America’s long time love affair with the lawn is changing. People are starting to think differently about them - their look, their care, and even whether to have a lawn. To get that perfect, weed-free golf course look requires time, expense and lots of unnecessary herbicides and nitrogen based fertilizers, many of which are known carcinogens and linked to health problems in children, pets and adults. Americans spend more than $40 billion dollars on the lawn in North American each year and dump 10 times more herbicides on lawns than on the fields of agribusiness! Dogs are heavily exposed to these chemicals, where they get stuck in their paws and tracked into the home. With no exposure to sun or rain to break them down, the chemicals remain in the carpet, further exposing us to their harmful effects. Babies and children who play on the carpets are particularly at risk. These fertilizers and pesticides also seep into our waterways, poisoning aquatic life in rivers and lakes. The pesticides and herbicides we use to kill weeds and insect pests also kill beneficial micro-organisms that keep soil alive, ultimately affecting the health of trees and woody plants.
Conventionally maintained lawns also require a lot of water. Turf grass is our largest irrigated “crop” using as much as half of all fresh water used in urban areas each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The carbon emissions produced from lawn mowers, particularly older mowers, emit as much pollution as an average car driving 18.7 miles.
Organic lawn care takes a different approach, a more holistic one. Instead of reacting to problems with pesticides, herbicides and high nitrogen based fertilizers, organic lawn care focuses on preventing problems before they happen, allowing you to have a lush, green lawn safely and naturally. How?
For do-it-yourselfers, there are a few basic strategies. Feed your grass naturally with organic fertilizers. A thin layer of compost spread over the turf provides balanced nutrition. Cornell researchers have shown that mulching leaves, or nature’s food, on to the lawn in the fall results in faster green up in the spring.
Add limestone to correct the pH and throw down some extra seed, particularly in trouble spots. It is important to reseed every spring to help crowd out weeds.
Always mow high. Longer grass encourages longer roots, which ultimately require less water and food. Leave your grass clippings after you mow. The clippings are a natural source of nitrogen, which promotes lush, green growth. Consider a people-powered push mower or an electric one for a zero carbon footprint. When you water, water deeply and infrequently.
Learn to live with a few weeds, or wild herbs. We’ve been brainwashed to think that all weeds are bad, which isn’t the case. They are quite natural; monocultures however are not typical in nature and only invite problems. Some “weeds” provide food and shelter for beneficial insects that pollinate garden plants. Many add nutrients to the soil. Some are medicinal, edible and quite nutritious like pigweed, chickweed and dandelions. If a few weeds bother you, they can be controlled organically with simple kitchen ingredients.
For those of you who prefer a lawn care service, you can now find organic lawn care companies.
It can take 2 – 3 years for a lawn to transition from chemicals to organics. Once there however, you will notice you won’t have to mow or water as often and you’ll feel good knowing you are doing the right thing for your pets, your children, your pocketbook and the earth. Why not give it a try?
For more green tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.