The Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Act (2009) and the changing weather patterns have made lawn care a bit more challenging, but not impossible. A few steps will help you to grow a healthy, hardy, lawn that can compete with weeds and better resist pest and disease. 

Don't put up with a bad lawn just because you can no longer apply pesticides. it is possible to have a great lawn, its just takes a little work.

Don’t put up with a bad lawn just because you can no longer apply pesticides. it is possible to have a great lawn, it just takes a little work.

To do this you need to:

  •   Feed the soil
  •   Choose the right grass type
  •   Practice preventative management
  •   Monitor for pest or disease

Soil is the foundation to healthy plants. It is important to top dress with well-screened, weed-seed free compost. Compost:

  • Provides a whole range of nutrients; it is like a healthy meal versus just vitamins  (fertlizer).
  • Feeds those soil micro-organisms that keep the soil functioning.
  • Increases the water holding capacity of the soil. 

Just like humans, sometimes we may need to supplement our meals with vitamins, research is showing that some fertilizer may be warranted – BUT, applied properly:

  • Only 2x a season is needed, spring and fall.
  • Use a slow release in the fall (no later than Sept 15).
  • Choose one that has a good balance of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
  • Do not apply it before an expected rain event.

 A mix of grass species is best, look for a grass seed blend that suits your sun exposure and the amount of wear and tear your lawn receives. Include turf-type ryes and fescues which have longer roots and offer increased pest resistance. Keep an eye out for some very promising new grass species like RTF and RPR which may be listed as “self-repairing”.

For annual lawn maintenance:

  • Aerate, especially for heavily compacted (clay) soil.
  • Top dress your lawn with 1/3 inch of good screened compost
  • Overseed with a mix of grass seeds.
  • Mow properly; with sharp blades, do not cut your grass any lower than 2.5 – 3 inches
  • Leave clippings on your lawn so the water and nitrogen they contain goes right back to the soil.
  • Monitor and properly identify pests so that you know what, how and when to use a control method.

 If you water your lawn, water properly with a maximum of one inch of water a week, including rain. Avoid ‘sprinkling’ watering which promotes a weak shallow root system. If you don’t water your lawn, don’t start once the lawn has gone dormant, it will stress the lawn.

 

How can you keep your lawn healthy when it’s hot and dry? If you want a green lawn when the weather is hot and dry, it is going be tough, as you are fighting Mother Nature. You see, in northern climates, including Southern Ontario, turf is composed of cool season grasses such as Kentucky Blue Grass, Fescues and Perennial Ryes. Their most active growing periods are in the spring and fall when temperatures are moderate and precipitation events are more frequent. These species have their dormancy period during the hot and dry summer months and over the winter.

Lawns in northern climates naturally go dormant when the weather gets hot.

So, our turf is smart; it knows when the best times of the year are to grow and which ones are not. When it gets hot and dry, the grass begins to go dormant to protect itself from stress, damage and possible death. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, healthy cool season turf grass can survive up to six weeks without rain during the summer.

If your grass goes into dormancy (turns yellow), and then you decide to water it, you can cause a lot of stress. Consider being woken from a sleep with a bucket of cold water, it would be a bit of shock. However, grass can get up and run after the culprit…

Keeping your grass green and lush during a hot dry summer will take work and a LOT of water. You will have to continue to water your lawn throughout the summer to prevent the grass from ever going into dormancy. It may mean a fabulous looking green lawn, but you are breaking the turf’s natural tendency to go into dormancy. You will also be wasting drinking water, water that has to be pumped, purified and delivered to your tap by your local municipality. That takes a lot of energy, energy that causes carbon emissions, contributing to smog and poor air quality. And then you get your water bill… Although we don’t pay a lot for water in Canada, it still adds up.

Basically you have three options for your lawn;

Option 1: Let it go into dormancy. Stay off it at this time and monitor for chinch bugs, which may take advantage of your sleeping lawn. (see http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/08-019.htm  for details)

The benefits:

  • You won’t have to mow your lawn so often.
  • Less money spent on your water bill.
  • More time to spend doing fun things with your friend and family, instead of worrying about your lawn.
  • You be reducing the demand on municipal water systems and air quality.
  • No more wrestling with the hose.
  • You are helping the environment by doing absolutely nothing.

Option 2: Be that guy and spend your free time, energy and money fighting Mother Nature to keep your lawn from going dormant. You may have the best looking green lawn on the block, but you may end up being the oddball on the block.  Across Canada, almost half of the population no longer waters their lawns, less than 20% water their lawns on a regular basis.

A green lawn that will need a LOT of water!

The benefits:

  • A green lawn that stands out. Neighbours will walk by and comment on how your lawn is one of the few on the block with a green lawn.
  • The time spent watering and mowing your lawn means you will have less time to spend with your in-laws.
  • Who know what fabulous ideas you will come up with while you spend hours mindlessly watering and mowing the lawn?

Option 3: Consider alternatives to turf. Typically you see suggestions to get rid of your lawn and plant a garden. Healthy turf can go six weeks without water. If you are replacing your lawn with a garden, make sure the garden won’t need more water and maintenance than the lawn would have. Consider sedums, succulents, decorative stonework, mulched areas, larger deck and outdoor living areas or more tree and shrubs (with mulch, good soil and the right species, an established shrub bed can last weeks in a dry spell). You could also try a clover lawn, which stays green in the summer and fixes its own nitorgen, eliminating the need for fertlizer!

