Boards & Commissions

Organic Lawn Care

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The safest way to a beautiful lawn is to work with nature, not against it. "Organic Lawn Care" focuses on the soil to build a beautiful, deep-rooted, dense lawn. Costs and maintenance requirements are lower vs. synthetic pesticide lawn care programs after the first one to two years. Comparative cost analysis study.

Synthetic pesticides (e.g., herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc.) and synthetic fertilizers used in traditional lawn care programs are associated with health risks which are especially consequential for children and pets (fact sheets provided by BeyondPesticides.org). Synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers trap lawns into an unhealthy and expensive cycle of chemical dependency. For a discussion of the benefits of organic fertilizer over synthetic fertilizer, click here.

Organic lawn care can be done on a do-it-yourself basis (Brochure, Videos) or by a lawn care professional specializing in the process. NOFA (The Northeast Organic Farming Association) offers an organic lawn care accreditation program for professionals. NOFA-NJ offers a list of accredited NJ organic lawn care professionals, while NOFA offers a list of accredited organic lawn care professionals in the eastern U.S. NOFA-NJ also assembled 2011 and 2012 lists which contained broader listings of both NOFA accredited and unaccredited NJ organic lawn care professionals. Rutgers Cooperative Extension also has an Organic Land Care program, and it offers a list of landscape professionals who have taken the Rutgers Organic Land Care Certification course and have passed the certification exam. Another resource for finding organic lawn care professionals in NJ is The New Jersey Organic Landcare Association.

If you live in a condominium or rental community, discuss hiring an organic lawn care professional with your board or property manager. Until this occurs, be aware that per the NJDEP Pesticide Control Program (Subchapter 9 - Pesticide Exposure Management, 7:30-9:13 - Notification: Turf or Ornamental Applications) you have the right to receive - upon request - advance notification of any pesticide applications as well as the pesticide labels.

In 2008 Bernards Township, NJ adopted an Integrated Pest Management Resolution covering all township owned property. The policy utilizes organic lawn care practices allowing for the elimination of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizer on all sports fields and key lawn areas, and it designates all parks as Pesticide Free Zones. The Board of Health supported the policy by passing Resulotion BH 10:09, and the Board of Education followed with their own policy declaring that school lawns and sports fields shall be managed without lawn care pesticides. The Mayor, the Township Committee, the Board of Health, the Green Team, the Board of Education, and the Environmental Commission encourage all citizens to participate in this endeavor on their own property.

Integrated Pest Management Resolution Commentary.

Organic Lawn Care Basics

This is a short summary of what you will find in the brochure and video links above as well as in the materials below:

  • Feed the Soil - Add compost and liquid "compost tea" to the lawn.
  • Feed the Turf - Leave grass clippings (mulched, ideally) in the lawn to recycle nutrients and add organic matter. Fertilizer needs will be reduced by at least 25%. Replace synthetic fertilizer with organic fertilizer (look for organic fertilizers which say they are "OMRI Listed" on their packaging) to build the soil, feed the turf, and reduce watering needs by 30% according to Harvard's findings.
  • Overseed - Thick turf out-competes weeds. Apply seed over the existing lawn in early fall, and aerate the soil. Consider using a diversity of seed types to strengthen the turf's resistance to disease impacting a single type of turf. Note that tall fescue, fine-leaf fescue, and perennial ryegrass turf grass types are advantageous as they contain fungi which in turn create compounds which are toxic to certain grubs.
  • Test the Soil - Soil tests identify the need for amendments (typically lime (calcium) to raise the pH) and fertilizer nutrients. A soil pH between 6 and 7 is required for weed prevention. See the fertilizer link above for a link to the local soil test lab.
  • Mow High - Cutting the grass height at 3-4 inches helps reduce watering needs by allowing the soil to retain more moisture, and it also prevents weeds. Keep mower blades sharp to limit disease.
  • Water Only As Needed - Too much water makes lawns vulnerable to disease and encourages shallow turf roots which is detrimental the turf's self-sufficiency. 1" of water per week, delivered in a short interval, is optimal to foster a strong deep-rooted turf.
  • Weed Control - Corn gluten, applied during spring when the Forsythia bloom, prevents weeds from germinating. For spot weed control on sidewalks and driveways, use a lemon juice & vinegar mixture.
  • Pest Control - Common lawn insects can be controlled in the current season with beneficial nematodes. Longer term, Milky Spore Powder controls for Japanese beetle grubs. Organisms in compost and liquid "compost tea" helps keep lawns healthy and pest-free.

Resources

Safelawns.org

BeyondPesticides.org/lawn

Books

The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey

The NOFA Organic Lawn and Turf Handbook by the NOFA Organic Lawn Care Committee

Movies and Videos

The DVD movie A Chemical Reaction chronicles the origin of the organic lawn care movement in Canada and the U.S., and it also serves as an educational vehicle for individuals and organizations interested in reducing or eliminating lawn care pesticides.

The How to Make the Organic Lawn Care Transition DVD won a major award from the Garden Writers Association of America, and is available from SafeLawns.org. The DVD includes 16 how-to segments that cover an entire season of lawn care from spring through fall.

Playing it Safe video - produced in support of the New York's 2010 Child Safe Playing Field Act.

This Old House compost tea video - Roger Cook and Kevin O'Connor discuss making compost tea at Harvard Yard and in your own yard.

Pesticide Free Zone "Ladybug" Signs

  • Show your neighbors that a lawn cared for without pesticides is important to community health by displaying a Pesticide Free Zone "Ladybug" sign on your lawn. They can be purchased here.

News

Bernards Multi-Family Associations Consider Fewer Lawn Chemicals – May 2013

Rutgers Extension graduates 27 New Jersey landscapers in its first Organic Land Care Certification Course – February 2013

NJ Pediatricians back the NJ Child Safe Playing Fields Act – December 2012

American Academy of Pediatrics article "Pesticide Exposure in Children" – November 2012

Bernards Township adopts Resolution #2012-0434 supporting the NJ Child Safe Playing Fields Act – October 2012

District of Columbia lawn pesticide ban (signed into law 8/9/12) - August 2012

Glenstone case study – February 2012

Imprelis Weed Killer Damaging Trees - November 2011

Weed Killer Sickens 47 Children at Ohio School - October 2011

Mount Sinai pediatricians' testimony in support of proposed NJ Child Safe Playing Fields Act - March 2011

Child Safe Playing Field Act Signed into Law by New York Governor - May 2010

Bernards Township NJ Board of Ed declares school lawns and athletic fields as pesticide free zones - March 2010

The grass is greener at Harvard - September 2009

New Brunswick, Canada, bans lawn care pesticides - June 2009

Bernards Township NJ creates pesticide free zones - March 2009

Pesticides Trigger Parkinson's Disease - Spring 2008

Ontario bans lawn care pesticides - April 2008

Connecticut bans lawn care pesticides on school lawns - June 2007

Harvard report on Parkinson's link to pesticides - June 2006

USGS study finds pesticides permeate U.S. waters - March 2006

Quebec bans lawn care pesticides - March 2003

Lymphoma Foundation of America report "Do Pesticides Cause Lymphoma?" (see pg. 16 for recommendations) - 2001

Bernards Township Student Poster Contests

Results of the 2011 Organic Lawn Care Poster Contest

Results of the 2012 Organic Lawn Care Poster Contest