Natural Lawn Care 101
(If you haven’t already read my post on how we should have learned the dangers of these products from the Vietnam War’s Agent Orange attack, start by reading here: http://healthyfamiliesforgod.com/2011/04/what-do-the-vietnam-war-lawn-chemicals-have-in-common/).In case you’ve missed them, here are a few more facts everyone should know about lawn chemicals:
- Lawn care treatments are highly unregulated and consequently, homeowners regularly use five times more chemical fertilizers and herbicides than farms.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 80 million U.S. households dump nearly 90 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides on lawns in a year.
- Of 34 pesticides repeatedly applied commercially to lawns ten are well recognized carcinogens (cancer-causing).
- Workers who applied pesticides were found to have nearly three times the normal rate of brain cancer.
- A University of Iowa study of golf course superintendents found abnormally high rates of death due to cancer of the brain, large intestine, and prostate. Other experts are beginning to link golfers, and non-golfers who live near fairways, with these same problems.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (the 2nd fastest growing cancer in the U.S.) is linked to common herbicides and fungicides.
- Dogs whose owners use 2,4-D (a common weed killer) on their lawns are twice as likely to die of cancer.
- Fertilizers and pesticides from lawn runoff are highly damaging to the ecology of our streams, ponds, etc. In fact, algae “blooms” (rivers/lakes turning green) result from runoff of large amounts of chemical lawn treatments that in turn encourage algae growth in the lake. This effect also destroys fish and other wildlife.
- In 1989 the National Cancer Institute reported children develop leukemia six times more often when pesticides are used around their homes.
- In 1989, drinking water in at least 38 states was known to be contaminated. After the herbicide Dacthal was applied to Long Island golf courses, it was detected in drinking water wells at levels twenty times the State’s safety limits.
In the movie The World According to Monsanto, Dr. Robert Bell reports that “Round-Up provokes the first stages that lead to cancer.” In fact, this movie proposes that Round-Up’s toxicity was hidden to protect the development of GMO’s. (My blog post linked above also briefly describes GMO’s if you’d like more info on that.)
Natural and organic lawn treatments differ in ways other than human health. Because they do not create a “junkie” lawn that depends on the regular application of synthetic nutrients from chemical fertilizers, naturally-nourished lawns only need to be treated twice a year–once in the spring and once in the fall.
Here are some of the natural products/techniques recommended for these treatments:
Natural and/or organic fertilizers like Milorganite are becoming more and more readily available at large-chain home improvement stores. Their price is also surprisingly comparable to chemical fertilizers. These slow-release fertilizers are a good, general fertilizer that would be best applied twice yearly–once in the spring and again in the fall.
Be sure to remember, however, that some of these products, including Milorganite, do not contain any weed-killing properties and are meant to strictly strengthen soil and thicken grass. (See below for specific products that provide natural weed-killing properties.)
For more information on Milorganite and where to find it, go here: http://www.milorganite.com/homeowners/products.cfm
Aeration and Overseeding
A lawn with grass seed that is thick and lush will naturally drown out weeds and other plants. Consequently, a good technique for a weak lawn is to aerate and plant additional grass seed. This should be done in spring or fall when temperatures are cooler and water is plentiful. Fall is best.
A lawn that has been treated with chemicals for years may have biologically inactive soil. This condition prevents organic matter, like dead roots and leaves, from breaking down. The result: a layer of thatch that locks healthy growth. A simple aerating tool, or the spiked aeration sandals that strap onto shoes, make the job easy. For larger areas, you can rent a gasoline-powered aerator. Follow up by raking thatch and sprinkle with grass seed. Safe Lawns also has a good video on this here: http://www.safelawns.org/video.cfm
If you keep a compost pile, you can turn it into a nice little tea for your lawn or garden. By creating an aerating bucket, you can have fertilizer for almost no cost within days.
If you go to Safe Lawn’s video page here: http://www.safelawns.org/video.cfm , there is a wonderful video on how to do this. (It’s the second video down.)
I remember when our second house was getting the sod installed and an employee commented on the wonderful benefits of iron on a lawn. He said, “If I could just get bags of blood to put on my lawn, I’d be a happy guy!”
And then when I was pregnant and suffering from iron-deficiency anemia, I began taking a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. Suddenly it hit me–Could I just put molasses on my yard to green it up?!
