A Healthy Lawn Healthy Environment

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Healthy Lawn, Healthy Environment

Caring for Your Lawn in an Environmentally Friendly Way

Lawn, Healthy Environment

for Your Lawn in an Environmentally Friendly Way

Picture a healthy green lawn: perfect for lounging, great for ball
games and cookouts, a real asset to your home. But did you know that your
lawn--and how you take care of it--can also help the environment?

* Healthy grass provides feeding ground for birds, who find it a rich
source of insects, worms, and other food. Thick grass prevents soil erosion,
filters contaminants from rainwater, and absorbs many types of airborne
pollutants, like dust and soot. Grass is also highly efficient at converting
carbon dioxide to oxygen, a process that helps clean the air.

* Caring for your lawn properly can both enhance its appearance and
contribute to its environmental benefits. You don't have to be an expert to
grow a healthy lawn. Just keep in mind that the secret is to work with
nature. This means creating conditions for grass to thrive and resist damage
from weeds, disease, and insect pests. It means setting realistic goals for
your lawn, whether you or a professional lawn care service will be doing the
work. And if you choose to use pesticides, it means using them with care so
as to get the most benefit and reduce any risks.

* Caring for your lawn in an environmentally sensible way can have a
bigger impact than you might think. Your lawn is only a small piece of land,
but all the lawns across the country cover a lot of ground. That means you
and your lawn care activities, along with everyone else's, can make a
difference to the environment. And that's why taking care of the environment
begins in our own backyards.

Working With Nature: A Preventive Health Care Program For Your Lawn

To start, think about lawn care as a preventive health care program,
like one you would use to keep up your own health. The idea is to prevent
problems from occurring so you don't have to treat them. As they say, an
ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A healthy lawn can out-compete
most weeds, survive most insect attacks, and fend off most diseases--before
these problems ever get the upper hand.

Your lawn care program should be tailored to local conditions--the
amount of rainfall you get, for example, and the type of soil you have. The
sources listed at the back of this brochure can help you design a lawn care
program that suits both local conditions and your own particular needs. But
no matter where you live, you can use the program outlined in this brochure
as a general guide to growing a healthy lawn.

A preventive health care program for your lawn should have the
following steps:

1. Develop healthy soil

2. Choose
a grass type that thrives in your climate

3. Mow
high, often, and with sharp blades

4. Water
deeply but not too often

Correct thatch build-up

6. Set
realistic goals

Develop Healthy Soil

Good soil is the foundation of a healthy lawn. To grow well, your lawn
needs soil with good texture, some key nutrients, and the right pH, or
acidity/alkalinity balance.

Start by checking the texture of your soil to see whether it's heavy
with clay, light and sandy, or somewhere in between. Lawns grow best in soil
with intermediate or "loamy" soils that have a mix of clay, silt,
and sand. Whatever soil type you have, you can probably improve it by
periodically adding organic matter like compost, manure, or grass clippings.
Organic matter helps to lighten a predominantly clay soil and it helps sandy
soil retain water and nutrients.

Also check to see if your soil is packed down from lots of use or heavy
clay content. This makes it harder for air and water to penetrate, and for
grass roots to grow. To loosen compacted soil, some lawns may need to be
aerated several times a year. This process involves pulling out plugs of soil
to create air spaces, so water and nutrients can again penetrate to the grass

Most lawns need to be fertilised every year, because they need more
nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium than soils usually contain. These three
elements are the primary ingredients found in most lawn fertilisers. It's
important not to over-fertilize--you could do more harm to your lawn than
good--and it's best to use a slow-release fertiliser that feeds the lawn
slowly. It's also important to check the soil's pH. Grass is best able to
absorb nutrients in a slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Soil
that is too acidic can be "sweetened" with lime; soil that's not
acid enough can be made more sour by adding sulphur.