The benefits:

  • A trendy, easy to care for alternative to the suburban lawn.
  • Better looking landscape in a drought.
  • NO MORE MOWING.
  • More livable space to spend all the extra time you will have with your loved ones.
  • Better curb appeal for your home.

Some ideas:

A lawn alternative idea for a sunny spot. From www.gardensnob.com

Lawn alternative for shade. From www.richlanddesign.com

A little bit of grass in this one… but you get the idea. From http://www.alonsolandscapeservice.com

Here is a link to another blog with some nice ideas for lawn alternatives: http://jocelynsgarden.blogspot.com/2011/08/garden-designers-roundtable-lawn.html (it is from down south, but use the concepts, they still work up north).

It’s your choice folks.

Happy gardening….

Aileen

Easy Weedin’

April 12, 2012

Cosmetic pesticides are now banned for use in Ontario, meaning you cannot buy them or APPLY them (even if you get them from the states). As easy as they seemed for getting rid of weeds and pests, they did not solve the problem, they merely treated the symptoms. The new approach to pesticide-free lawn care may seem like more work, but it will pay off in the end.

 

Many people are complaining about the ban, but I think it’s a great idea. When I mention this to those who do not support the ban, they often respond with details on how the pesticides aren’t that bad and that the health claims against them are false or overhyped.  I admit I don’t know every detail of the health impacts of pesticides, but I do know that they are chemicals that kill living things.

 

My biggest concern about the use of cosmetic pesticides on residential lawns is what I call the “Idiot Factor”.  These are the people that do not follow the proper guidelines for the use of these chemicals.  I have been in garden centres, pre-ban, and heard people say that they weren’t really sure what was causing the dead patches on their lawns, so they were going to buy one of each pesticide and apply them all together, figuring that something would work. I have also heard people talk about how they would double or triple the application rates for better results.

 

I have seen lawn care companies go to the wrong address and spray the backyard with pesticides, right over top of the homeowner’s young children’s toys that were in the backyard. One of the children had severe sensitivities to chemicals and they had to throw out all of his toys that were sprayed, much to the child’s disappointment and to the parents’ fury.

 

I have had lawn care summer students tell me that the dead patch on my lawn was definitely grub damage and that I would have to spray my entire lawn to get rid of them. The dead patch was where because I had left a bad bag of compost out for too long in the sun. The rest of my lawn was free of any dead patches and any sign of grub damage.

 

These people are the reason why I support the ban. Even if 99% of people were using cosmetic pesticides the correct way and the “Idiot Factor” only represented 1%, that is 1% of trouble I would rather not see.

 

So, how can you get rid of your weeds?  First of all, it is time to rethink the lawn. Even golf courses do not have 100% grass blade turf.  Nature does not naturally have pure monocultures of any species, including grass.  Do you really want to spend your free time fighting the forces of nature?

 

Secondly, look at the weeds as a symptom, not the problem. If you have weeds on your lawn, they are there because of a bigger problem. A thick healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds. Weeds arrive when there is compaction, bare spots or thin turf, basically a sign your lawn is weak and needs to toughen up.  For more information on lawn care, see my previous post…

For picking weeds, I have played with several weed “pluckers” and I have my favourite type…

 

My preferred weed plucker

I find this one works well and does not take a huge chunk out of my lawn like the Fiskar’s model. It also works to aerate compacted lawns. After you pull out the weed, fill the hole in with a mixture of sand and seed, and if mixed and used on the same day, some compost.

 

 

Twist, pull and push it out.

Looking for a cost-effective option, try a steak knife and some pre-weeding stretches. For years, my mother would wander around the lawn with her steak knife cutting out the weeds. The lawn always looked great and she only spent around 15 minutes each week weeding.

No one wants to go out in the rain, but if you can get out just after the rain, the weeds pull out much easier… You may get dirtier than on a dry day, but a little dirt has got to be good for the soul.

At minimum, make sure to pick off the  weed flower heads before they go to seed (when they are blooming) to reduce the weed seed bank in your lawn and  garden.

Lastly, are the “weeds” you are worrying about really a bad thing? Some see clover as a weed. Clover has the ability to take Nitrogen from the air and make it accessible to roots under the ground. Why spend all that money on lawn fertilizer when clover gives it to you for free. Cost effective plant magic! Clover also stays green during a drought and provides pollen for bees. (FYI – our bee populations are in big trouble and they pollinate a huge majority of our food crops, they really need our help and do not generally sting unless heavily provoked).

Because your lawn is pesticide free, dandelion leaves are safe for consumption. They are great in a mixed salad and you can make wine from them! No matter how ugly you think dandelions are, can you really hate anything that gives you wine?

If in doubt about how your lawn looks, go across the road and look at it from the neighbors’ perspective, it probably looks much better…If it still looks less than perfect, have a glass or two of wine and repeat.

 

Nutritious and you can make wine from them!

 

If you have a specific question about weeds, email us at info@rmsi.ca

For more information on the ban visit: http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/environment/en/category/pesticides/index.htm

Happy Gardening!
Aileen