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  • Mar
  • 16

Being Kind to Your Lawn: Chemical-Free Care

Posted by at 5:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Being Kind to Your Lawn: Chemical-Free Care by Ingrid NewkirkSpring is on its way—which means that it is time to start thinking about lawn care. Fortunately, it is easy to have a healthy green lawn without using toxic chemicals that harm the animals in your yard and pollute the environment.

Here’s an excerpt from my book Making Kind Choices about how to care for your lawn without harming the life within it:

Howard Lyman is the author of Mad Cowboy. He is also a “fourth-generation reformed farmer, stockman and feedlot operator,” who emerged from University of Montana, determined to use his agricultural degree to redo his family’s organic farm as an “agribusiness,” using all the new chemicals that were then coming onto the marketplace on his crops and his cattle. Some years later, he looked at the land under his feet and found it was “deader than a doornail. No worms, no insects, no life. I had killed the soil and all the animals who once made it churn and thrive. It was now sterile and chemically saturated. What had I done?”

Mr. Lyman, who went on to become president of EarthSave, and wrote a moving book called Mad Cowboy, had many thousands of acres to ruin, but the lessons he learned may allow us to stop ourselves before we behave in the same way to the manicured lawn in front of our house or to the wonderful garden out back. … This is especially important because the insects, birds, even wandering dogs and cats, cannot read those signs that say “Chemically Treated,” nor can the rains that carry those chemicals via the storm sewers into the rivers and streams to poison fish and frogs and water-dwelling mammals and birds.

The New York Times reported how a champion ice skater, Christina Locek, was sunning herself in her Illinois backyard when a lawn care company began spraying insecticides onto a neighbor’s yard. The article described how the spray drifted into Ms. Locek’s yard, across her and her cat and dog. The cat died within minutes. The dog died within a few hours. Ms. Locek collapsed and is now permanently disabled and no longer able to compete.

. . .

Birds and wild animals suffer even more than humans do. Ward Stone, a New York State wildlife pathologist, says, “You can follow label directions to a T and still kill birds.” Classic signs of pesticide poisoning in birds are shivering, gasping, excessive salivation, seizures, wild flapping, and sometimes screaming. Birds often have these reactions out in the open, while small mammals may crawl into their dens to suffer and die.

. . .

A chemical-free lawn, like a tree, detoxifies the air of pollutants and brings better health to four- and two-legged property occupants. A lot of unseen underground activity by worms and microorganisms makes a lawn healthy. If you allow this biological activity to go on unharmed by pesticides, roots will be stronger and chemical fertilizers unnecessary.

. . .

Carla Bennett, PETA’s columnist of “Ask Carla” fame, says, “Never walk on wet or soft lawns. Where the soil is compacted, use an aerator, available at rental stores, to punch small holes in the ground, or walk over the soil in shoes with cleats. Raking removes thatch and other dead organic material that smothers grass. Using a sharp blade, mow high; a grass height of two inches will shade out crabgrass and many weeds.”

It’s best to leave grass clippings on the lawn after you mow. This natural, free fertilizer breaks down easily and provides up to one-half the nitrogen and potassium a lawn needs to green up and thrive. Earthworms and natural organisms eat the clippings to provide a natural cycle of fertilizing and aeration.

Even leaves can be left in place if they are ground up with a lawn mower. Leaves also provide winter protection for tree roots. If you water, replace sprinklers, which waste water, with soaker hoses or “impulse” sprayers, which shoot water out in an efficient jet as the head turns. Plant ground cover in difficult areas.

. . .

Carla Bennett is adamant that lawns can survive with little or no fertilizer. There are now excellent new organic fertilizers on the market,” she advises, “but beware of harmful petroleum-based products that are represented as “organic” because they contain a little manure. In a natural, healthy lawn, the grass will be slower-growing, stronger, and more drought-resistant. Clover is not a weed and should be left in peace to grow. Its root nodules contain bacteria beneficial to the lawn and plants. And, don’t worry about dandelions or other weeds, Carla advises. Weeds are judgment calls. Dig them out by hand if you don’t like them.

How grateful we should be for the exercise and chance to spend time in our healthy yard.

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  • Elizabeth says:

    Hi Nicole: one of the best sites I’ve seen and many of my clients use is http://www.iamorganic.com. Since you have a potpourri of critters, I would suggest this site since their products deter many visitors.
    Let me know if you have any questions – thanks and good luck – Elizabeth

  • Nicole says:

    Just found this article. It’s nearly one year old…
    My lawn looks like a battlefield thanks to the gophers, moles, chipmunks etc. who share the property with us. Is there any way to get them off my lawn? It really looks horrible, and our half-blind senior rescue dog keeps stumbling because everything is so uneven. They would have enough space to roam and dig in our woods!

  • Ron Byron says:

    I have always loved my fertilizer-free lawn. I especially love eating dandilions, they make a good soup with small indiginous creatures like earthworms.

  • Phyllis says:

    Thanks Gail! I bet my neighbor’s kids would love to make a few bucks and I’ll start looking for a safe sealer. I’m going to pass this on to another friend who was also looking for a creulty-free way to deal with them too.

  • Gail Richardson says:

    To Phyllis about the carpenter bees: I don’t like poisons either and I have seen the bees trying to bore into the underside of my carport roof. I’ve asked various builders and yard people and as far as I know, the best thing to do with wood is just to paint it and/or seal it with a waterproofing agent. Or if the water seal should have toxic chemicals in it you don’t want to use, you could stain or paint the wood and then seal it with a varnish or a polyurethane sealer. I may be wrong, but I believe this can keep the bees out, or at least make it take much longer for them to get into the wood. I hope this helps.

  • Phyllis says:

    We had a wheelchair ramp built using wood and are having a problem with carpenter bees boring into it. I don’t want to use anything that would be toxic to our dogs and cats and I don’t want anything cruel to the bees. Our next door neighbor showed me a spray poison that knocks them down quickly but they don’t die right away – they lay on the ground struggling as the poison eats away their exoskeleton. Does anyone have any humane way to deal with carpenter bees? I’d appreciate any information.

  • Jackie says:

    I agree with this, and have done these things for several years. My lawn is healthy and in the Spring I love the dandelions. They are good to eat as well, when the leaves are young. Good to look at and good for you too. What more could you ask for. Grinding the fallen leaves with the lawnmower is so easy, and makes a good organic cover for the grass. All that is needed is a good raking in the Spring, and voila you have a great lawn.

  • Margarette says:

    It’s terrible how much toxic pesticide and herbicide is poured onto vast areas of farm land. In towns & cities we are more likely to see birds & animals suffering but who sees what happens to the wildlife that wander into a field after it has been treated for wheat midge for example. The recommendations for the pesticide that treats wheat midge state “Re-entry restriction: Do not enter treated field for at least 24 hours after application”.

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