Walt Whitman called weeds “plants whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” Lawn owners would surely agree with him. Unfortunately, they often resort to the nearest weapon — chemicals — when common sense, elbow grease, and ingenuity could do the trick.
The nonprofit organization American PIE (Public Information on the Environment) notes that callers to its helpline frequently want opposing things — the perfect lawn and no chemicals. A call from a Chicago man was typical. He’d brought home several bags of commercial fertilizer and while loading it into his garage noticed the dire warning labels. He thought, “I have a child toddling on this grass. Is this a good idea?”
Those warning labels are there for a reason. Many commercial fertilizers and herbicides may be harmful, and federal regulators continually upgrade controls and warnings.
The key to a chemical-free lawn is patience. Soil that’s been chemically treated has lost its naturally occurring, beneficial micro-organisms that nourish healthy plants. Like any addict, it will suffer withdrawal symptoms — in the case of a lawn, slow or patchy growth.
If you don’t want to use chemicals on your lawn, the best defense is a good offense. A healthy, thick lawn created in good soil and topped with a thin layer of compost, manure, or other organic material forestalls the common weeds, bugs, and diseases. When problems do arise in the lawn, natural remedies exist. There are alternatives to using herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers on the country’s nearly 30 million acres of lawn. Along the way to becoming chemical-free, you may even find a virtue or two in some common weeds.