Lawn Chemicals

by Daisy on 03/22/2011

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I’m stepping onto my soapbox today, frustrated because I can’t enjoy the smells of Spring without the periodic stench of lawn chemicals.  I worry what they may be doing to my children, myself, you, and the environment.

Frustrated because I fear a fight to control it would be an overwhelmingly quixotic scenario here in a land where lawn is king, and dandelion is its nemesis.

I was walking in my neighborhood with one of my tinies.  The henbit is in full bloom, and the aforementioned dandelions are hitting their stride.  She gasped with amazement as we rounded a corner and saw a yard full of beautiful purple henbit flowers, dotted with golden dandelions.

Let me pronounce right now:  She has it right.  It is beautiful.  Healthy.  Biodiverse.  End of discussion.

I couldn’t explain to her in a million years why anyone would want to kill that swath of flowers, why a homeowner would be embarrassed by a lawn full of color like that.

Because it doesn’t make any sense.

I know there are at least two sides.  The EPA says it’s safe.  Livelihoods depend on the chemical and lawn service industries.

Reading this, I have to say, I don’t think it’s worth it.  I think those industries, particularly the lawn service industries, can refocus on environmentally sound lawn care, and they can make it affordable for the consumer.

I also believe an orientation away from the perfect lawn ideal must be a part of the reformation.

I won’t even insist you till up your grass and plant an organic vegetable and fruit garden (although it would be nice).

Just stop spraying.  It goes everywhere, it goes into my lungs, and I think that impinges on my right to clean air.

One of the most frustrating parts of this is that if I had a neighbor complain to the city about me on the days I spray fish emulsion on my garden, I think they would get a lot more sympathy and action than my complaining about their chemical service.  Maybe I’m exaggerating.  I hope so.

But I doubt it.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali March 22, 2011 at 10:50 am

I agree with you. I hate the smell of the air when the lawn care trucks are in the neighborhood. I wrote about being the anxiety I feel at having the only dandelion yard in the neighborhood :

Jessie March 22, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Thankfully lawn care is pretty much limited to mowing in our neighborhood. I can’t think of when I’ve ever seen anyone out doing some major spraying. Weeds aren’t really appreciated, but it’s not a big deal. Perfect lawns in general aren’t a big deal. We don’t even water lawns when there’s a drought. Maybe it’s a regional thing. I see people using weed killer on their driveways occasionally, but it’s limited to hand-held devices. Stories like yours where you can actually smell the chemicals used on your neighbor’s lawn makes me so happy that it’s not a problem where we live.

Tracy in SCL March 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Since I have MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity), I can’t even leave my house when the lawn care trucks are in the neighborhood! I won’t even go on about the neighbors and their dryer sheets. 🙁

Tomato Lady March 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Jessie–It’s nice to know it isn’t everywhere. Here it’s automatic. And the lawns don’t really look that great to me, anyway. Money, chemicals, water waste and so-so grass.

Mimi March 22, 2011 at 5:20 pm

“Pick as many as you like,” said the lady from just inside her door when we started to run away, guilty of picking her dandelions. My sister and I, 60 years ago, thought they were beautiful wild flowers on the neighbor’s lawn. We’d never seen them before and wanted to give our mother a bouquet. Until she died, my mother always had dandelions in season in a beautiful vase in her home, to remind herself of that day. Now I shudder when I see the commercials with children playing on a sprayed lawn. The chemical companies are heinous. (In my opinion.) I’m taking this occasion to tell you that I love your blog.

Karen March 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I just wanted to tell you thanks – for letting me know the name of a flower that I’ve liked since childhood.
I was able to google henbit and find its relative – “dead nettle” – I just wish this pretty flower had a prettier name.

Charles Franklin March 22, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Re: Dandelions

Found this on the web. Check out point number 7. Dandelion root dried sells for $31.75 a pound. That is considerably more than Bermuda grass clippings sell for. Might want to reconsider the economics of your lawn. 🙂

Alice March 22, 2011 at 7:20 pm

I love my violets, I cannot even imagine my lawn without them.

Years ago when my dad first moved to this town he walked to work and did a lot of jay walking — including straying onto others lawns. He discovered that the beautifully manicured (sprayed and fertilized) lawns while looking fine in summer were a muddy mess in winter. I guess all those chemicals aren’t so good for the microbes that help to maintain the soil. Luckily, I think they are the exception rather than the rule here.

