Those of us graced with a yard to care for want our lawns and gardens to look healthy and attractive, but who wants to spend endless hours weeding? Doesn’t it seem the more weeds you pull the more pop up in their place? In the quest for lawn care solutions, many desire ease and expediency, but the MADE SAFE team is also looking out for the health of the soil. Read on for our favorite tips, including a few staff favorites.
The Pesticide Problem Warm months are a time for swimming, campfires, and endless amounts of…pesticides? Unfortunately, yes. The average sprawling green American backyard is sprayed with high-risk pesticides in an effort to keep away certain bugs and plants, some of which are actually essential to the health of our ecosystem.
In fact, the EPA estimated that in 2012, 88 million households used pesticides. Researchers at Oregon State have also found that “85% of all U.S. households have at least one pesticide in storage, and 63% have one to five stored” in the home.
The majority of professional and DIY lawn treatments use high-risk pesticides (and their variants of insecticides and herbicides), many of which have been linked to cancer. Commonly used pesticides include glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Roundup and 2,4-D.
HIGH-RISK PESTICIDE ALTERNATIVES Due to the prevalence of pesticides and their surrounding concerns, forgoing high-risk pesticides in your yard is crucial. If you prefer to use a professional lawn & garden care service, seek out a company that skips the use of applications altogether or uses environmentally-sound alternatives. If you choose the DIY route, you can do the same. We’ve gathered some alternatives below – have you tried any of these solutions?
- Seek out earth-friendly pesticide alternatives. Opting for natural weed killers—either premade or DIY—can reduce your usage of and exposure to high-risk pesticides and herbicides. Whether it be essential oils, dish soap, or vinegar, there are other options beyond the conventional pesticides.
- Use boiling water. Pouring boiling water directly onto weeds will kill them (our team members make it easy by simply using a tea kettle).
- Remove weeds mechanically. A few of our team members have acquired nifty weeding devices that remove undesirable plants and don’t require bending. Weeding by hand, the old standby, also works well—just make sure you get those stubborn roots!
- Slow the mow. Grasses that are slightly longer (approximately 3 inches or more) can shade out weeds and prevent them from growing. Not to mention, mowing less frequently helps grass grow deeper roots, which in turn leads to more resilient grasses that don’t dry out as quickly.
- Call in the critters. Some people are turning to ruminant critters such as goats and sheep to help control their yard, as they will eat away weeds and trim down overgrown landscapes. You might even find a local farmer or service loaning out their goats to cut back undesired vegetation.
- Reframe your approach. Clover is actually a pretty green ground cover and even dandelions can be food for humans and pollinators. Instead of hating, try embracing them. Here’s a dandelion fritter recipe to try from one of our advisors, Dr. Maya Shetreat.
Rethinking Your Yard Re-evaluating your approach to your yard might provide you with more options than you think, while also helping to reduce your water usage, boost pollinator communities, and reduce your need for pesticides too. Consider planting perennials local to your region, a long-term investment, as opposed to annuals that usually require more water and then die back. Some people are even opting to remove or shrink the size of their “showcase” lawns that aren’t used primarily for children and pets.
Whether you forgo the classic lawn altogether or simply switch up how you care for and think about your lawn, you might be surprised how far some of these changes might go. Here are some considerations:
- Water better. If you need to water plants, flowers, and lawn, make sure to water in the morning before 9 am. If you wait until the sun is fully out, the water will evaporate before it is able to soak into the soil. And watering in the evening may attract undesirable pests.
Choose grass or ground cover that is native to your area. Planting grass that is native to, or can thrive in, your climate is important because they’re adapted to your climate and require less water than traditional grass. This also cuts back on the need for pesticides and herbicides in the first place. Visit your local nursery and ask for their recommendations for your area or search for native plants online.
- You could also consider a ground cover instead of traditional grass. An example of this for many northern climates is a clover. Clover boasts many benefits: It is low maintenance, drought tolerant, and even helps choke out weeds. It also attracts and supports pollinators like bees.
- Bee friendly. Backyards can be utilized as a friendly space for bees and other pollinators, which are crucial to the health of our ecosystem. Plants such as dandelions, clover, and many varieties of flowers attract pollinators and contribute to the natural rhythms of life that depend on pollinators. Consider participating in No-Mow May next year, if your community allows it. Not mowing for the entire month helps create friendly habitats for pollinators early in the season when they need it most!
Consider shrinking or removing your lawn (especially if you live in a dry climate). In dry climates, maintaining acres of lush green lawn can be difficult. The quintessential manicured green lawn that many of us are familiar with simply may not work well in water-scarce climates where there is naturally less rainfall. Ideas for dry climates include replacing conventional lawns with xeriscaping (designing your yard for minimal water usage), using rocks in place of grass, and planting native plants and edibles like fruit trees (which require less water than a full lawn and can be hand watered during times of drought).
- If you are looking to lessen your lawn, you might find sheet mulching a helpful method for transforming your lawn into a garden. Please note, however, that replacing your lawn with artificial grass is not a great alternative. Artificial turf is typically made of plastic, which carries its own environmental and health concerns, and additionally has been found to contain endocrine-disrupting PFAS chemicals.
- Plant a garden to grow your own food. Consider utilizing a portion of your yard to grow your own food. This will cut down on the amount of area that needs to be mowed and cared for, while also providing a source of nutrition for your family. If you find yourself having extras, friends and family will likely be eager to help enjoy the bounty. While you’re at it, start a compost pile. You can use compost on your garden or on any remaining patches of your yard that need a little love. New to the gardening game? Many online resources abound to help beginner gardeners. Start small and build up!
We hope that these tips have inspired you to enjoy your yard in new, creative ways without the use of high-risk pesticides. Send us comments on Instagram or Facebook and let us know what you do or report back with success and failures so our community can share!