Guide to Organic Lawn Care

By Alison Reintjes, Grow Safe: Non-Toxic Missoula

Turf is the single largest irrigated “crop” in our country, with as many as 10 times more pesticides per acre used on urban lawns than are used in agriculture. However, a change is underway in Missoula. The City of Missoula and its residents are increasingly embracing non-toxic land care by eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in our yards and other outdoor spaces. Grow Safe: Non-Toxic Missoula formed as a non-profit in July 2021. 

Through community outreach, partnerships, and education we are advocating for a reduction of toxic pesticides to protect public health and the environment. Most recently this advocacy has taken form as A Guide to Organic Lawn Care, a step-by-step seasonal guide to growing a beautiful lawn by maintaining healthy soil. The free guide is available through the Grow Safe website, Missoula County Extension, and other community partners.

Grow Safe worked with Missoula Parks & Recreation, Missoula County Extension, All Nations Health Center, Climate Smart Missoula, Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Clark Fork Coalition to share the rationale, process, and local resources for anyone to approach lawn care in a way that is safe for people, animals, and the environment.  Our community can move away from fossil-fuel based products while supporting healthy soils that sequester carbon.

All Nations Health Center points out that this approach “restores our relationship to the land and ensures that good stewarding practices are passed down to the next generations.” Missoulians love the valley, rivers, and mountains we call home. Organic land care gives us the opportunity to express our love in a meaningful way—protecting native pollinators, insects, wildlife, and the biodiversity around us. By removing synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in our yards, the Clark Fork Coalition says we “protect the Clark Fork River and its vast network of tributaries from polluted runoff.” 

We also keep ourselves, our families, and our pets safe from the health problems associated with traditional lawn chemicals. Babies and children are at greatest risk from lawn chemicals because they often play on the ground, putting hands and toys in their mouths at a time when their brains and nervous systems are still developing. Not only that, but children’s bodies do not detoxify chemicals as well as adults. Pesticides are associated with cancers, decreased cognitive functioning, birth defects, asthma, and many other serious health conditions.

Are you ready to champion organic land care in your own yard? Our guide will walk you through four steps to a beautiful lawn with a seasonal schedule to meet your goals:

  • Begin by establishing healthy soil. Healthy soil is full of living organisms that have a beneficial relationship to plants. Aeration makes room for vibrant root growth, while compost and liquid soil food feed the microorganisms that support plant growth. 
  • Water less often and more effectively to encourage deeper, more resilient root growth. 
  • Use organic or natural products, always avoiding synthetic pesticides and fertilizers (keep an eye out for “urea” fertilizers and steer clear). 
  • Leave your grass a little longer to retain moisture and shade out weeds. Mow to 3” height, leave clippings to decompose back into the soil, and seasonally seed bare spots.

The guide’s advertisers each offer either a product or service that will help with you implement organic lawn care in your yard.

Most of us have at least a rudimentary understanding of what organic is, based on agriculture. We know that it is grounded in standards that regulate how organic foods are grown, handled, and processed, enforced through a government certification process. On the other hand, organic land (or lawn) care is less familiar. 

Organic land care developed in 2001 as a mirrored set of standards for applying organic agriculture principles to landscaping. There is no regulation or certification process.  Individuals or institutions that commit to organic land care commit to the goals laid out by The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) to “maintaining soil health; eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers; increasing landscape diversity; and improving the health and well being of the people and web of life in our care.”

This spring, Grow Safe is celebrating both our Guide to Organic Lawn Care and the launching of an organic pilot park by Missoula Parks and Recreation at McCormick park. The pilot project is part of a grant the City of Missoula received from Healthy Babies Bright Futures and a partnership with Beyond Pesticides. More information on the pilot park in a future article.

Changing the culture of land care in Missoula will have positive ripple effects on our community’s health and environment. We can have an effect by eliminating our use of toxic products. How we care for our grass, yards, and other outdoor spaces is significantly important to our health, our environment, and our planet.

  Alison Reintjes is a Volunteer with Grow Safe: Non-Toxic Missoula.

For more information and resources visit https://www.growsafemissoula.org/

 

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