Michelle March 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Since I have starting planting edible landscaping when I see a yard with a super green lawn I have to stop and think how beautiful that yard would be if it had a garden! In today’s economy it would be wonderful if everyone instead of having lawns actually had gardens! Just think of the co-op’s that could be had! It just seems such a waste of time to have perfectly landscaped yards that offer little more than a perfect view instead of a bumper crop! Just think if you took out hedges and planted blueberry bushes instead for starters! Something wonderful to think about.

Suzanne March 22, 2011 at 7:29 pm

The front green yard of perfect grass was a creation of the 50’s, post WWII (this I just learned in a Master Gardener class lecture.) This relatively recent phenomenon has poured excessive nitrogen into our waterways through run-off – we were shown fertilizer bags that were 22 to 33% Nitrogen by weight from, and yes I will name them, the Scotts Company one of the major fertilizer offenders in lawn care. This does not count weed killers and other supplements these lawn care companies feel are necessary. Rather, there is an established approach of organic care, much less offensive to the environment, and your suggestion that these companies adopt these practices just changes the paradigm of lawn care. No one would be put out of work, rather they would be working, just differently. If people still felt a need for a lawn, I, like you, believe mostly used vegetable and flower spaces are far better, they should have them aerated and de-thatched and water them properly, not too excessively but deeply once per week, and all neighborhoods in America would be safer, more environmentally friendly places.

MyBethie March 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm

We don’t put down chemicals, but this year I want to actually put all those dandelions to good use! I hand pulled ’em last year (we don’t have much lawn thankfully!) but threw ’em in with all the other weeds (which wound up in a landfill somewhere b/c I don’t think my compost get’s hot enough to kill the weeds). This year I’m harvesting the early leaves for salad and the roots will be roasted and ground for dandelion tea. Then there’s dandelion wine, fried dandelions, etc… This will be new to me, so I’ll let you know how it turns out… or if I crash and burn!

Karen hornsten March 22, 2011 at 8:40 pm

No exageration on your part at all. I have feeling the same way for more than 20 years. I have gotten Organic Gardening magazine since the 70’s. I used to waffle a bit, wanting and trying to keep the Creeping Charlie from invading my lawn and the neighbor’s lawns. i even tried a killing spray, abandoning my organic efforts, trying to keep my lawn lush and pretty(?) like the neighbor’s on each side of me. I have since moved, care even more about organic, and enjoy seeing the organic movement take a firmer hold. But my hopes are dashed now, seeing the Agriculture Dept. Reverse its stand and now allowing Monsanto to produce and sell the first genetically modified Alfalfa, the first modified perrenial sold. This scares me. But I try and do my part, even though living in California is certainly a dichotomy. The land of organic, and the land of heavy spraying of Roundup everywhere, not like living in Minnesota, where I grew up. Keep true to your gardening AND protesting of spraying lawn chemicals, for the sake of the dear ones, the little ones. Grow ORGANIC, plant and scatter wildflower seeds wherever you can. it is all we can do.

Denise March 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm

I am happy to say that we have a pesticide ban for lawns (Ontario Cosmeticl Pesticide Ban) where I live. We still have a lawn care industry, then have had to alter their spraying practices and began to use alternatives.

Sadly, there are exemptions for places like Golf Courses. But regular home owners can no longer spray chemicals all over the place as you so eloquently wrote about.

Lindsay March 22, 2011 at 10:39 pm

I see lawn chemicals a lot like I see Tylenol and the like. Most of the time, you are simply treating the symptoms. Around here, we have highly invasive bermuda for lawns. When weeds start taking over, each one tells us where our lawn is deficient, because if bermuda had it’s druthers, it would be everywhere. Dandelions mean the soil is compacted (and those deep tap roots help fix that problem), clover means you’re nitrogen deficient (also fixes the problem), etc. So before we start spraying, maybe you should start fixing the problems first, then see if you actually need to spray. Use those weeds as free soil tests 🙂

Lindsay March 22, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Oh, and my daughter is simply enamored with gifting everyone she knows and loves with ‘buttercups’ this time of year (dandelions). Who am I to take that away from her?

jan March 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

I LOVE my first, tender little dandelion plants showing up in my yard. I pick the tender little leaves, wash them is cold water and mix them into our salads. It is so yummy. I refuse to put any chemicals on my yard. My grandchildren and my dogs play there. I want it to be safe for them. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen the kids pull the little purple blossoms off the clover and “suck” out the sweet nectar. We did it when we were kids, too. I cannot control much in my life, but my yard will be as safe as possible for us to enjoy. Don’t like certain “weeds”…mow them down.

