Lewis Grizzard had the right idea when he wrote in his novel Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You, “Spring is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn.” Indeed, even though we are under snow today, it is time to begin to think about the spring blooms and green grass right around the corner. Choices are to be made: Shall I plant perennials? Perhaps less yard space and more garden? Is this the year I try to plant veggies? Amongst those decisions is one that stands out more than the rest: Should I treat my lawn organically, or rely on chemical inputs?
While I cannot weigh in on the veggie garden or perennial debate, the answer to the organic question is very clear. Choosing an option that is devoid of synthetic chemicals is the only way to go, and yes, you can have your proverbial cake and eat it too: organics work!
In the interest of time- March is yawning after all- I have compiled a list of the Top Five Reasons to Choose Organic Lawn Care.
1. Safety! According to the American Cancer Society and the EPA, 95% of the pesticides used on residential lawns are considered possible or probable carcinogens. While pregnant women, children and the elderly are most at risk from pesticide exposure, we are all adversely effected. A report by the National Academy of Sciences shows that the health of 1 in 7 people is negatively impacted by chemical lawn care products. Cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and hormonal disruptions are just a few of the dangerous health impacts pesticides pose. Why choose this option when there is an organic choice that is perfectly safe? Contrary to their chemically-based counterparts, organic lawn care materials are completely safe and natural. Never will you need to wait hours after an application to step onto your lawn, and never will you have to wonder if the true cost of your green turf is your future health.
2. Healthy pets and wildlife! The family dog and the squirrels he loves to chase are also adversely effected by lawn pesticides and herbicides. Same goes for birds, bunnies, insects, and any other animal that comes into contact with these chemicals. According an article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides: 16 are toxic to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and aquatic life, and 11 are deadly to bees. I, for one, am looking forward to spring in part because of the new sights and sounds I enjoy as the world awakens from dormancy. Let’s not stunt this by contaminating our properties!
3. Air and water quality! The EPA estimates that only 35% of synthetic lawn fertilizers ever reach the grass root; the rest is released into the air or seeps into our groundwater. Many of these chemicals persist for long periods of time in our water especially, which is a very serious issue in areas that draw their drinking water from such sources. Runoff from synthetic fertilizers also pollutes streams and lakes, which depletes oxygen in the water and damages aquatic life. On the other hand, according to the EPA, for every 1% that you increase your soil’s organic matter, you increase the water absorption capacity by 16,000 gallons of plant-available water per acre. In addition, while we would all like to believe that what is left on the yard stays put, the reality is that fertilizers move about in our air. Just a radioactivity was detected in the air in New England after the Chernobyl accident, lawn chemicals remain persistent when they become airborne. By contrast, organic materials biodegrade naturally, and will not contaminate that which we need to live: our air and our water. The choice is obvious!
4. Save money! You could liken a chemically based lawn care program to a drug addiction: once you’re hooked, you rely on the drug for daily function. Indeed, like most drugs, chemical programs focus on sickness. They first encourage lush growth beyond what the plant can handle, which encourages pest problems. When chemicals are then sprayed to handle the pests, the sprays kill beneficial organisms in the soil in addition its target. With no organisms to sustain healthy plant life, the pests return and find a weakened plant and weakened predators. You guessed it… more chemicals are applied. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that increases costs, and further damages our ecosystem. Organic lawn products, on the other hand, increase soil quality. While it might require an investment (and a bit of patience) up front, the premise of organic lawn care is to work from the roots up. As such, putting down natural materials is akin to giving a child good nutrients so that it can remain healthy. When a plant has what it needs, it will naturally remain pest-resistant, more drought tolerant, and hearty. This, in turn, takes the stress off of our pocket book over time and allows us to enjoy our properties while the rest is left to Mother Nature.
5. Bring your lawn to life! Sterile properties mean sterile environments. Spring would not be the same without the birds and the bees, right? Why then, would we systematically reduce the biodiversity of our landscapes with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When you think about it, it makes sense: If we kill everything at the bottom of the food chain (yes, worms and insects are crucial), then nothing will thrive. This is a delicate balance, and we are tipping the scales towards sterility with every chemical lawn application. If we choose to use organic products on our lawns, we are also choosing to listen to the song birds, enjoy the beauty of the butterfly, and encourage the growth of our aquatic population.
So now that it is clear that organics are better for you, your family, and the environment lets discuss how to get things done. The first step will be to assess your turf. Is your soil compact? Do you have topsoil? Are you overrun with weeds? Is your grass sparse? Knowing how healthy (or not) your lawn is will help you determine what organic products you need, and how aggressive you need to be with them.
The next step is to speak with your local garden center representative or organic lawn care provider to find the best natural products on the market. You must have the right organic products, and know when to apply them, in order to be successful with organic lawn care. If you describe your lawn assessment, somebody should be able to help. At a minimum, you will need need three organic granular fertilizations, in addition to a weed preventative, and high quality grass seed (hint: tall fescue is the most sustainable, durable grass variety in this area) in the fall.
The final step is patience. Organic lawn care can only work as quickly as Mother Nature will allow. While you won’t see a florescent green lawn over night, organics are a far better product over time. Stick with the program for one season, and your results will be obvious, safe, and durable. Now you can feel good while you enjoy your lawn, and isn’t that what spring is all about anyway?