8 months ago, and the previous tenants had dumped probably 10-15 cans of paint and lacquer thinner and other chemicals over the fence in the back yard. … Is there anywhere to bring our dirt to get it tested? Is it not something we should worry about?"

The poster also said the yard seems to be "teeming with life" and is overgrown with "4 foot tall weeds." However, some plants can grow fine in contaminated soil. According to The Hill, "Scientists have discovered that Zinnia flowers and tobacco not only survive, but thrive, in polluted soil."

Several commenters on the post suggested this gardener "plant sunflowers" because these tall plants have the ability to pull contaminants out of the soil. 

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported on one town using sunflowers for soil remediation: "Seeds are being delivered to every mailbox in town, all in hopes of purifying the soil using a technique called phytoremediation. The plants will have to be cut down and thrown away after sucking up the toxins."

Commenters also suggested that the original poster take their soil in for testing. One person wrote: "Only way to know is to have the soil tested. I'd call one of your state agricultural extensions and ask who can do the testing. You'll have to pay, of course, but the presence of vegetation doesn't mean it's safe for consumption.

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When safe to do so, rewilding your yard can lead to savings on water usage and maintenance, and it can also create havens for pollinators vital to the food supply chain. Growing your own food is also beneficial and you can save up to $600 a year by producing your own fresh produce.

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