by Wendy Gabriel
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 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 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.
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.
Here’s a handy tip I got from my Mom: If you have weeds growing where you don’t want them (say, if they are peaking out from your mulch) pour vinegar, lemon juice or boiling water on them. Make sure the liquid only goes where you don’t want vegetation of any kind because it does not discriminate; it kills everything. Incidentally, boiling water also took care of a ground bee situation we had (again, a Mom tip). I waited until after dark, when the bees were back in their nest, and poured the biggest pot of boiling water I could carry on them and then ran for my life. I repeated the process the next evening . . . just in case. Problem solved without calling an exterminator.
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.
Portions originally posted May 10, 2008