Safer Lawn Care Options Are On the Way
We ripped out our lawn over the last few years, and we don’t miss it one bit. Sparse and full of creeping Charlie and other weeds, it was ugly even before our dog Lily peed all over it and killed off spots one by one. I do realize, though, that a lot of people like turf grass and, even if they don’t, they’re not keen on ripping all of it up to put in gardens that they have to care for.
But what to do about all of those weeds? The truth is, if grass gets enough sun and is kept well-watered (about an inch each week); mowed to a slightly higher height of about 3 inches, which helps shade out weeds; and fertilized even once each year, it will grow fairly well and suffer few weed and disease problems. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the difference these simple things can make, so they hire lawn care services to come and keep their yards looking good.
Having observed these services in action all over my neighborhood, I have to say, the results aren’t so hot. Trucks show up, guys jump out, and they promptly mow the grass right down to the nub. Then, they douse the scalped grass with all kinds of chemicals, including herbicides that usually contain 2,4-D. Popular because it’s cheap and easy to use, 2,4-D was concocted by scientists during World War II. It was one of the components of Agent Orange. And it is effective when it comes to killing things like clover, thistle and creeping Charlie, but it has remained controversial since it was released for public use in 1946.
Though the EPA says there is not enough data to conclude that the herbicide may pose some cancer risk, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified 2,4-D as being a substance that may cause cancer in humans. Studies are divided on both sides with many scientists being of the opinion that 2,4-D may be carcinogenic, particularly in the case of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Even when these chemicals have dried, there is debate about when it is safe to come in contact with grass that has been treated with the herbicide. (You know how often you see those signs warning people and pets to stay off the grass until dry.)
Many countries have banned the use of 2,4-D. But thanks in part to the lobbying efforts of large chemical companies, we have not. Still, lawn care companies are aware that people have concerns about this and other herbicides. I know that because I called several companies this summer and asked specifically whether they used 2,4-D. Nearly every company said some version of: “No, well, yes, but we’re phasing it out.” No one could tell me when, however. And I will point out that I made these same phone calls two years ago and got the same answer. Why phase out something that works and keeps profits high when only a few customers are complaining about its use?
So, fine. Let them continue to offer lawn care services that could potentially cause harm to people (especially kids who play on the grass), pets and the environment. We can make safer choices. There are a few local companies that offer organic lawn care services, such as Giving Tree Gardens. And happily, Espoma, which already offers many quality organic garden and lawn products, will be introducing a new “organic lawn food program” in 2013. They say they are “reinventing” lawn care and they claim: “You’ll see why lawn care won’t be anything like before.”
I sure hope that’s true. Click on the creepy image below to see Espoma’s powerful, goosebump-inducing promo for the new products.
I’ll be writing more on safe lawn care options in the next few months, and I’m working on a chart that explains what a lot of the ingredients in the concoctions used by several local lawn companies actually are. Not surprisingly, some of the organic ingredients sound healthy and good, but are really pretty much snake oil. And as is the case with food labeling, some of the things billed as “natural” and “organic” are not.