The ingredients of lawn success – pesticides and fertilizers – were originally developed after World War II to improve farmers’ economic prospects by reducing damage to food crops caused by insects, rodents and disease. These same herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers became popular among home gardeners. They did the job quickly and made it easier to create green, pest-free lawns and bountiful gardens.
However, within a few decades, it became clear that pesticides have costs alongside their benefits. Pesticides are poisons, intended to kill living insects, rodents or plants. By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk to all living creatures, including humans.
Some lawn and garden chemicals have been linked with behavioral problems in children, damage to the nervous system and brain, developmental and reproductive defects, and cancers. There is much we don’t know about many pesticides – a number have not been fully tested, and it often takes decades to discover how dangerous some pesticides truly are. Scientists are learning, too, that even small doses, at critical times during a child’s development, or even during that of an embryo, could have a tremendous impact on that child’s life and long-term health.
Other issues related to lawn and garden pesticide use:
* Pesticides provide quick relief, but do not eliminate the source of the problem. While certain pesticides are efficient tools for killing insects and weeds, almost all do nothing to deter problems from coming back. To prevent a pest’s return, it is necessary to change the conditions that have allowed the pest to thrive.
* Extensive use of pesticides has led to resistance in many insects and weed species. It takes from two to five pesticide applications today to do the job that just one application accomplished in the 1970s. As a result, many resort to stronger chemicals, which may have greater consequences for human and environmental health.
* Pesticides drift. Chemicals used on lawns and gardens don’t stay put. They enter groundwater, streams and rivers. Pesticide particles attach to dust and soil, which we bring indoors on our shoes. Pesticides can evaporate into the air, then are carried on currents and deposited many miles away. By using pesticides, we contribute to environmental damage far beyond our yards.
Use this checklist for a naturally beautiful lawn:
* Avoid Pesticides and Herbicides. Weed manually, before seed heads appear. Use boiling water, diluted soap or white vinegar to kill weeds. Apply corn gluten to discourage weeds. Use least toxic products and practices like Integrated Pest Management.
* Develop Healthy Soil. Leave mulched grass clippings to recycle nitrogen. Reduce soil compaction – aerate soil to allow air to circulate around grass roots. Grade to promote good drainage.
* Reduce Thatch, the layer of decomposing roots, leaves & stems at the surface of the soil. Rake to remove thatch – it prevents water and nutrients from penetrating soil.
* Choose Native Grass Types Suited To Your Climate And Soil. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Call your agricultural cooperative extension service or local nursery for information. Consider alternative ground covers.
* Water Deeply But Not Too Often. Deep but infrequent watering is best and reduces fungal growth. Water between midnight and 8AM to reduce evaporation.
* Mow High, Not Low. Taller grass chokes out weeds, longer grass takes in more sun and moisture. Keep mower blades sharp to avoid tearing grass, keeping it healthy.
* Use Fertilizers Wisely. Choose natural organic fertilizers, use sparingly in early spring or late fall. Avoid application prior to expected heavy rainfall to prevent runoff into waterways.
* Encourage Neighbors to avoid pesticides and over fertilizing – which contaminates your neighborhood, yard, family, & world.