I attended the NEIWPCC conference in Saratoga Springs, New York, last week. Although I have known of the dangers and environmental effects of pesticide use on lawns for years, the keynote speaker, Paul Tukey, really drove the message home loud and clear: Lawn chemicals are most often unnecessary and almost always harmful to public health and the environment. Such chemicals have been linked to skin problems, cancer, and respiratory issues, and are directly related to phosphorus overload in the nation’s waterways.
Tukey, founder of SafeLawns.org and author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual, knows of the perils firsthand. He established a lawn care business in his late twenties and, as he freely admits, built the business on applying massive amounts of pesticides to lawns to make them as “green” as possible (green as in the color, definitely not the environmental benefits). One day, Tukey wasn’t feeling very well and went to his doctor to discuss his symptoms, which he believed were stress-related. What he learned was that he had acute chemical sensitivity as a result of the lawn care pesticides he and his employees were applying. From that day on, he has been consistently questioning and advocating against the use of lawn care pesticides. “Why,” Tukey asked the audience, “are we putting poisons down in the name of aesthetic beauty?” Most likely because a green lawn is a badge of honor in many neighborhoods and, in some cases, is required by law. Not having a green lawn is seen as neglect. Also, the lawn chemical industry is in the business of pushing us to buy these chemicals; and even more, these chemicals work. Grass is really green, and weeds disappear. These products are darned effective.
He describes the “more-on” approach as the way the majority of Americans go about tending their lawn: The more fertilizer and water that are put on a lawn, the greener and more lush that lawn will be. Not so, says Tukey. Most of the fertilizer ends up in storm drains when it rains, and as for water, grass does not need to be watered more than once a week at the most. This more-on approach is costly to both your wallet and the planet.
So what should you do? If you are using chemical fertilizers on your lawn, you are not alone. According to Tukey, 90 percent of American homeowners do. But it is an easy switch to organic lawn care--you just have to educate yourself. Follow these simple steps to attain a truly “green” lawn. And companies and states are helping out too: some companies are voluntarily removing chemicals from their products, and some states are going as far as banning the use of phosphorus in chemical fertilizers.
How do you care for your lawn? Do you have any tips to “green” a lawn care routine?