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Organic Lawn Care | Gardening Solutions

Organic Lawn Care | Gardening Solutions
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Five tips for organic lawn care

Richard Shasteen, retired from a long career as a project manager for IBM, is ferociously proud of the lawn surrounding the home he shares with his wife, Darlene, in Milton, Vermont, on the edge of Lake Champlain.

And he should be: The grass is about as green as green gets, soft as a blanket, with nary a weed in sight.

“We draw our drinking water right from the lake,” Richard says. “We swim in the lake all summer long, too.” A few years ago, Richard and Darlene began to feel uncomfortable with their lawn care practices, which involved service from a national company that treated the grass indiscriminately with pesticides and herbicides promising problem-free growth.

“I hated the way they put signs up on the lawn and told me not to let any children or animals walk on the grass,” says Darlene. “What about the birds and the squirrels?” The Shasteens switched to NaturaLawn of America, a nationally franchised company that provides organic lawn care and integrated pest management, and they couldn’t be happier.

Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), a watchdog and advocacy organization in Montpelier, and SafeLawns, a Maine-based nonprofit foundation, are busily spreading the word to homeowners that many of their lawn care practices are doing more harm than good. “The most basic piece of information we’d like to transmit is that lawn chemicals are inherently hazardous,” says Ben Davis, an environmental advocate at VPIRG.

Part of the problem, Davis contends, is that “consumers have been conditioned to purchase a product to solve a problem.” And as any hardware store circular will happily demonstrate, for every lawn care problem there’s a chemical solution: Got grubs? Spread this! Crabgrass? Spread that! The problem with chemically based systems is that those compounds kill earthworms and beneficial insects, too. Lawns need nutrient-rich soil to resist drought, weeds, and pests. Trying to keep a lawn green with synthetic fertilizers is like drinking high-test coffee while skipping the food.

Most of our nation’s 50 million acres of lawn are grown with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which are known to pollute soil and water, and to cause health problems in both people and animals, according to SafeLawns, cofounded in 2007 by Paul Tukey, publisher of People, Places & Plants magazine, cohost of the HGTV show by the same name, and author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual (Storey Publishing, 2007, $19.95).

“Americans are spreading millions of tons of toxic materials and wasting enormous amounts of fossil fuels, all in the name of having a beautiful lawn,” says Tukey. “Our mission is to show people that you can have that nice lawn without the toxic and wasteful side effects.” Tukey himself is a former professional landscaper who switched from synthetic to organic methods after becoming ill.

SafeLawns is working to educate society about the benefits of organic lawn care and gardening, with the goal of getting one million acres of turf organic by 2010. The foundation is working nationally to convince schools, colleges, and corporations to eliminate the use of lawn chemicals; to get state and local governments nationwide to follow Connecticut’s lead by adopting laws that prohibit lawn care pesticides on day care center and school grounds; and to urge real estate developers to switch to organic lawn care.

SafeLawns put its claims on display in Washington, D.C., last fall by taking over the care of a fenced-in four-acre area of the National Mall; the fence came down in late March, the grass is lush, and the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency will now begin a two-year evaluation of comparison test plots before deciding whether to expand organic practices to all NPS land.

Richard Shasteen and grandson Alex head out for a few hours of work and play.
Photo/Art by Rich Pomerantz
Richard Shasteen and grandson Alex head out for a few hours of work and play.

Americans must redefine their image of the “perfect” lawn, says the man who helped write the nation’s first organic lawn care standards. A healthy lawn that’s weed- and pest-resistant may contain a little clover or moss, says SafeLawns cofounder Todd Harrington, who has owned an organic lawn care business in Connecticut for 20 years. And that’s okay.

Updated Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

8 Responses to Organic Lawn Care | Gardening Solutions

  1. Michele Ventola June 2, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    There were no tips for natural lawn care in this article.

  2. Nancy Ridgeway June 3, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    In the 50’s growing up in Vermont I had a neighbor who used sheep manure on his lawn. It was green and lush but the smell kept us all inside for weeks. I, too, was looking for some tips.

  3. Ruth Canessa June 3, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    Where are the tips?

  4. Ann LeBlanc June 4, 2009 at 7:05 am #

    According to this article one has to hire another lawn service company to get the organic care. Why not hints on how to do it yourself? Lawn care service is expensive no matter what product they use.It just makes more sense to use an organic product for protecting the envirenment…..

  5. Angela Bird June 4, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    At the top, under the By-line, there is a link for some tips. There’s also a link
    for Regional Resources.

  6. Sterling Halsey June 6, 2009 at 9:08 am #

    No Tips as promised,no sale

  7. jacki wilmot April 18, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    they don’t want to educate us, they want us to use their company. I’m with Ann, ” a do it yourself ” lawncare and gardener.

  8. Scott Brown October 24, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    So many times I come upon a lawn treated by either homeowner or another lawn company, to find visible signs of moss growing on the surface of the soil. As an FYI to readers anytime – ANY time you see moss, it is purely indicative of the pH being too acidic. The rule being, if moss can grow, usually grass cannot.

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