By Wade HutchesonUniversity of GeorgiaWhat if raindrops had personalities? What if they got to knoweach other in the clouds before bailing out? Can you imagine theconversations?”Hey Ralph, you ready to go?””Yeah, Morty. Just give me a minute.””We’re over the fields in 30 seconds. Remember what you saidhappened the last time you were late. You landed in town.Heh-heh.”They bail out of the cloud, Ralph first, with Morty close behind.”Ball up tight,” Morty yells. “You’ll stay together better, andthe spin is incredible!”They land a mile apart, and only one is smiling.Ralph hits a hayfield and is immediately absorbed by the soil andgrabbed by grass roots. He will wait there until plant processesare completed and transpiration releases him back into the air.Morty, though, lands in town, in a well-watered, manicured yardthat’s just been fertilized and treated with herbicide. Theherbicide has chemically bonded to the soil, but the raindiminishes its effect. Most of the fertilizer runs off with thecollected raindrops into a pond, making the algae and other weedsflourish so the owner will have to use herbicides. Are you helping or hurting the water quality problem?Yes, my imagination ran wild. But the point is this: What we do,or allow to happen, in our landscape affects water quality. Waterruns downhill, and we all live downhill from somebody. Do yourbest to be part of the water quality solution and not theproblem.The solution isn’t always a pesticide or more fertilizer. Infact, if a gardener does his homework first, he can preventmany problems and save time and money.The best way to avoid plant pest and disease problems is startwith a healthy plant. That means matching the site and soilwith the right plant, properly planted, watered and fertilized.After that, make regular inspections. Get out and enjoy thelandscape at least once a week to know what’s going on with yourplants.By the time most people detect a disease problem, fungicidesaren’t going to help. Most bug problems don’t require apesticide, and there are other ways to handle weeds.The solution isn’t always a chemical. Did you ever stop to thinkthat something you did or didn’t do when that plant was plantedmight be the problem?I’m not saying never use chemicals. They’re one tool in thetoolbox. When you use them wisely, according to the label, theycan accomplish the desired result.But take the time to identify the problem, research your controloptions and take the route best suited to achieve control withthe least negative impact on our environment. And if the labelsays 1 ounce per gallon, 2 ounces per gallon won’t kill it anydeader.Again, I’m not saying chemicals cause all the water qualityproblems, but I’m writing to gardeners now, and many gardenersreach for a chemical first, no questions asked. Silt and sediment are the big culpritsThe biggest cause of water quality problems is silt and sedimentstemming from erosion. Like it or not, even our pets are a partof the problem. So are all the things, from cans to cars, thatpeople throw away, often into creeks and rivers.But we left Morty in the middle of the pond. The fertilizer wasall gone by the time he got there, but it was feeding weeds.Morty found his way into the pond’s spillway and then the creek,river and ocean. It took a while, but eventually he rejoined theclouds and was ready for another trip. He and Ralph, though, wereseparated forever. That happens when you’re a raindrop.That’s all I know about Ralph and Morty. To learn more about howyour gardening practices can contribute to improved waterquality, though, contact your county office of the University ofGeorgia Extension Service.