GARDENING GODDESS: Greening your lawn

GARDENING GODDESS • BY KATHY JENTZ

We buy green cleaning products, eat organic veggies, and drink filtered water, but do you ever give any thought to the grass that you, your family, and pets play on everyday? Did you know that pesticides and fertilizers are not tested for their long-term effects on your health or the environment? Earth Day is this Sunday, April 22, and what better way to pay back Mother Nature for all she has provided to you than to convert to organic lawn practices?

There are between 40 and 50 million acres of turf in the US alone, and pesticide and fertilizer applications to this ground can be three to six times that of agricultural land.

A national campaign for safe lawn care practice, SafeLawns.org, was launched about 10 years ago on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol here on the Mall in Washington, DC. Experts from industry, government, health organizations, and environmental activists gathered to kick off a public education initiative. They issued a challenge to day cares, grade schools, universities, and companies across the US to discontinue the use of chemicals on their lawns.

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Pesticides and fungicides aren’t safe for people, pets, or even the planet. Eliminate the need for harmful garden chemicals by pampering your plants with healthy, nutrient-rich soil from the get go. “Healthy soil, rich in minerals, nutrients and ‘good bugs’, maximizes a plant’s own healthy immune system to let it naturally resist pests and diseases,” says outdoor living trend-spotter and garden guru Susan McCoy, founder of Garden Media Group, a public relations firm specialized in all things gardening. Compost your own or look for organic potting soils like Organic Mechanics (organicmechanicsoil.com) available at Whole Foods stores and local garden centers.

According to Ethne Clarke, former garden editor of Traditional Home, “Most gardens have lawns, and in some cases the lawn IS the garden.” She suggests mowing less frequently and cutting the grass longer so the top growth protects the roots. And water less frequently to force the roots to go deeper, which keeps them cooler and less susceptible to dry spell damage. She recommends using cornmeal or diatomaceous earth as an insecticide and pulling weeds before they set seed. For tough lawns, use a soil conditioner with good micro-organisms and aerate to encourage soil health. Try compost tea or worm castings tea for an easy spray on solution without back-breaking work.

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Recently, organic lawn care consultant Chip Osborne was invited by the town of Takoma Park, MD, to present a program on natural turf management for lawn care professionals. Chip maintains that organic methods equal proactive management.

“Organic does not mean substituting chemical inputs one-for-one, nor does it mean subtracting all chemicals and just letting it go,” said Osborne. “It is about a systemic approach to get your soil healthy so that turf lawn is strong enough to fight off weeds and plant pathogens.”

Osborne maintains that, “Nature has put everything in place that we need to grow healthy grass. Our job is to optimize that system and to stop practices that compromise it.”

Osborne recommends studying basic soil biology and abandoning applications “by the calendar.” He maintains that conventional turf management treats the systems, but does not address the core causes of lawn issues. “Be patient,” he advises. “It takes many years for a lawn to recover from conventional turf grass management methods.”

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By going organic, not only will you be doing the right thing environmentally, you can also add to the value of your home! That’s right, a program for “kid safe lawn” certification was started by realtors, so that when you buy or sell a home you can be certain that the lawn has not been treated with dangerous chemicals.

Having a natural lawn will also be helping the health of yourself, your children, and your pets. In addition, to those benefits going organic can also save money, help wildlife, reduce pollution, and conserve our limited resources.

About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.