(Beyond Pesticides, April 3, 2009) A few dandelions in city parks is a good thing, says the Chicago Park District, they signify a healthy lawn and a chemical-free park. After the success of limiting the use of pesticides throughout the district last year, the Chicago Park District is again partnering with Safer Pest Control Project and Illinois Department of Environment to provide Chicagoans natural lawn and landscape care in their parks. In order to minimize the impact of chemicals on the environment, nearly 90 percent of Chicago parks are now pesticide-free.
“The Park District is keeping our Chicago parks a healthy place for everyone to enjoy,” said Tim Mitchell, Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO. “We are encouraging all Chicago residents to follow the Park District’s example and use more natural lawn care techniques that keep your lawn safe and healthy.”
“Residents can control weeds and get a naturally beautiful lawn without pesticides, which carry potential risks to human health and water quality,” said Rachel Rosenberg, Executive Director of Safer Pest Control Project. “A natural lawn will help reduce disease and pest problems safely, which can save time and money as an extra added benefit to your family.”
The Chicago Park District mows turf grass to keep weeds down. Following natural lawn care basics, the Park District keeps the grass three inches high. This allows the roots to grow strong and access water deep in the ground. As a result, the taller grass naturally shades out some weeds. With the reduction in use of chemical weed killers, dandelion flowers grow back quickly, oftentimes overnight. Therefore, the sight of dandelions indicates grass that is healthy and safe for all park patrons to play on.
The Park District has put together a factsheet for homeowners to learn more about simple, natural lawn care tips, which include:
”¢ Water Deeply and Infrequently: This encourages deep root growth. One inch per week is ideal. You can easily measure that amount by placing a cup in your yard while watering. When your sprinkler fills it one inch deep, your watering for the week is done. Water early in the morning to minimize disease problems.
”¢ Mow High: Keep your lawn mowed at three inches or higher. This will increase the root strength and naturally shade out weeds. Don’t mow your lawn unless it needs it. This creates healthy grass that can withstand drought and stay green longer.
”¢ Use Organic Fertilizer: Commercial fertilizers easily wash away, polluting nearby lakes and streams. Many contain toxic weed killers. Choose an organic fertilizer to capture and deliver nutrients in the lawn throughout the growing season. Keep grass clippings on the lawn as they are an excellent natural fertilizer.
”¢ Weed Naturally: Proper lawn care maintenance naturally eliminates most weeds. Annual reseeding gives grass an advantage over weeds. Avoid using pesticides, as they can harm other beneficial living things such as soil microorganisms, bees, birds and fish. The right tool makes quick work of weeding. After pulling weeds, use grass seed and soil to fill in the hole. Your lawn will be strong and healthy as a result.
Eliminating toxic pesticides is important in lawn and landscape management, considering that of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides: 14 are probable or possible carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, and 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants. The most popular and widely used lawn chemical 2,4-D, which kills broad leaf weeds like dandelions, is an endocrine disruptor with predicted human health risks ranging from changes in estrogen and testosterone levels, thyroid problems, prostate cancer and reproductive abnormalities. 2,4-D has also been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Other lawn chemicals like glyphosate (RoundUp) have also been linked to serious adverse chronic effects in humans. Imidacloprid, another pesticide growing in popularity, has been implicated in bee toxicity and the recent Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) phenomena.
The easiest and safest solution is to avoid chemical use and exposure by using alternative, non-toxic management methods for species that can cause economic and health problems, being more tolerant of species that are solely a nuisance or aesthetically displeasing, and using organic products.
Throughout the country there has been a growth in the pesticide-free movement. The passage of pesticide-free public land policies are very promising. Community activism is the best way to get your town to adopt such a policy. For assistance in proposing a policy to your city council (or its equivalent), contact Beyond Pesticides at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let your neighbors know your lawn and garden are organic by displaying a Pesticide Free Zone sign. For more information on being a part of the growing organic lawn care movement, see Beyond Pesticides Lawns and Landscapes program page.