Is a Pesticide-Free Lawn Really Possible?

March 27th, 2015, in Living ToxicFree®, Household Products

Having a beautifully landscaped yard with green-carpeted turf and colorful seasonal flowers has always been important to my husband and me.

When our natural doctor first suggested that some of our son’s health problems could be linked to pesticide exposure in our lawn, I was mortified. How could that be possible? Don't most people treat their lawns in some way or another? Don't children everywhere play in the grass on a daily basis?

When we decided that changes were in order, we were sure that saying “goodbye” to our beautiful lawn was unavoidable.

I reached out to a landscaper for advice and was pleasantly surprised when he not only didn’t cringe when I spoke the words “chemical-free yard,” but he actually embraced it! In fact, this very man had spent years on researching the countless benefits of a healthy, balanced soil.

He explained to me that using pesticides to kill unwanted weeds in the yard is very similar to using antibiotics to kill unwanted bacteria inside of the body.

In the process of killing what you do not want, you are also killing the powerful, beneficial microorganisms that your soil needs to survive!

After time, and repeated use of chemicals destroying these needed microorganisms, the health of your entire soil can be seriously compromised just as the health of your body could be compromised with long-term use of serious antibiotics.

I’ve been picking this man’s brain for a long time. Together, we’ve made some significant changes to my family’s lawn. We pull weeds instead of covering them with chemicals. We treat unwanted insect pests naturally.

The surprising results? Our lawn is gorgeous! People everywhere ask us what we use.

I believe his message is such a powerful one that I’ve asked him to be a guest blogger for the ToxicFree® Blog. I’d like to introduce you to John Newman, owner of Classic Landscapes, Inc. Enjoy his blog!

Our View on Dirt

Soil is misunderstood by many in our country. When you think of the reputation of something that is “dirty” you get a negative connotation. This happens whether it is reading material, children or dishes in your sink.

If we can learn about the soil that supports our life here on earth and how it works, we will all benefit. You may argue you aren’t a gardener, so this doesn’t pertain to you, but many of us don’t consider that most of the products we eat and use contain ingredients that came from the soil at some point.

What is the Soil Food Web?  

We all view dirt differently. Some of us embrace it while others try their best to avoid it. But, regardless of your opinion on dirt, a very important fact exists—healthy soil is alive and the Soil Food Web demonstrates it.

Healthy soil is full of living microorganisms, such as nematodes, protozoa and many other things I won’t try to pronounce or spell. When native soil,  in its unaltered state is kept out of harm’s way, it does not need additional inputs that nature is not already providing itself for plants to grow and thrive.

Healthy soil is like a micro-kingdom of sorts with checks and balances set up to work beautifully. Then we come along and disturb the situation with grading, gardening and other worthwhile endeavors.

Healthy soil is full of life and normally dominated by beneficial bacteria and fungus.

One man’s weed is another’s flower. We try to determine what we want growing in our gardens, yards and golf courses by chemically altering our properties to disallow certain varieties of plants to grow such, as dandelion or crabgrass. The best analogy for what we do in our landscapes is seen in the medical world where we have used antibiotics to kill off certain diseases in our bodies. Antibiotics, by definition are “anti” which means “against” and “bio” which means “life”.

When we want a pathogen killed to preserve our lives, antibiotics can be a literal lifesaver, but they still indiscriminately kill off beneficial living organisms in our gut. This throws off our gut balance. Considering our gut health is a significant part of our immune system, when we throw off our gut health, we can compromise the health of our entire bodies!

This balance of life is very similar in the soil world. Beneficial microbes live in healthy soil and keep disease at bay by forming symbiotic relationships with plants to keep them healthy. When we apply herbicides and pesticides, we indiscriminately kill off beneficial organisms that help keep certain “bad” microbes from hurting, maiming or otherwise killing off existing plant life.

An Imperfect World

By eliminating pesticides, such as Sevin, and herbicides, like Roundup, you will see “weeds” or “bugs” in your lawn or garden if you don’t physically pick them or provide other deterrents to their proliferation. This natural balance can be achieved if you are open to an imperfect world where some “weed” plants or “bugs” are acceptable and perfection is not demanded. The organic approach is making strides toward mainstream understanding and is being embraced by more people across the U.S.

When people realize the organic approach takes more labor, it sometimes takes a back seat to the traditional approach. This is the same choice we must make in the grocery store when it comes to purchasing produce free of pesticides, and meats and dairy free of antibiotics, growth hormones and other pharmaceutical drugs.

How can we harness the power of nature instead of working against it?

  1. For starters, we can actually add beneficial living organisms to soil when we install and maintain new plants. Woody and perennial plants (plants with a life cycle of more than one year) such as trees, shrubs and vines thrive in fungally-dominant soils and specific microbes can be added depending on what you are planting. Annual plants, such as vegetables and pansies, thrive in bacterially-dominated soils.
  2. Make sure your soil is not compacted, drains properly and has good structure so that air and water can enter and pass through it appropriately.
  3. Compost can add micronutrients that allow flourishing of microbes. Compost tea brews are now becoming commercially available and will gain popularity when more people learn how well they support plant life.
  4. In almost all circumstances, discontinue roto-tilling (in established garden beds). This destroys the soil food web and years of work done to set up a property for great plant life.
  5. Add mulch to your landscape to deter erosion, weed growth, and to insulate it in the winter and cool the land in the summer.

Working with nature instead of against it in farming, gardening and landscaping can yield benefits many are not aware of and will help you create better yields, gardens and landscapes long-term. If you'd like to learn more, authors such as Elaine Ingham, Jeff Lowenfels, and anyone who writes about the "soil food web" are great resources.