Have your soil tested periodically to see whether it needs more organic
matter or the pH needs adjusting. Your county extension agent (listed in your
phone book under county government) or local nursery should be able to tell
you how to do this. These experts can also help you choose the right
fertiliser, compost, and other "soil amendments," and they can
advise you about aerating if your soil is compacted. If a professional
service takes care of your lawn, make sure it takes these same steps to
develop good soil. There's no getting around it: your lawn's health is only
as good as the soil it grows in.

2. Choose A Grass Type That Thrives In Your Climate

The right type of grass--one that suits your needs and likes the local
weather--will always give better results. Grasses vary in the type of climate
they prefer, the amount of water and nutrients they need, their resistance to
pests, their tolerance for shade, and the degree of wear they can withstand.

If you are putting in a new lawn, it will be worth your while to do
some research to identify the best grass type for your needs.

If you're working with an established lawn that fails to thrive despite
proper care, you might consider replanting with a different type of grass.

Why struggle to grow grass that's susceptible to fungal disease if you
live in a humid climate? Or a water-loving species if you live in an area
with water shortages? Grass that is well-adapted to your area will grow
better and resist local pests and diseases better.

New grass varieties and mixtures come out on the market every year.

Ask your county extension agent or another one of the sources listed in
this brochure for recommendations.

3. Mow High, Often and With Sharp Blades

Mowing high--that is, keeping your lawn a bit long--will produce
stronger, healthier grass with fewer pest problems.

Longer grass has more leaf surface to take in sunlight. This enables it
to grow thicker and develop a deeper root system, which in turn helps the
grass survive drought, tolerate insect damage, and fend off diseases. Longer
grass also shades the soil surface keeping it cooler, helping it retain
moisture, and making it difficult for weeds to germinate and grow.

A lawn's ideal length will vary with the type of grass, but many turf
grass species are healthiest when kept between 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 inches. The
ruler at the back of this brochure will help the best mowing height for your
grass variety. You may have to readjust your mower--most are set too low.

It's also important to mow with sharp blades to prevent tearing and
injuring the grass. And it's best to mow often, because grass adjusts better
to frequent than infrequent mowing. The rule of thumb is to mow often enough
that you never cut more than one-third of the height of the grass blades.
Save some time and help your lawn and the environment by leaving short
clippings on the grass--where they recycle nitrogen--rather than sending them
in bags to the landfill.

You don't have to grow a foot-high meadow to get good results. Just
adding an inch will give most lawns a real boost.

4. Water Deeply But Not Too Often

Watering properly will help your lawn grow deep roots that make it
stronger and less vulnerable to drought. Most lawns are watered too often but
with too little water. It's best to water only when the lawn really needs it,
and then to water slowly and deeply. This trains the grass roots down.
Frequent shallow watering trains the roots to stay near the surface, making
the lawn less able to find moisture during dry periods.

Every lawn's watering needs are unique: they depend on local rainfall,
the grass and soil type, and the general health of the lawn. But even in very
dry areas, no established home lawn should require daily watering.

Try to water your lawn in a way that imitates a slow, soaking rain, by
using trickle irrigation, soaker hoses, or other water-conserving methods.
It's also best to water in the early morning, especially during hot summer
months, to reduce evaporation. Apply about an inch of water--enough that it
soaks 6-8 inches into the soil. Then let the lawn dry out thoroughly before
watering it again.

The best rule is to water only when the lawn begins to wilt from
dryness--when the colour dulls and footprints stay compressed for more than a
few seconds.

5. Correct Thatch Build-Up

All grass forms a layer of dead plant material, known as thatch,
between the grass blades and the soil. When thatch gets too thick--deeper
than one-half inch--it prevents water and nutrients from penetrating to the
soil and grass roots. Some grasses tend to form a thick layer of thatch.
Overuse of fertiliser can also create a heavy layer of thatch.

You can reduce thatch by raking the lawn or using a machine that slices
through the thatch layer to break it up. Sprinkling a thin layer of topsoil
or compost over the lawn will also help.

In a healthy lawn, micro organisms and earthworms help keep the thatch
layer in balance by decomposing it and releasing the nutrients into the soil.

