Organic Lawn Care

Why Organics?

There is growing concern regarding the use of synthetic (chemical) fertilizers and pesticides and their effects on our children's health, our health, the health of our pets and our environment. The chemicals are not only harmful to you, but can also affect our water supply. These fertilizers contain mostly water soluble nitrogen (WSN) and are activated by water. Nutrients are released far faster than the plant can take them up or the microbes can break them down for storage in the soil. Therefore, there is leaching and run-off which is not only wasteful but, far worse, is harmful to the environment. The salts from the chemical fertilizers also adversely affect the organisms in the soil that provide the healthy environment your plant needs to grow.

While chemical fertilizers can meet some nutrient needs of the plant that is all they can do. As agronomist Dr. Tom Abeles puts it, if you grow with chemical fertilizers long enough without putting organic matter back into the soil, eventually you will be growing the plant hydroponically with soil as the medium. Organic matter cannot by synthesized in a laboratory. Therefore, there is none in chemical fertilizers. Your plant becomes dependent on the chemicals to grow rather than getting its nutrients from the soil. So organic fertilizers that not only work well, and are not harmful to the environment but actually beneficial to the soil.

Mode of Operation:

The basic principle of organic fertilization is to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants. Soil components include a balance of air, water, minerals and organic matter. Good soil is a living system full of activity with plant roots, fungi, bacteria, protozoa, molds, insects, earthworms and even small animals.

Soil can be out of balance for many reasons: changes caused by construction; compaction caused by walking or driving equipment repeatedly in the same area; over irrigation resulting in a lack of air space in the soil depriving plants of oxygen and inhibiting root growth; depletion of nutrients TM and organic materials from years of removing plant material without the addition of organic matter; reduction in microorganisms that may have died from use of chemical fertilizers; and simply soil types that may not be favorable for plant growth. All Natural Fertilizers provide the organic materials and nutrients in balanced rations that make it possible for indigenous soil microorganisms to thrive and proliferate. It is these microbes which break down organic materials and nutrients into a form which allows them to be stored in the soil. Then, in response to a signal of specific need from the plant, they release the appropriate nutrient in a form and at a rate which allows the plant to take it up. This ensures nearly 100% take up of those nutrients. After the nutrients are consumed or stored, the husks of organic matter remain helping to improve water retention and soil tilt. The use of an all natural organic fertilizer is one element in the promotion of healthy plants. The result: All natural organic fertilizer encourages indigenous soil microorganisms to proliferate in combination with adding organic matter and natural nutrients to the soil creating an environment from which spring vigorous healthy plants.

Noe's Lawn and Landscaping - Bolingbrook - Organic Rose Garden

Read below what Safe has to say about organic lawn care. Safe is commited to create a broad-based coalition of non- and for-profit organizations that educate society about the benefits of environmentally responsible lawn care and gardening, and effect a quantum change in consumer and industry behavior.

Why is organic lawn care the best for you and your family?

Organic lawn care is, for the most part, common sense. Once you get beyond the advertising that has given most Americans the idea that pay and spray is the only way to have a lawn to be proud of, the pieces start to fall in place. You realize that the plants want to grow and that our job is mostly to give them the conditions to do so and then get out of the way.

This involves two basic principles: take care of the soil and the micro-organisms that live in it, and chose appropriate plants (grass or otherwise) to grow in it. The people who want to sell you stuff make it sound a lot more complicated, but it isn’t.

Human and Animal Health

Pesticide Transport
It is important to understand how pesticides move around in the environment in order to understand how we can be exposed to them even if we are not using them ourselves. Like second hand smoke our exposure is not always voluntary. A Good summary of this issue can be found on the University of Minnesota web site for a course called Public Health 5103. Read the PubH 5103 Course Materials

The Example of Atrazine
Atrazine is one of the most frequently detected pesticides in drinking water in the USA, and while there is some controversy over its harmfulness (mostly because of insufficient evidence to eliminate doubt as to conclusions) it is often found in the presence of other contaminants as well, as synergetic effects are not even considered. We have a good report on Atrazine in Drinking Water from Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Childhood Exposure
One of the biggest questions any parent who uses lawn chemicals needs to ask themselves is: is it worth endangering your family just have a picture perfect lawn?  Kids are more sensitive to developmental disruption, and spend more time in close contact with the lawn, so the question is real. A University of Northern Iowa web page summarizes the risks and says NO.