Apparently so. Experts say molasses feeds microbes in the soil and increases tilth. Molasses is a good, quick source of energy for the various forms of microbes and soil life in a compost pile or good living soil. Molasses is a carbon source that feeds the beneficial microbes which create greater natural soil fertility.
Ask your local garden store employee if they carry horticulture-grade molasses in either granulated or liquid form. It can also be found at animal feed stores. Apply at a rate of 2 teaspoons in a gallon of water to soak an area of 250 square feet, or 40 pounds of granular molasses for a 2,500-square-foot lawn.
Corn Gluten Meal
You can suppress the growth of weed seeds early in the season by spreading corn gluten meal. Corn gluten meal, a by-product of corn processing that’s often used to feed livestock, inhibits the germination of seeds. It is safe enough to eat and to apply when children and pets are on the lawn.
Bear in mind, however, that once the weeds have gone beyond the sprout stage, corn gluten will not affect them. Consequently, it is crucial to apply it very early in the spring before weed seeds have had a chance to germinate.
Also, corn gluten doesn’t discriminate between seeds you want to sprout and those you don’t want, so avoid using corn gluten meal where and when you’ve sown seeds. If you’ve planted grass seed, you will need to wait six weeks before using corn gluten to avoid killing your new grass seed.
Many organic lawn fertilizers already contain corn gluten meal in conjunction with other natural products.
As an additional benefit, corn gluten meal provides one of the highest amounts of nitrogen, which many experts say is all your lawn really needs! So even if you apply it too late for weed control, it will help boost your grass.
The practice of “liming your lawn” is very cheap and effective. Without going into the scientific details (that I myself don’t quite understand), I’ll give you the nutshell. Studies of soil samples in various states showed the majority of lawns to have a low pH which adversely affects turf. Lime (from limestone) helps restore the lawn’s pH levels to an adequate point where grass can thrive.
While some experts say lime should only be applied after soil testing is done to verify low pH levels, you can ask your local garden store if soil levels in the area tend to have low pH levels.
To lime your lawn, I recommend lime pellets. When they are formed into pellets, lime products produce much less dust during application than other forms of lime lawn products. Lime can be applied at any time and should be done immediately after a soil test indicates a pH level below 6.2. Because it is a slow-acting treatment, the best time to apply it is in the fall when it will work over the winter to break down soil material.
Apply as directed on the package and water in after application. Do not apply within three weeks of applying a general fertilizer. Wait three to six months before re-applying if you decide to do so.
Vinegar works great at killing already-existing weeds! For more information on how to make your own all-natural vinegar weed spray, go here: http://fullofgreatideas.blogspot.com/2011/07/natural-weed-killer-made-with-basic.html
If your soil is poor (a testing kit can verify this), add one more feeding in summer or winter, depending on when the lawn is green. For example, Californian lawns may go dormant in summer during the long drought period, but green up during winter rains, so they would be fed during winter. Gardeners in the Northeast face a long, dormant winter, but enjoy summer thunderstorms that keep the lawn alive, so they could add a summer feeding.
A soil test can be done for usually around $15 by simply sending in soil samples to your local state horticulture department. In Minnesota, the U of M accepts mailed-in samples. For more information, you can check out the U of M’s details here: http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/howtosam.htm .
For landscaping and driveways, there are a few natural remedies for unwanted plant growth. They include vinegar, salt, and even Tabasco sauce. For full details, I recommend this article:
In addition to nourishing your lawn twice yearly, the following techniques will ensure your lawn stays healthy in between treatments:
Rather than watering a little every day, experts recommend that homeowners water deep and infrequently to encourage deeper, stronger roots. Give the grass a good soak (about an hour in each zone) once weekly.
Mow High & Leave The Clippings
This one’s self-explanatory. The lawn clippings act like a mini-fertilizer treatment every time you leave them on the grass. Also make sure your mower blade is sharp.
I have experimented with some of these techniques but due to the fact that our family is renting, we have decided not to invest very much money into our current home’s lawn. Consequently, some of the information resulted from many hours of research and not necessarily from personal experience. I encourage you to do your research. Go into your local garden center and talk to an experienced employee. Call an organic lawn care company. And visit http://www.safelawns.org/.
Together, we can have beautiful lawns without the grave side effects on our families and our neighbors!