6. Set Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals will allow you to conduct an environmentally
sensible lawn care program. It's probably not necessary to aim for
putting-green perfection. Did you know that a lawn with 15 percent weeds can
look practically weed-free to the average observer? Even a healthy lawn is
likely to have some weeds or insect pests. But it will also have beneficial
insects and other organisms that help keep pests under control.

Also realise that grass just can't grow well in certain spots. Why
fight a losing battle with your lawn, when you have other options? At the
base of a tree, for example, you might have better luck with wood chips or
shade-loving ornamental plants like ivy, periwinkle, or pachysandra. If your
climate is very dry, consider converting some of your lawn to dry-garden
landscaping. It could save time, money, and water resources.

What Is IPM?

Integrated Pest Management is essentially common-sense pest control.
IPM is not a new concept; some forms of it have been practised for centuries.

IPM involves the carefully managed use of three different pest control
tactics--biological, cultural, and chemical--to get the best long-term
results with the least disruption of the environment. Biological control
means using natural enemies of the pest, like lady bugs to control aphids.
Cultural or horticultural control involves the use of gardening methods, like
mowing high to shade out weeds. Chemical control involves the judicious use
of pesticides.

IPM is a highly effective approach that minimises the use of pesticides
and maximises the use of natural processes. Lawn care professionals who use
IPM should have a sophisticated understanding of the ecosystem of your turf
and the available pest control tactics. Home gardeners can also practice IPM
by following the steps outlined in this brochure.

Tips For Using Pesticides

Sometimes, even with good lawn care practices, weather conditions or
other factors can cause pest problems to develop. Pesticides can help control
many lawn pests. But pesticides have risks as well as benefits, and it's
important to use them properly.

The chemicals we call pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, and
fungicides. These products are designed to kill or control pest insects,
weeds, and fungal diseases. Pesticides can be very effective. But don't be
tempted to rely solely on pesticides as a quick-fix solution to any lawn
problem. Serious, ongoing pest problems are often a sign that your lawn is
not getting everything it needs. In other words, the pests may be a symptom
of an underlying problem. You need to correct the underlying problem to
reduce the chance that the pest will reappear.

All pesticides are toxic to some degree. This means they can pose some
risk to you, to your children and pets, and to any wildlife that venture on
to your lawn--especially if these chemicals are overused or carelessly
applied. Pesticides can also kill earthworms and other beneficial organisms,
disrupting the ecological balance of your lawn.

Store pesticides out of children's reach in a locked cabinet or garden

When Spraying, Protect your skin, your eyes, your lungs

Wash this clothing separately before using it again.

Before Using Any Pesticide, Be Sure To Review These Basic Rules

1. Take safety precautions. Never assume a pesticide is harmless.

* Read the entire label and follow its instructions. Use only the
amount directed, at the time and under the conditions specified, and for the
purpose listed.

* Be sure to wear any protective clothing--like gloves, long sleeves,
and long pants--indicated on the label. Wash this clothing separately before
using it again.

* Keep children and pets away from pesticides, and make sure no one
goes on a treated lawn for at least the time prescribed by the pesticide

* Remember to follow any state or local requirements for posting your
treated lawn or notifying your neighbours that a pesticide has been applied.

* Store and dispose of pesticides properly, according to the label
directions and any state and local regulations.

2. Use pesticides to minimise pests, not eradicate them. The latter is
often impossible and unnecessary.

3. Be sure you have accurately identified the pest so you can choose
the best pesticide for the job and use it most effectively. Obtain
professional advice from your county extension agent or a local expert.

4. Spot treat whenever possible. In most cases, it isn't necessary to
treat the whole lawn with pesticides if the problem is confined to certain
areas. Spraying more than necessary is wasteful and can be environmentally

If you have questions about a pesticide, call EPA's toll free National
Pesticide Telecommunications Network (1-800-858-7378). For general
information on minimising pesticide risks, call or write EPA for a free copy
of the Citizen's Guide to Pesticides. The number to call is 703-305-5017; the
address is:

EPA, Office of Pesticide Programs,
Field Operations Division, H7506C,
401M Street, S.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20460.

