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by Leslie Garrett


The news is spreading — go organic!

The other day, while I stooped to de-dandelion my lawn, my 5-year-old son gasped. Why, asked my bewildered boy, are you taking out those beautiful yellow flowers? I sized up my yard and gardens and stammered something about “bad flowers”.

Stretching out behind our yard is a city-owned park. Like many progressive cities, ours has decided, wisely, to eschew chemical pesticides. The result is a field of yellow — a thing of true beauty to my children who routinely reward me with fists clutching bouquets of these sunshiny “flowers”.

I put down my weeder. Clearly, a beautiful lawn is all a matter of perspective. And it’s a perspective that’s changing the traditional $35-billion lawn- and garden-care industry as more homeowners are putting the “green” back in their lawns.

But what can you expect from a choice to go organic? Well, if you hold fast to the vision of a lush, manicured lawn, it’ll be bit more work in the short term, say the experts. But, they promise us a more beautiful, maintenance-free lawn in the end.

Here’s the dirt
Start by improving your soil. A quick way to do this is to leave grass clippings on the lawn when you mow. As they decompose, they add nitrogen to the soil which is what most of us want to add when we use fertilizer. (Leaves do the same thing, so, when fall leaves fall, mulch them and let them decompose). Leaving grass clippings also stimulates earthworm activity, which is also good for your lawn, according to the folks at Organic Gardening magazine. Still not convinced? A University of Connecticut study compared lawns where clippings had been left with those where clippings had been removed. The study revealed that the healthier lawns were those with clippings — specifically they had 45 percent less crabgrass, two-thirds less disease, significantly more earthworms and the ability to better withstand drought and disease.

Make the cut
Another simple way to help your lawn grow healthy and thick is to set your lawn mower so it cuts high. Taller blades of grass absorb more sun, are better at pushing out weeds, and conserve moisture by better shading the soil. Aim for 3 to 4 inches. Or aim for cutting off only about one-third of the grass height at each mowing. Any more stresses the grass. As well, one-third leaves clippings that will decompose quickly. To give the environment an added boost, use a manual lawn mower, rather than a gas or electric. Per hour of operation, a gas mower emits 10 times as much hydrocarbon as a car. The new generation of reel mowers are far less clunky than the mowers of your youth, but still give a workout. Better for your heart…better for the planet.

Grow organic
When your lawn still needs help from you, go organic. Organic fertilizers decompose and release their nutrients more gradually than synthetics, and thus nourish lawns more steadily over a longer period of time.

My husband and I went organic for a simple reason. We had been using chemical pesticides to help our bedraggled lawn. But then our beloved dog was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and we immediately set about removing anything from his environment that could threaten his already challenged immune system. Instead, we consulted an organic gardener who steered us in a greener direction — and we haven’t looked back. Except to admire the field of dandelions behind us…

LESLIE GARRETT is an award-winning journalist, children’s author and mother of three. Visit her at www.virtuousconsumer.com.

Mowing the lawn may seem like a leisurely afternoon’s activity, but emergency room staff see this chore differently. In 2004, more than 230,500 people — approximately 20,000 of them children under age 19 — were treated for lawn mower-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Medical and safety experts remind parents:
—Children should be at least 12 years-old before they operate any lawn mower, and at least 16 years-old for a ride-on mower.
—Children should never be passengers on ride-on mowers.
—Always wear sturdy shoes while mowing — not sandals.
—Before mowing, pick up stones, toys and debris from the lawn to
prevent injuries from flying objects.
—Wait for blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher,
unclogging the discharge chute, or crossing gravel roads.

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