Organic Lawn Care | Gardening Solutions
Homeowners can have plush, thick, green grass without the chemicals, Tukey adds, and they shouldn’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. “If organic lawn care doesn’t work, Todd Harrington’s doing it with green spray paint,” he quips. “He has more than 1,000 clients, with some of the most beautiful lawns I’ve seen in the world, and he’s doing it organically.”
Professionals need a license to apply some of the same herbicides and pesticides used routinely by homeowners, which is scary for several reasons. For one thing, pesticides suffer from wanderlust; they have a tendency to drift onto other lawns and into waterways. About 98 percent of the weed killer applied to lawns in the U.S. leaks into streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater. “And a lot of these chemicals don’t break down quickly, particularly if they’re carried inside [on people’s shoes],” adds VPIRG’s Ben Davis. “They may persist in their after-state for months.”
Trace amounts of pesticides were found in the wells of some homeowners who didn’t use chemicals, says a study by Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI) of North Haven, Connecticut. “If pesticides are used somewhere in a town, they can end up in someone else’s groundwater,” notes Nancy Alderman, EHHI president.
In addition, pesticides attack native microorganisms and plants, which help keep thatch under control. (Thatch is a mostly undesirable collection of roots and rhizomes between grass and soil that may host insects and disease.) “It’s amazing how Mother Nature has designed this unique food web,” says Harrington, cofounder with Tukey of Safelawns and Landscapes LLC, an organic lawn, tree, and shrub care service. “When it’s in harmony, this orchestra is working collectively.”
In towns around Lake Champlain and throughout New England, the problem is particularly prevalent in the form of phosphorus, a main ingredient in most synthetic lawn fertilizers. The excess finds its way into lakes, where it encourages the growth of blue-green algae blooms, which can be toxic to humans, fish, and pets.
As for Richard and Darlene, they’ll keep treating their lawn naturally. They’re not the only ones to feel the difference. “I notice now, after a couple of summers, that we have frogs, crickets, and toads all over the place,” observes Darlene. “I’d forgotten that these animals are common in the country.” It’s funny what a little nature can bring out.