Enjoy Spring, Your Lawn Without Sacrificing Your Health

A look at how the chemicals and machinery we use in attaining the perfect lawn have made us ill.

Ahhh, the sights and sounds of spring! Birds are singing their beautiful songs. Fragrant, eye popping blooms are all around. If you’re like me, after the long New England winter, you love to go outside and get your hands dirty, uncover the grill, or kick around a ball.

Looking at a myriad of gardening tools and tips – one thing is clear: the application of toxic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides where we eat, play and relax has some unintended and alarming consequences.

An increasing number of studies show a correlation between lower IQ and exposure to chemicals, as well as ADHD, certain cancers and other serious ailments. I’m also skeptical about using a product, which requires a hazardous materials warning label and makes it unsafe to be around.

A perfectly manicured lawn comes at a price often not advertised by the manufacturer of Roundup, which not only creates an unsafe area for humans, but also creates ecological deserts.

What can you do to limit exposure? Skip the big box stores and head-on down to support your local nursery and garden store like Mahoney’s, Russell’s and Needham Garden Center, where you’ll get expert advice and access to many organic soil amendments. Some of the popular alternatives to Scott’s 4-Step Plan are Organica 4-Step Organic Lawn Program, Neptune's Harvest Organic Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer and Jonathan Green Organic 4-Step Program.

A natural approach to lawn and garden care – also means looking at native plants that require little care and water after they have been established. Hardy, native, low-maintenance grasses such as those found in Pearl’s Premium lawn seed are a great alternative to the water-hogging seeds packaged by commercial varieties that are not climate tested.

Using native flowers, shrubs and trees also provides food and shelter to (beneficial) insects and birds that can be a part of your Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy to help keep unwanted visitors at bay. Soil fertility and biological diversity is not something that comes out of a spray bottle – as with most other things in life, there are no quick fixes.

Another unwelcomed sight (and sound) of spring are leaf-blowers, whose noise and air pollution have slowly creeped into our suburban lawn-care routine. Though it may seem like they are effective tools they are actually causing a lot of harm. Road dust containing heavy metals from spent auto fuel, fine particulate matter and mold spores from leaf and yard litter contribute to and trigger asthma attacks and other negative environmental impacts.

In addition to air pollution, they contribute to noise pollution that has been shown to increase stress, anxiety and decrease the quality of life. Walking in the dust bowl created in the wake of blowers is not pleasant either – creating a dis-incentive for us to enjoy the outdoors, as no one wants to be covered in dust. Because most leaf-blowers are gas powered and contain zero pollution controls, the workers, neighbors and other bystanders breathe in carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide that are criteria pollutants and contribute to smog formation.

Luckily, if this is not how we want to enjoy our yards, we have a choice. In his book, Second Nature, Michael Pollan reminds us that lawns should not be artificial, chemically-supported, untouchable landscapes, but rather that we should enjoy our yards  for their aesthetics, relaxation and practical reasons.

This spring, I encourage you to consider organic lawn treatment options (especially if you have children who put things into their mouths). Instead of blowing dust onto your neighbor’s house, ask your landscaper to use a rake or better yet do it yourself and skip the stuffy gym.

If you have not yet experienced the satisfaction of snipping some fresh parsley or plucking a red tomato off a vine, perhaps this is the year to give gardening a try. Maybe you will plant a butterfly garden that attracts Monarchs, or feeds cardinals and other birds with berries in the winter?

By learning more about how the health of our environment affects our health, we can begin to make choices that are better for us and the environment. A perfect lawn should not come at the expense of our health – besides, a few dandelions never killed anyone!


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