Protect your children and pets through organic lawn care

The Westlake-Bay yard waste recycling facility on Ranney Parkway turns leaves and brush into organic leaf humus and wood chips, available for sale to residents. Photo by Dave Rencehausen

With the arrival of spring expected any day now, our lawns will need some attention. This is a great time of year to plan for an organic lawn solution. Pesticides and other lawn chemicals are more toxic than most people realize.

Beyond Pesticides is a nonprofit organization that works with organizations including cities, counties and schools to lead the transition to a world which is free of toxic pesticides. This is needed to protect the public health and the environment.

According to Barry Zucker, executive director of Beyond Pesticides Ohio, many of the commonly used lawn pesticides and other chemicals are linked to serious health problems such as cancer, birth defects, liver or kidney damage, neurotoxicity, and/or disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Children are particularly susceptible to these toxins because they are growing rapidly and have a decreased ability to detoxify toxins.

A growing body of evidence shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child's neurological, respiratory, immune and endocrine systems, even at low levels. When used on a lawn or playing field, these toxins can leach into drinking water sources and are frequently detected in ground water.

So what should you do if you’d like to transition to an organic lawn? This is a great time of year to begin planning the change. Fortunately, there are proven safe, effective and affordable ways to maintain attractive lawns and playable fields without the use of toxic pesticides and other chemicals.

Dan Norris, a Certified Turfgrass Professional with Good Nature Organic Lawn Care, recommends testing your soil to see what kind of nutrients are needed. Per Norris, it is also important to have good competitive grass types for your lawn conditions, whether it’s shady or sunny. Over-seeding with a tall fescue is recommended. 

In spring, Norris suggests using a fertilizer with a natural pre-emergent corn gluten meal. This will naturally fertilize your lawn and help to prevent crabgrass and other weeds.

Fall or late summer is a good time to apply an organic compost material to the lawn. The cities of Bay Village and Westlake share a compost facility on Ranney Parkway, where all leaves and brush picked up by city crews are composted into leaf humus or shredded into wood chips. Bay residents may purchase the leaf humus and wood chips by calling the Bay Service Garage at 440-871-1221. Westlake residents must first purchase a receipt for material at City Hall, 27700 Hilliard Blvd. Leaf humus is a great thing to spread on the lawn to increase the organic matter and retain moisture.

It is important to make sure there is enough oxygen for the grass roots. This can be accomplished by aerating one to two times per year. Per Norris, you can aerate with either a liquid aeration or use core aeration to get more oxygen to the roots of the grass.

One of the most important things you can do, according to Norris, is to make sure to mow your grass high. Mowing high promotes more root growth. The taller the grass, the deeper the root, for a naturally healthier lawn. Tall grass also shades out other weeds and helps prevent them from germinating. The grass blades should be at least 3-4 inches long during the mowing season. You should also mulch your clippings. Many people feel that if you don’t bag your clippings it will cause thatch – this is not the case but it is a common misconception. The last mowing of the year can be lower to reduce the possibility of snow mold. Mower blades should be kept sharpened to lessen likelihood of disease problems.

So, what are some of the newer trends?  Norris observes that some homeowners over-seed their lawn with a micro clover to add a natural nitrogen fertilizer to the soil. The micro clover also stays green throughout the summer, needs minimal watering, and serves to discourage other broadleaf weeds from germinating.

Organic lawn care can cost a bit more initially, but usually saves costs over time since a healthy lawn will thrive naturally and needs less care. And, you can sleep well at night with the knowledge that your children and pets are not being exposed to potentially toxic chemicals when they play on the lawn. What price are you willing to pay for that?

Brenda OReilly

Co-Chair of the Bay Village Green Team

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Volume 6, Issue 6, Posted 9:20 AM, 03.18.2014