Pesticides pose an unjustifiable risk to children, rivers, and streams. We urge grounds staff, lawn care professionals, and homeowners to simply remove pesticides (weed killers, insecticides, and fungicides) from their management plan. With minimal maintenance and regular mowing, lawns managed without weed killers are just as aesthetically pleasing as treated lawns, while providing some great benefits.
- Cost savings
- Conservation of local streams and pollinators
It may be the case that once weed killers are eliminated, a diversity of plants — in addition to grass — will begin to flourish, creating a healthier, Good Neighbor lawn. Remember, dandelions and violets will not harm anyone, but weed killers do.
In Ontario, Canada, where cosmetic use of lawn pesticides have been banned (since 2008), people have learned to live with diverse lawns. Additionally, New York and Connecticut school grounds, including athletic fields, cannot legally be treated with pesticides.
Managing A Healthy Lawn
Depending on your taste, there is a spectrum of lawn management strategies, ranging from low management (basic lawn, park, home) to high management (athletic fields).
Here are 5 considerations for basic lawn management without pesticides (any lawn care company can do these for you):
- Mowing tall: Mow higher (no shorter than 3”) so that grass develops strong roots to compete against weeds.
- Over-seed and add compost periodically: In Iowa, late Aug-Sept are the best times. If there are bare areas, rough them up and seed them.
- Healthy weed control: Pulling and digging can be hard work, but it’s healthy! Remove plants before they reseed.
- Aeration and compost: Areas with very high foot traffic, or athletic fields, are often highly compacted. Aeration (followed by overseeding) and compost application will break up compacted soil and allow turf grass to more easily grow.
- Reduce and convert: In general lawn areas, consider converting certain areas into native Iowa prairie plants or rain gardens. Shrubbery and trees may also be a viable choice that provide many benefits, including wildlife habitat! Reducing the size of a lawn may reduce maintenance work and cost, while beautifying your property.
Also consider welcoming, and maybe even seeding, clover in your lawn. It is drought tolerant, durable, and great for soil health.
For more information, check out the Midwest Pesticide Action Center’s awesome resources.
Know Your Pesticides – What to Avoid
While many pesticide-free alternatives are organic, pesticides are often referred to as synthetic organic compounds. If your goal is to maintain a lawn free from herbicides and insecticides, it’s important to always read the labels of the products you use and to learn the names of common pesticide compounds. If you contract with a lawn care company, make sure to ask them about their practices and what, if any, chemicals they may use. Many “Weed and Feed” fertilizers have a combination of the herbicides 2,4-D, Dicamba, and MCPP and/or MCPA listed as active ingredients. Active ingredients are the biologically “active” and is what kills the insect, weed, or fungus. A common grub killer for urban use is a neonicotinoid insecticide (a class of chemicals especially harmful to bees) called imidacloprid.
While there are many other pesticides to avoid in a pesticide-free lawn, these are the most common. Avoiding these pesticides will help keep our environment, and children, safe.
Generally, active ingredients make up a small percentage of the overall product (around 2-3%), so what’s in the rest of your lawn pesticides? “Other ingredients” or “inert ingredients” are typically compounds (sometimes called surfactants) that help pesticides bind to, and get absorbed by, plants and insects. There is evidence showing that these other ingredients are endocrine disruptors themselves–maybe even to a greater degree than the active ingredient– and can cause harm to children and aquatic wildlife. To learn more about inert ingredients, check out this resource from Beyond Pesticides.
Helping Our Friendly Pollinators
With the intensive urbanization and land development throughout Iowa, little natural habitat remains. Having biodiversity in our lawns and pollinators habitat in our gardens is the easiest way to help.
The Xerces Society has great information on protecting and providing habitat for pollinators:
- A list of plant that serve as pollinator habitat for your gardens
- Neonics, one our friendly bees’ greatest threats, can be found in chemicals you apply to your turf: Handy guide on Neonicotinoids
For more information, please see Resources.