How You Maintain Your Landscaping Affects Water Quality
If you have a contractor mow, much, blow fertilize, herbicidize, and pesticidize your lawn, you may not even know what they are putting on your plants and grass and perhaps you don't care as long as your grass is green! Bad idea! You are running the risk of exposing yourself, your significant other, your kids and your pets to chemicals that could have an adverse impact on health someday. How would you feel if your dog came down with kidney tumors? Would that change your mind? Have you ever seen how porous a dogs feet are? They are like sponges being pushed into the lawn. Ok, that's just the dog, now let your imagination run wild. Less chemicals in your environment is better and none is terrific. I'll let others beat you up with the epidemiological data and cancer studies and risk probabilities. The point is, if you or someone/thing that you love is the one in the million that comes down with the disease, it will be too late to rethink whether the use of pesticides and herbicides is a good idea. Hey, what about the landscape laborer that handles the herbicides and pesticides! Wouldn't you like to lighten his toxic load? Its bad enough that he is not likely getting a living wage or medical benefits.
Here is the down side of all of this.....your lawn might not look the same as it did last year. So, you have the perfect explanation......I've gone green....organic.....I've decided to do the right thing.
Oh boy, now this is where you can really start to feel good because when you reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, a whole bunch of things start to happen. The one that are near and dear to me is water quality gets better. The groundwater quality improves, the storm water runoff from your yard and driveway improves, the streams and river quality improves, the habitat for fish and aquatic life gets better, the water quality in Long Island Sound gets a little better. Now if you are upstream of the water supply intakes for the public drinking water system, you will also be improving the quality of the drinking water that is distributed to you and the public. If you are anywhere near the Mianus River, chances are that you will help improve drinking water quality for over 130,000 people when you stop using herbicides and pesticides.
Ok, I've said enough.
Here is what happened to me. I decided that if I'm going to try to provide leadership for a watershed management council whose focus is among other things WATER QUALITY, I've got to lead by example. But, since I paid someone to keep the grass tidy and green, how can I get them to make changes. I decided I needed to write them a letter and explain that I'm now OFF the CHEMICALS! I did a little research and provided a little background information and some references so that we might try some alternative organic products instead of the effective and toxic pesticides and herbicides that we've been lulled into believing are so safe. Think for a moment about the health research findings withheld by the cigarette manufacturers for a second and then the faith that we all had in the banking and mortgage system in the United States. These things are related except that people delude themselves into thinking that someone else in a responsible position with a great deal of knowlege it taking care of and managing the RISK. Sometimes its just not true.
So what follows is a draft letter that you should send to the person or company that maintains your lawn. It will put them on notice that you are serious about this ORGANIC LAWN MANAGEMENT thing and give them some ideas. I suggest you personalize this letter and edit it to reflect your preferences.
Form Letter to Request Your Landscape Maintenance Contractor to Use Organic Landscape Maintenance Techniques
I've drafted the following letter as a model for you to edit and send to the company that might maintain your lawn. This would be especially important for anyone that owns property along the MianusRiver or its tributaries, or for anyone interested in a "green" approach to landscape maintenance. Let me know what you think.
(The following letter is a template that you may need to modify to suit your particular circumstances.)
Dear Lawn Care Professional:
The homeowners of Greenwich and Stamford are very concerned about water quality and the environmental risks associated with some landscape maintenance activities. We ask that you please be diligent when caring for our landscaping for the sake of environmental health. We want to protect your employees, our children, our pets and the surface and groundwater near our homes, which is used for individual water supply (groundwater) or public water supplies (the MianusRiver). We are also interested in protecting the habitat in and near wetlands and waterways.
I ask that you please begin to use an “organic care” approach on my property as follows:
Mowing - Keep grass on the high side (2.5 to 3 inches). Avoid cutting the grass when it’s wet. Leave grass clippings to feed the soil --- use a mulching mower and rake out/collect clumps and put them in a compost pile. When cutting or trimming the lawn near water, please instruct and remind your staff to do their best to prevent grass clippings from entering streams, wetlands, ponds and rivers:
- Aim discharge chutes away from water - Sweep or blow clippings out of the streets as all storm drains lead to waterbodies
In addition to the ecological issues, grass clippings are very difficult to remove from the water. Deliberate blowing into water bodies or carelessness is not acceptable.
Fertilizing – use fertilizers sparingly. 1. Please use non-synthetic organic brands with a seal from “Organic Materials Review Institute”. Make applications in early and late spring, late summer or early fall. An example of an organic fertilizer is Cockadoodledoo (www.purebarnyard.com) and Sustane 4/6/4 (www.sustane.com)
- Avoid applying fertilizer within 15 feet of any water body (State/local ordinance/guideline?) - Sweep or blow fertilizer out of the streets and driveways so it doesn’t end up in storm drains.
Seeding – please seed the lawn with a sun/shade variety at least twice—early spring and fall when the nights are cool and moist.
Weed Control – Organic gardening methods for weed control begin with soil testing to make sure the pH and nutrients in the soil are ideal for the plant (grass) that we are trying to control. Please check to see where we can get the soil tested. I know that Peace Valley Farms offers a mail order soil analysis and provides a report regarding how to adjust the soil chemistry. The second weed control measure is frequent seeding early in the Spring to try to crowd out weeds before they get a foothold. The next weed control to use is aeration of the soil. Use a core aerator to open up the soil. Aeration of the soil is effective against plantains (leafy weed) which thrive in compacted soils. Please use organic corn gluten herbicide such as Cockadoodle DOO Weed Control or WeedBan (www.purebarnyard.com and www.extremelygreen.com) in early spring and late summer for crabgrass control. Don’t use the organic corn gluten after seeding new grass. - If a weed becomes a really big problem, lets talk about it. - My first preference is to dig up or burn the weeds with a propane torch, rake the soil and reseed/mulch or replace with sod. - Where the problem area is near a border, lets consider reducing the lawn area with a ground cover.
Herbicides, pesticides and fungicides -- Please discontinue using synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fungicides on my property. Soil pH – please check the soil pH and make sure it is above 6.5. Add calcitic limestone if necessary to raise the pH. Proper pH helps with the release and take up of nutrients by plants.
Fall Leaves - when raking or blowing leaves and yard waste during fall/spring clean-ups, all leaves and yard waste must be disposed of properly.
- Avoid raking or blowing leaves into wetlands, streams, ponds or the river.
If you have any ideas about how to improve on these organic gardening ideas, or questions regarding these instructions, please contact me. I appreciate your cooperation to improve our health and safety and minimize unnecessary environmental impacts.
Organic Gardening “A Citizens’s Guide to Organic Land Care”, Northeast Organic Farming Association. Turf Wars, Wall Street Journal, April 15-16, 2006. www.grassrootsinfo.org - click on “natural lawn care”
To help people become more aware of the links between their yards and the environment, a diverse voluntary coalition—made up of government agencies, the lawn care and landscaping industry, and environmental groups—is promoting responsible lawn and landscaping practices through a new partnership called the “Lawns and the Environment Initiative.”
The coalition has developed a set of guidelines—the Environmental Guidelines for Responsible Lawn Care and Landscaping—to help residential landowners make decisions about yard maintenance activities and landscape design. The guidelines provide information about plant selection, the use of water, application of pesticides and fertilizers, and potential effects on wildlife and neighbors.
Ten things you should consider to minimize impacts to the Mianus River. Click Here