Debbie March 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm

When we first moved to our neighborhood, I was struck by the fact that we had no dragonflies, but a multitude of mosquitos. Then I became aware of the fact that nearly all of my neighbors subscribed to a lawn spray service. Which I am sure directly contributed to the decline of the dragonflies in our area. Now, for nearly 10 years, the spray services have quit coming and our beneficial bugs are starting to thrive. And that makes me very happy.


Jenn March 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I have always wondered how anything called “ChemLawn” ever sounded like a good idea. I like my “bio-diverse” lawn. Our chickens LOVE eating the dandelions and our kids love to pick the wildflowers.

Jennifer Lorenzetti March 24, 2011 at 7:13 am

Man, I hear ‘ya. I always have that moment of irritation when I’m out carefully flipping my compost pile so no neighbor knows it is there, and I realize I’m sneezing because Chem-Lawn has been next door.

nancy March 24, 2011 at 7:21 am

I really don’t like the henbit because it grows where I don’t want it. If it would grow in the middle of the yard, I would probably let it be. It’s easy to pull out of my beds, though. Thanks for giving it a name for me!! And the bees love the dandelions. =)

Chrissy March 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

It is unfortunate that whatever program you have that puts the ads on your site has bordered this post entirely with ads about chemical lawn care! I like Michelle’s idea about edible landscaping. I have also heard that it is healthy for a lawn to be about 30% clover, dandelion, etc… I do have an issue with crabgrass, but I don’t know how to get rid of that!

Julie March 24, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I am so with you on this! We don’t use chemicals for all the reasons you mentioned. Our lawn doesn’t look the “best” by the usual standards, but it is safe, and no chemicals leach into our garden.

Ginny April 6, 2011 at 10:46 am

I’m totally 100% here with you. I didn’t know what those purple flowers were called until you mentioned henbit but we let the dandelions grow, my kids love to blow the seed heads and watch the fluff blow away on the wind just like I did when I was a kid. The neighbors probably hate us. And whoever in the comments mentioned violets, I agree, they’re my favorite wildflower. Spring wouldn’t be spring without those glowing purple jewels in their bed of bright green, peeping through a veil of the ‘onion snow’. Besides which, dandelion greens are good for you. The only negative thing I can think about them is that they attract bees so you have to be a bit careful. But so what? Vibrant cheerful color is worth that!

Evie April 28, 2011 at 4:36 am

I had a day off a couple of weeks ago and was horrified to see a TruGreen truck in front of my next door neighbor’s yard. Because of old zoning, my property line is 4 in. from my house, and next to me is the neighbors’ big yard. My bedroom windows are on that side of the house, as well as three other windows. I don’t have air conditioning and love to leave my windows open all through the warm weather. Now I can’t. I’m beside myself. I have already lost a dog to cancer that I think was caused by exposure to these chemicals from another neighbor, and am afraid for my other little dog, as well as myself. The people who use these services are totally oblivious to how harmful these chemicals are and allow their precious children, grandchildren, and animals frolick on their chemically treated grass. Have they no conscience? How can they possibly not know how harmful these chemicals are?

Judy February 20, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Thank you for speaking the truth about the horrid preference and prevalence of the ugly perfect green lawns that can cause cancer, Parkinsons, neurologic damage and the like, just to name a few. I have been so ill and in so much pain thanks to having moved into what appeared to be a pleasant over 55 community that has become a nightmare for my health. I have been ill since I moved in here and no longer no where to look. I find it interesting that the commentator from Canada says it’s not even allowed there. Were it so, here! Despite my having told the head of the HOA how ill and all of my joints were in screaming pain due to their unannounced pesticide sprays by the gardeners he swears by..the Pres still doesn’t care and says they will be coming by every week to spray more on the weeds, etc. What do I do? How do I find another place quickly before my health deterioates irretreviably before my very eyes!

Tomato Lady February 20, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Judy–I’m so sorry about your suffering. What a spot you’re in. I don’t know how much energy you want to expend to fight this, but here is one HOA that stopped spraying: It doesn’t sound like that HOA was as sold on the treatments in the first place as yours is, though. An organization that seems to be on the forefront of opposing lawn chemicals can be found here: They have resources and may have some more answers for you than I do. In terms of moving from your home, I’m so sorry it has gotten to that point. Every situation is so different, and without knowing more about yours, I hesitate to advise you. You might try contacting your city or community resources department and asking for assistance and referral to local agencies who can assist you. If you have a physician you trust, please ask him or her to guide you as well. I hope the future starts to look up soon.

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