Chemicals In The Schools
Home is not the only place kids are exposed to pesticides. A 2005 USA Today article detailed pesticide poisoning among school kids nationwide.

Even Worse For The Unborn
It’s even worse for fetuses, according to a report from Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) that looked at research up through mid-2006. You can download the report from us, or visit the PSR site for a whole range of relevant studies.

What Kinds of Health Problems?
Different chemicals have different modes of action (as noted in the transport article above) so the laundry list of problems is substantial. Probably the most alarming is the historical rise in childhood cancer rates and gender disruption statistically coincident with the rise in pesticide usage. [Read More]

How To Minimize Exposure
Physicians for Social Responsibility has produced a brochure detailing strategies for reducing childhood exposure to pesticides, and we have put a copy of it here on the site for you to download. Click here to view 'Pesticides and Kids'. Their site has a lot of important resource. Visit Physicians for Social Responsibililty.

It’s Not Just The Kids, Either
At the same time that cancers among kids are rising, so are cancers in domestic animals, and there a number of studies that link this to use of lawn chemicals. Rachel’s Weekly, one of the oldest environmental newsletters on the Internet, provided an excellent summary of this all the way back in 1991 in Issue #250.

Soil Quality

One of the core principles of organic is that the health of the soil microbial community is the key to the health of the plants growing in that soil and the health of the organisms (that would be us!) that depend on them. Here is the background information on soil health for those of you who want to really delve into it. The relations between soil health and the ability to resist erosion run-off is one key to environmental advantages of organic turf management.

One of the major conceptual views of how organic systems work is called the Soil Food Web. For a detailed introduction to the concept, see this entry in the online collaborative Wikipedia:


Water Quality

There is an extensive scientific literature studying the quality of water that has run off or percolated through the soil of urban and suburban landscapes including lawns and golf courses. This “non-point source pollution” has become a significant problem in many watersheds, and is clearly affected by lawn care practices. What does not end up directly in our lakes and streams seeps down into the groundwater from which drinking and irrigation supplies are drawn.

Groundwater Pollution
Any water soluble material applied to turf will either run off (in excessive rain) or percolate down through the soil into groundwater. Many lawn chemicals persist for long periods in soil and water, and synthetic fertilizers use much more soluble forms of nitrogen (and phosphorus) than organic fertilizers, and thus there is an increased risk of groundwater pollution – a very serious issue in communities that draw their drinking water from those sources.

The group Beyond Pesticides produced a great summary of this issue in 2006. We have provided a copy here on the site. Click here to view 'Pesticides and Water Quality'. Their own website also has a lot of good material.

A United States Geological Survey circular published in 2000 detailed the contamination of groundwater in coastal New York and New Jersey. Read USGS Circular 1201.

A 2004 study of nitrate concentrations in Long Island, NY groundwater raised concerns about the safety of the water there. Read the SUNY Groundwater Study.

The USGA Green Section Record published a study in 1995 that looked at Nitrogen and Phosphorus runoff from golf fairways. We have put a copy here on the site. Click here to view 'N-P Fate on Golf Courses'.

Air Quality

As with soil and water, the chemicals and fertilizers applied to turf don’t seem to stay put, but migrate into the commons. The differences between conventional and organic turf and grounds maintenance in terms of air quality have not been as well studied, but what research we have found is gathered here.

Spraying The World
Many homeowners have the mistaken impression that the chemicals and fertilizers they apply to their yards stay put…and that if they don’t use them they won’t be exposed. But that is patently not true. They do move about. About a week after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine, measurable radioactivity traced to that explosion was detected in the rain over western New England, having traveled all the way around the world before being squeezed out in a rainstorm. The same happens with persistent chemicals that become airborne. See this article in the Albion Monitor for more.

Disclaimer – Accuracy of any documents from third parties are their responsibility. We do our best to offer only information we trust to be both scientifically accurate and politically balanced, but there are times when the best source in one of those two aspects may be deficient in the other.

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