As I drive through the neighborhoods on a spring day, I see everyone out spraying their yards, broadcasting weed and feed pellets, and cursing while trying to start outdoor power equipment. Americans are addicted to their green lawns, the constant battle of mowing, outdoor power equipment and the urban farming of a crop called turf. The American household spends $40 billion on lawn care and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that 100 million pounds of lawn care products are dumped, sprayed or broadcasted on our lawns, yearly. It is funny that we complain about the labor intensiveness of green lawns yet we spend a lot of money to show off our pride and joy. Since our treated grass is so green, that means we have a healthy lawn, right?

Environmental Impact
Not exactly, when we use all these synthetic fertilizers a number of things can happen. Synthetic fertilizers are extremely water soluble which means they break down quickly by water and are carried away in runoff. This can lead to algal blooms in our lakes. Research has shown that 75-80 percent of the nutrients released from synthetic fertilizer are not even absorbed by the grass due to this rapid breakdown. Another issue with most do-it-yourself products is that they contain pesticides which kill all broadleaf weeds, insects, and even non-targeted species. When you use these products, you also kill off unintended organisms. There are billions of beneficial microorganisms found in one teaspoon of healthy soil. These microorganisms are the equivalent of the beneficial bacterial found in our stomachs. Without them we could not digest our food and obtain the proper nutrients to keep us healthy. The same goes with your lawn. The more synthetic products you use, the more your lawn depends on those products. They accidentally kill off most beneficial microorganism causing the natural balance between soil, organisms, and plants to be disrupted.

Health Effects
These synthetic lawn care products are also believed to be linked to several health issues. Children are more susceptible to the risks associated with chemicals than adults due to their low body weight and developing organs. Some research states that risks to humans who are exposed to pesticides can include: birth or development defects, leukemia, brain cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, genetic damage, asthma, respiratory irritations, and endocrine disruption. Dogs and cats are also at a higher risk and can have adverse effects, such as cancer, liver or kidney failure, and neurological disorders. Their outdoor behaviors, such as lying in or eating grass, and traveling through several lawns increase their exposure and risks. No matter what your view is on pesticides, you should know the ingredients and potential risks prior to applying any product to your lawn. When you do apply them, know you may also be affecting your neighbors or local wildlife. A 2008 study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that pesticides remain airborne for several days. Your or your neighbor’s home infiltration system may draw these poisons indoors where sunlight cannot break them down.

This article is intended to provide helpful information and effective options for your lawn. For the next several months, we are going to dissect a healthy organic lawn care program, its benefits, and organic products and how they work. This series of articles will arm you with enough basic knowledge that you can easily research and start your own organic program. An important message to remember during this process is that organic programs have slower results. Even an organic program can cause more harm by trying to speed up the process or by not following the directions on product labels. When followed properly, an organic program will provide a well-balanced ecosystem resulting in a healthy, safe and sustainable lawn.

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