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For many of us change begins at home. And there’s no place better to start reducing pesticide use in your community than in your own garden or yard. Saying ‘no’ to store-bought synthetic pesticides does not mean saying ‘yes’ to a lawn filled with weeds. Rather it simply means changing to a new way of getting rid of them. There is an alternative out there: organic land management and care.

“Kicking the chemical habit can vastly improve lawn health and decrease environmental problems. Synthetic chemicals are like junk food for plants; they are used quickly and then you are left with no reserves."
- Midwest Pesticide Action Organization

starting at home

Mom & Daughter Blowing Bubbles In Backyard

At Stonyfield, we know a lot about organic land care because for decades, we’ve been buying milk from farmers who manage their cow pastures organically.  Organic land care is much more than saying ‘no toxic persistent pesticides’. Changing from conventional pesticides to organic is not a simple product swap out. It’s a completely different system, shifting from an input intensive system to a knowledge-based system. It starts with healthy soil built with natural inputs and natural sources of fertility.  And this approach is pretty much the same whether you are feeding your cows on organic grass, gardening at home or responsible for your school’s athletic fields.

Want to make this transition yourself? Here are 4 easy tips to get your started down the right path of changing your backyard to organic!

4 tips for healthier lawns & gardens




Soil testing is key

Most of us are not taught to test the soil. We put product down based on a manufacturer's recommendation—and it doesn’t occur to us to think any differently. The appropriate way to fertilize grass though is to take an initial soil test. That soil test will tell us what is going on in the soil and what we might need to do to correctly balance it for the best health of the grass and the life in the soils. In most regions of the country, land-grant universities provide soil testing services at very reasonable prices. You can go online and download a submittal form and send off a sample per their directions.

 
 



Stop Using Harmful Pesticides

The easiest change you can make in your backyard starting today? STOP Using Harmful Pesticides and Herbicides! Many pesticides used in lawn care can contain harmful chemicals that are potentially detrimental to the health of your family, along with the environment in and around your yard. Insecticides or herbicides are usually used to address a specific pest or weed, but butterflies, bees, frogs, and other creatures that might come into contact with the pesticides used in your yard could also be severely harmed by these chemicals. These pesticides and herbicides can come into your home on your family's clothing, shoes, or skin and stay in the fibers of your home for quite some time. This is the easiest switch you can make starting today.




The exclusive use of organic fertilizers

If we are trying to “go organic” and eliminate a dependence upon synthetic pesticides, we also have to eliminate the use of these synthetic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers are manufactured using fossil fuels, salt-based and generally water-soluble. This kind of fertilizer directly feeds the plant and can be detrimental to a healthy biological soil system. In contrast, organic fertilizers, that are generally water-insoluble, feed the life in the soil, and the soil in turn feeds the plant.
 
 



Mowing height

It is generally accepted for most grasses (some warm season grasses excepted) that the ideal stress-free mowing height is around 3 inches. It is at this height when the grass can achieve maximum health, efficiently produce its own food through photosynthesis, begin to outcompete annual weed seed germination and many broad leaf weed pressures, develop deep roots, and stand up to drought conditions. For some of us that are used to cutting their lawns very short, this may seem like a big change. Most people, once they moved to a 3-inch height, appreciate the lush look that comes as the result.

other great resources

If you want to learn more, there are some first-rate guides on how to change your lawn from conventional pesticide-based care to organic care.  Here are a few resources you might want to check out:

Non Toxic Neighborhoods, helps cities, school districts, HOAs, private businesses and major developers transition to organic landscaping practices successfully by sharing their proven and replicable methods. NTN's Toolkit and step by step Playbook provides how you can do this where you live from supporting research to shareable documents.

Osborne Organics “Chip” Osborne, Jr., Founder of Osborne Organics and the Organic Landscape Association has over 17 years of experience in creating safe, sustainable, and healthy landscapes and athletic fields through natural turf management. He shares his expertise here.

Beyond Pesticides, a national non-profit, keeps it clear and simple with their eight steps to healthy lawn care.

Northeast Organic Farming Association has written a thorough guide for organic land care.

Harvard University is clearly not anyone’s ‘backyard’ but the university has written an excellent brief on its organic maintenance program and its transition from pesticides.