The high price of grass

The high price of grass

by Nate Furler, Marketing Specialist

Every year, as estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency, 80 million U.S. households dump nearly 90 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides on their lawn.  Likewise, every summer in the Gulf of Mexico, an area roughly the size of Connecticut is choked with algae and phytoplankton blooms.  Runoff of phosphorous fertilizer, transported to and through the Mississippi River from 31 states between the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains, accumulates in this location.  The resulting “Dead Zone” as it is called, is an area void of oxygen sufficient enough to support sea life other than the massive swathes of algae and phytoplankton.

But, let’s back up and explore the potential risks that these chemicals pose to my neighbors (and friends) Simon, Thomas, Nick, Patrick, and Ben.  Along with our four-legged friends Jake, Bear, Katie, Will, and Shadow.

The National Academy of Sciences reports 50 percent of contact with pesticides occurs within the first five years of life.  According to a summary put together by the Pesticide Action Network, a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested 9,000 people where scientists found evidence of pesticides in every subject.  Furthermore, concentrations increased the younger the person’s age.  The CDC stresses that measureable amounts of pesticides do not mean you will become sick.  But, is it worth the gamble when the potential human risks include cancer, Parkinson’s disease, damage to the endocrine system, asthma, thyroid disease and miscarriage?  Let’s also remember that kids are not simply small adults.  They interact with their environment in different ways.  They spend more time outdoors on average and typically put things in their mouths that aren’t food – like the occasional handful of dirt.

Chemical companies stress that their products are safe when used properly, but when is the last time you followed the directions on that container of fertilizer – to the letter?  More equals better, right?  Not to mention when you get into “weed and feed” mixtures, you are sprinkling both chemicals on all parts of your lawn, not just the areas in need.  This automatically leads to excess application and consequentially, buildup and runoff.  As well, according to an EPA-funded study on 2, 4-D, after being tracked indoors, the chemical can expose children, pets, and adults to levels ten times higher than pre-application levels.

Common groups of lawn chemicals include: organophosphates (Chloryprifos and Diazinon), carbamates, phenoxy and benzoic acid herbicides (2,4-D, MCPP, and MCPA), Pyrethroids (Permethrin and Resmethrin), and organochlorines (PCBs, PCE, and DDT).  Their effects on animals alone include muscle tremors, seizures, depression, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue, dermatitis, vomiting, excess salivation, miosis (pinpoint pupils), increased risk of cancer and death.

So, what’s the solution?   Here are a few tips that I hope you will use this year instead of potentially harmful chemicals.

Leave the clippings

Grass clippings break down  and return nutrients to the soil. Use a mulching mower for faster decomposition.

Fertilize with compost tea

Compost tea is easily made by steeping organic compost in water.  Simply drain and sprinkle the water on your lawn for a healthy and natural boost of nutrients.  Mix the remaining solids into your flower or vegetable garden.  Like any fertilizer, you can overdo it.  As always follow the directions on the label of any organic fertilizer closely.  In general the recommendation is to apply a low dose in early fall and in mid-spring only if necessary.

Water carefully

In the summer, lawns account for 40 to 60 percent of the average residential water usage.  Deep watering roughly every two weeks is better than light and frequent watering.  Deep watering helps the roots dig deeper to ensure a better root system and natural source for water.  Watering in the morning may also help prevent fungal disease and reduces evaporation loss.

Thicken your lawn

Spread grass seed over existing lawn to improve the thickness of your lawn.  Thick and healthy grass means fewer weed seeds because of lack of space to germinate.  Make sure to plant grass seed labeled for your specific growing conditions and climate region.

Cut High

Mowing cool-season grass 3 inches high is just as effective as using herbicides to suppress crabgrass, if not more so, according to research from the University of Maryland.

Try Corn Gluten Meal

Not only does the ten percent nitrogen content of corn gluten act as a great slow-release fertilizer, but corn gluten also acts to suppress the germination of many common weed seeds.  Technically, the amino acids in the protein of the corn gluten inhibit the seed’s ability to develop feeder roots or root systems.  Also note that this product is used as a pre-emergent herbicide, ideal for established lawns and preventing weed seeds from taking root.  If used with grass seed, it will prevent the growth of the grass seed as well.

Finally, put up with a few dandelions for crying out loud.  Young children plucking spent dandelions and blowing the seeds into the wind is a sight more beautiful than perfection.