Steward – January 2019

Another doping scandal… in your yard

by Cheryl Gross Advanced Extension Master Gardener

You have read the headlines about performance enhancing drugs in baseball and cycling.  The improvements to performance are temporary and the dangers are significant. Well, homeowners have been engaged in “doping’” their lawns and gardens for years and don’t even realize it.   Most lawn “care’” products- – fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides- -act a lot like performance enhancing drugs. They may make your lawn “look” better, but the results are temporary and the side effects are serious.

Any plant, whether a lawn or landscape bed, needs nutritious soil and the appropriate amount of sunlight and moisture to thrive. The soil is the “diet” of the plant.  It needs good food. The nutritious soil comes from organic material. When we fertilize, we give it a vitamin at best and a steroid at worst. We do not really “feed” the plant for strength and vitality.  A healthy lawn can compete fairly with the weeds and, for the most part, choke them out. A lawn on “steroids” can only compete as long as the grass plant has the chemical in its system.

Herbicides kill plants.  Used selectively they can be very useful in eradicating nuisance or harmful plants, such as poison ivy, from our lawns or environment.  Used broadly, they may miss the target and leave harmful chemicals in our yards to be spread to our kids, pets and tracked into our houses.  We don’t fully know the affect these chemicals have on us, but there is plenty of research looking into it.

Pesticides kill insects and animals.  Again, there may be a place for selective pesticide use.  However, broad use of pesticides may result in harming or killing beneficial insects and animals.  How soon after application is it “safe” for a child to play or an animal to lie on a treated lawn? No one really knows.

While it is your decision to use lawn care services or do it yourself and follow a manufacturer’s step plan, have you considered where these chemicals go once applied to your lawn?  They can both float on the breeze and runoff into our watershed. You and your neighbors breathe the chemical residue. The creeks, rivers, and lakes receive the excess. The plants and animals in the water are affected by the runoff.  Before you invest in any lawn or garden chemical, stop and think about it. Does your lawn really need to have artificial vitality? Do a few weeds really cause such offense? Is killing a few insects worth the risk?

Instead, look into ways to improve your lawn and garden diet.  Add composted organic material to feed your plants. Strengthen the entire ecosystem to encourage the plants you desire and discourage weeds.  Use only targeted herbicides and pesticides and be sure they are worth the effort and expense. Finally, seek out organically friendly products that address your needs without contributing to problems downstream.

Help is out there.  Contact your local conservation district, Master Gardeners, organic gardening center, or garden club.  Learn more about weaning your yard from chemical dependency and protecting our environment.


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