Choosing A Lawn Care Service

Many people choose to hire a professional company to help maintain
their lawn. Lawn care companies offer a range of services, from fertilising
and pest control to aerating, mowing, and renovation.

Lawn care companies should follow the same healthy lawn program
outlined in this brochure. They should also follow the same precautions for
minimising pesticide risks.

How can you be sure that a service will do these things? Start by
asking questions like these:

Q. Is the company licensed?

A. Nearly all states require lawn care companies to be licensed. The
qualifications for obtaining a license vary from state to state, but having a
license is one indication that the company is reputable and operating

Q. Does the company have a good track record?

A. Ask neighbours and friends who have dealt with the company if they
were satisfied with the service they received. Call the Better Business
Bureau or the state or local consumer protection office listed in your phone
book; have they received any complaints about the company? Determine from the
state pesticide regulatory agency if the company has a history of violations.

Q. Is the company affiliated with a professional lawn care association?

A. Affiliation with a professional association helps members to stay
informed of new developments in the lawn care field.

Q. Does the company offer a variety of pest management approaches? Does
it apply pesticides on a set schedule or only when they are really needed?
Does it use integrated pest management, or "IPM"--an approach that
often reduces pesticide use by combining it with other, non-chemical methods
of pest control?

A. More and more lawn companies are offering integrated pest management
(IPM) in response to public concern about pesticides. Be aware that IPM is a
general term and that companies may use it to describe a wide range of
activities. Find out exactly what a company means if it says it uses IPM.

Q. Is the company willing to help you understand your lawn's problems
and the solutions?

A. Lawn services generally apply fertilisers and pesticides. But you
may be the one who mows and waters--and poor watering and mowing practices
can lead to disappointing results. The company should tell you how it plans
to take care of your lawn, and advise you about the work you need to do to
keep your lawn in good shape.

Q. Will the company tell you what pesticides it applies to your lawn
and why, and what health and environmental risks may be presented by their

A. You have a right to this information. If asked, the company should
readily supply it. All pesticides sold legally in the United States are
registered by EPA, but such registration is not a guarantee of safety. Ask to
see a copy of pesticide labels to make sure they bear an EPA registration
number, and to review the directions that should be followed. If the company
can't answer your questions about the chemicals it uses, call NPTN
(1-800-858-7378) for more information.

For More Information

Affiliated with the Land Grant university in each state is a system of
County Cooperative Extension Offices. Usually listed in the telephone
directory under county or state government, these offices often have a range
of resources on lawn care and landscape maintenance, including plant
selection, pest control, and soil testing.

State agriculture and/or environmental agencies may publish information
on pests and pest management strategies. The state pesticide regulatory
agency can provide information on pesticide regulations, and may also have
information on companies with a history of complaints or violations. NPTN
(see below) can identify the agency responsible for pesticide regulation in
each state.

The National Pesticide Telecommunications Network is a toll free,
24-hour information service that can be reached by calling 1-800-858-7378 or
by FAX at 806-743-3094. The operators can provide a wide range of information
about the health effects of pesticides, and provide assistance in dealing
with pesticide-related emergencies.

Libraries, bookstores, and garden centres usually have a wide selection
of books that discuss lawn care and other aspects of landscape management.
Garden centres may also have telephone hot lines or experts available on the
premises to answer your gardening questions.

The Environmental Protection Agency can provide information on
integrated pest management strategies for lawn care.
Write EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs,
Field Operations Division (H7506C),
401 M St., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20460.

Some suppliers of lawn care products can provide helpful tips, answer
questions, and help identify problems. Look for information/hot line numbers
on product packaging.

The Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC), a non-profit organisation
formed in 1978 through an EPA grant, has information on least-toxic methods
for lawn care. BIRC's address is: P.O. Box 7414, Berkeley, CA 94707.

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