Green Tip – Greening Your Lawn

by Wendy Gabriel

GREEN TIP: You don’t need to use commercial herbicides and pesticides to create a beautiful lawn.

We all want a beautiful lawn we can be proud of, but at what price? Is it really that important to have a perfect, weed-free lawn for a season or healthy children and pets for a lifetime? Well, the answer is obvious so it mystifies me that people continue to dump chemicals on their yards and gardens not to mention the farmers who do the same.

As I was researching this topic, I came upon a study from the University of Minnesota that really hit home. In the study, 210,723 live births in Minnesota farming communities found that children of pesticide applicators have “significantly higher rates of birth defects than the average population.” Another study, this one from the University of Southern California found that young infants and toddlers exposed to weedkillers within their first year of life are four-and-a-half times more likely to develop asthma by the time they are five and almost two-and-a-half times more likely when exposed to insecticides. The studies go on and on that link childhood exposure to chemicals to cancer, asthma and learning and developmental disorders.

Lawn Fact: During a typical year in neighborhoods across the country, over 102 million pounds of toxic pesticides are applied in pursuit of a perfect lawn and garden. This figure, up from 90 million pounds in the year 2000, continues to grow despite the growing body scientific evidence of the public health and environmental consequences.

Source: Beyond Pesticides

Children and lawn chemicals don’t mix!

  • The National Academy of Sciences reports that children are more susceptible to chemicals than adults and estimates that 50% of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first five years of life.
  • EPA concurs that children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) cites that over 30% of the global burden of disease in children can be attributed to environmental factors, including pesticides.
  • Studies show that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma.
  • A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that students and school employees are being poisoned by pesticide use at schools and from drift off of neighboring farmlands.

So, do you have to have an ugly, weedy lawn? Absolutely not. The National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns has some easy tips you can use to create a healthy lawn. They caution that bad mowing practices can cause many lawn problems so make sure your mower blades are sharp and keep your grass height at 3 to 3 1/2 inches. Also, some weeds are the result of using poor quality grass seed. Make sure you use the proper grass seed for your region. And remember many “weeds” have beneficial qualities. For example, clover takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and distributes it to the grass, which helps it grow. Clover roots are also extensive and very drought-resistant, providing resources to soil organisms. It also stays green long after your lawn goes naturally dormant.

Is an occasional dandelion, knotweed or clover cause for alarm? No! Dandelions’ deep roots return nutrients to the surface, crabgrass provides erosion control and I’ve already extolled the virtues of clover. And by not using chemicals on your lawn you are helping your children, pets, neighbors and our planet live a healthier life.

Need some non-toxic gardening tips?

  • Visit Loving Natures Garden. Alison Kerr will give you the inspiration you need to keep your garden green.
  • Another wonderful site is Ecosystem Gardening – Carole Brown is ready to help you Create Wildlife Habitats and Protect the Environment.

Know the health and environmental impacts of the products you’re using to improve your lawn and garden.

My Green Side’s weekly web pick:

Beyond Pesticides
Beyond Pesticides (formerly National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides) works with allies in protecting public health and the environment to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides. The founders, who established Beyond Pesticides as a nonprofit membership organization in 1981, felt that without the existence of such an organized, national network, local, state and national pesticide policy would become, under chemical industry pressure, increasingly unresponsive to public health and environmental concerns.

Editor’s Note: Each Wednesday My Green Side brings Simple Tips for Green Living to The Christopher Gabriel Program. We also highlight a favorite green site each week. You can stream the segment at approximately 1020am (CDT) every Wednesday at WDAY.com. UPDATED TIME: Wendy’s segment is now live at 1220pm (central) starting the Fall of 2010.

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  1. Carole’s avatar

    Excellent article, Wendy! I know many wildlife rehabbers who treat many birds every year who have been poisoned by pesticides. Many of them do not survive. If it’s doing that to birds, I surely wouldn’t want my pets or kids exposed to these chemicals.

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