Going Natural: The Whys and Hows

Too often, childhood pastimes like playing sports, rolling down a grassy hill, or running barefoot on the lawn bring children into direct contact with dangerous lawn care products like weed-killers and synthetic fertilizers. These chemicals don’t just stay outside; they can be tracked indoors by people and pets where they adhere to carpets, home furnishings, and even  dust, creating additional hazards. Studies have linked the use of lawn pesticides to an increased risk of childhood cancers such a soft-tissue sarcoma and brain cancers by 2 to 6 times the expected rates.  In addition, of the 30 pesticides most commonly used on lawns and landscapes, 16 are toxic to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms, 11 are toxic to bees, and 11 are endocrine disruptors .

One of the best ways to reduce exposure to these toxic and contaminating chemicals is to transition to natural lawn care practices.  Natural lawn care cultivates healthy soil by addressing the core needs of the grass plant.  A well-established, naturally maintained lawn creates a self-sustaining system which is healthier and stronger than those maintained conventionally, especially in time of drought.  However, natural lawn care is NOT no lawn care. It requires good practices to be adopted and maintained throughout the life of the lawn. One of the first courses of action is to abandon “weed and feed” products.  Many people do not realize that these products are a combination of toxic pesticides and quick releasing synthetic fertilizers.  Replace them with natural fertilizers such as compost, compost tea, alfalfa meal or other slow releasing fertilizers.  Use pesticides only when necessary and select hand-pulling or other more natural methods.  Take a look at the Midwest Grows Green Guide: A Guide to Growing Environmentally Friendly Lawns & Gardens for more detailed tips on keeping weeds in check.

Here are some more basic tips everyone can follow to create safer, healthier lawns:

  1. Leave your lawn clippings on the ground. Clippings act as a natural fertilizer, returning 30-40% of a lawn’s total nutrient needs back to the soil.
  2. Remove 1/3 or less of a grass leaf when cutting.
  3. Seed your lawn with clover – it naturally puts nitrogen back in the soil and attracts pollinators.
  4. Replace your lawn with a no-mow grass, like buffalo grass.
  5. Know your organic soil amendments and what nutrients and minerals they put in your soil.  See our guide here.



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