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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Chemical-Free Lawns - Good for People, Pets and Nature

Aug 09, 2011 10:15AM

by Paul Tukey

With cooler weather just around the corner, late August through October is an ideal time to tackle the annual rejuvenation of any lawn and consider renovating it into a healthier and more sustainable landscape. But before heading out the door for the next round of seed, soil, conventional fertilizer and all manner of weed and insect sprays, it’s good to know that a major positive overhaul is underway at our local garden centers. Synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides are being cast aside in favor of natural, organic materials.

“Organics is by far the fastest growing sector of the lawn and garden industry,” says Bruce Butterfield, who researches the market for the National Gardening Association. The message is clear: Today’s parents don’t want their children rolling around in potentially poisonous substances, and fortunately, manufacturers are listening.

Here are just a few of the kinder, gentler products available this coming season:

Fertilizers – As many as 20 states, especially those with numerous lakes or prominent oceanfront, are actively legislating the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen permitted in lawn fertilizers. Scotts Miracle-Gro, the world’s largest chemical fertilizer and lawn pesticide company, will voluntarily remove phosphorus from lawn fertilizers nationwide, beginning in 2012. Companies like Espoma already are offering 100 percent organic options made from plant and animal byproducts that are not prone to leaching.

Weed killers – Since 1967, when the Masters golf tournament was broadcast live in color nationwide for the first time, a toxic herbicide known as 2,4-D—a major component of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange—has been the primary weed-killing ingredient used to give homeowners a “fairway front lawn.” Today the substance, banned in much of Canada, has come under increased scrutiny in the United States. In its place, a product known as Fiesta instead utilizes the gentler option of naturally occurring iron to keep weeds under control while allowing grass to grow.

Insecticides and Fungicides – What is designed to kill one lifeform almost always also poses negative consequences for other lifeforms. Increasing evidence from major research institutions from the American Academy of Pediatrics to Harvard University linking pest killers to childhood diseases such as attention deficit disorders and autism has amped up the demand for safe alternatives. Products like EcoSmart, with insect killers made from food-grade ingredients; and Actinovate, a natural fungicide that gently removes black spot, fairy ring, brown patch and dollar spot; are meeting the demand.

Enlightened homeowners are further embracing the notion that the whole landscape need not be grass. Native plants, which generally require less fertilizer and water than import species, are better for the environment, as well as natural animal life.

Paul Tukey is a pioneering author of the bestselling The Organic Lawn Care Manual: A Natural, Low-Maintenance System for a Beautiful, Safe Lawn. His nonprofit educational website is

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