By Heather O’Connor
I love dandelions. Maybe “love” is a strong word, but I really do like dandelions. I’m also a fan of what they represent: a chemical-free lawn.
Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood where most lawns are chemically treated and mine tends to stand out … especially at the height of dandelion season. I bite my lip, duck my head a little and wait for it to pass. Luckily, it’s fairly short-lived.
Let me say, I’m not exactly a tree hugger and I do appreciate the beauty of emerald-green lawns and well-manicured gardens. On the other hand, I’m even fonder of the health of our planet, not to mention the well-being of my kids and pets.
Therefore, the question I pose is this: are all the acres of green carpet really worth it?
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Homeowners use up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, and they spend more per acre, on average, to maintain their lawns than farmers spend per agricultural acre.” Likewise, a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found our environment to be riddled with pesticides. Roundup specifically was found in 75 percent of air and rain.
Why are all these chemicals necessary, again? Oh right, the dreaded dandelions.
Then, for those of us with eco-concerns, what are the options for healthy and attractive lawns? Luckily, there are several.
Go native. That can be our new mantra. Native plants and flowers (essentially, those which occur naturally in a given area) require less care (hooray!) and are more resistant to local pests, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides. Of equal importance, native plants meet the specific needs of native animals and native insects, thereby helping to keep nature in balance. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
So, now that we’re thinking native, where do we start planting? Well, we can consider devoting a portion of our yards to natural meadow, full of wildflowers and other native plants. Once established, such meadows would be nearly maintenance free (again, hooray!), requiring only single, late-winter mowings. As another option, we could dedicate a section of our yards to evergreen ground cover or a landscape element, such as a collection of trees, a rock garden or water feature. Also, by maximizing the plants per area in garden spaces, we can reduce the need for mulch and weed control. It’s a win for us and the environment!
Our lawns, too, can be made healthier, with some adjustments. In terms of mowing, making sure the blade is sharp, raising it to one of its highest settings, and avoiding cutting in the heat of the day, will protect grass from unnecessary damage and make it more pest and weed resistant. Don’t scrap those grass clippings, either. They can be spread over lawns to act as natural mulch. Other lawn-friendly practices include fertilizing with composted manure and avoiding overwatering. To earn additional earth kudos, we can try aerating the soil, balancing its pH and seeding it with a mix of the types of grasses best suited to the area. I found a wealth of information regarding soil testing, etc. at Penn State’s site http://extension.psu.edu/chester.
If, however, you are loyally devoted to using sprays and solutions, it’s best to opt for those with organic or biologically-based formulas. Remember, though, that the benefits of these treatments can be short lived and are actually likely to increase your lawn’s problems over time.
The choice is yours. As for me, I’ll be staying chemical free and learning to embrace the inevitable weeds. I may even try out a recipe for Dandelion Wine and, as long as my neighbors don’t mind picking their way through my au naturel lawn, they’ll be more than welcome to join me in a glass. We can raise a toast to the environment, together.
*I based much of this article on information provided by the National Wildlife Federation’s website (www.nwf.org), but there are countless resources out there, for homeowners whose brains are tinted slightly green, like mine.