Why is a safe, green, child-friendly lawn important?
There’s so much for a child to explore and learn – right in your own back yard. Children can explore the biodiversity of your lawn by catching insects, worms, frogs, and by listening to birds sing. They can learn to identify different plants and explore their scents, colors and textures or lie back in the grass and watch the clouds.
Enjoying the outdoors and developing a love for nature is good for the body, mind and spirit. But no parent wants her child playing in chemicals.
The Importance of a Safe, Child-Friendly Lawn
The EPA considers runoff from lawn chemicals a non-point source of water pollution. When it rains, the excess chemicals run off into streams and lakes.
These chemicals can get into our drinking water. The nutrients that promote grass growth also cause algae and pond weeds to grow. It creates a cycle that can affect food quality and the habitat for fish and other organisms.
Here are the three most impactful ways (plus a few honorable mentions) to keep your lawn a safe, green pet and child-friendly place.
Choose a Safe Fertilizer and Apply in the Fall
There are many options for natural fertilizers. You can use compost, aged animal manure, or purchase an organic brand.
Don’t just assume that your lawn needs to be fertilized, get your soil tested for levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Most local Agricultural Extension Offices will test your soil for free or for a small fee. Use this interactive map to find your local Cooperative Extension System Office.
Contrary to what some chemical companies may lead you to believe, there’s usually no reason to fertilize your lawn more often than once a year.
You should fertilize in the fall, which will allow the nutrients in the fertilizers to soak into the soil and be ready for uptake when your grass starts growing again in the spring. Skip spraying pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides and opt to pull weeds by hand or wear natural insect repellent as necessary.
Over-fertilization is a major cause of pollution to our waterways, since the excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus run off into surface waters. An excess of nutrients in aquatic ecosystems will essentially fertilize plant life there, causing a state of eutrophication (imagine a pond covered in a green layer of algae).
Eutrophication can result in low oxygen levels, since all that plant growth will eventually die off and need to be decomposed by aerobic bacteria. Since all organisms need oxygen, this can have a devastating effect on the aquatic ecosystem.
Mow Less Often and Leave More Grass
Instead of mowing your lawn once a week, leave the grass a little longer and mow every two weeks. Longer grass will help to shade the soil, reducing the amount of evaporation of water in the soil, which will help your grass in the hot summer months. Longer blades of grass will also improve the plant’s photosynthesis, helping it to build a stronger root system.
Mowing less will also improve your air quality, since gas-powered lawn mowers release emissions that include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides that can lead to the formation of ground level ozone. Children are especially sensitive to these atmospheric pollutants, so reduce them as much as you can! You can also eliminate those emissions altogether and use a human powered reel mower. Or if you live out in the country, consider getting some sheep to keep your grass trimmed and provide natural fertilizer at the same time.
When you do mow the lawn, leave the clippings there. Often people want to remove grass clippings, but leaving them on the lawn will allow them to decompose and return important nutrients back into the soil. According to the New York City Department of Sanitation, leaving the clippings on the lawn can provide it with up to 25% of the nitrogen that the grass needs.
Skip or Lower Your Watering Schedule
We often see irrigation systems running when it is raining or shortly after a storm because they are set to automatic timers. This is a waste of water and will result in increased runoff into surface waters. When you choose not to water – or only water as needed, you will reduce your overall water usage, water and/or electric bill, depending on whether you have a well or municipal water.
Pay attention to local weather patterns, and when you are experiencing drought follow the local advisories (or mandates) to refrain from watering your lawn. However, save the wasted water from around your household and you can use that to water your lawn or garden. You can use a bucket to collect water in the shower that runs while you wait for it to warm up or place a bowl in the sink to catch water that is used when washing your hands or preparing food. You can also install a rainwater harvesting system to save water that falls onto your roof.
Other Ways to Keep a Safe, Green Lawn
Create more green areas with native plants
You can minimize outdoor water use and maintain soil integrity by using native, drought-tolerant plants. This approach is called xeriscaping. Native plants are a low maintenance addition to your landscape. Because local birds and other animals are used to living around these plants, you’re actually helping to preserve biodiversity in your area.
Native plants also grow well in groups. They only need to be watered during establishment, and they’re extremely adaptable to local conditions and to local pests. You can find which plants are native to your region at PlantNative.org.
Build good soil
Green experts say the best place to start is with a soil test. Rich soil grows healthier grass and plants, and it reduces the need for additional fertilizers.
You can find mail-in soil kits at your local extension office or through online lab services. These reports give you an accurate result of what nutrients your soil needs and how much you should use.
Keep your lawn weed-free naturally
Weeds happen. Here are three very easy ways to get rid of them before they spread:
2) Boil some water and pour it on the weeds.
3) Use corn gluten all over your lawn to prevent weeds from ever coming up. Corn gluten only works as prevention and won’t get rid of weeds that have already sprouted.
Get Out and ENJOY Your Toxin-Free Lawn
After all of the work you put into maintaining a safe, child-friendly lawn, be sure to take your children outside to breathe the clean air, get some sun to help make Vitamin D, and run around barefoot in the grass.