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Whose lawn is lusher?

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Lots of people love a full, lush lawn. Personal green space for the kids, a tidy, open vista around the house, but it isn't easy, keeping a monoculture like grass. Lawns DO like a rainy summer like this one. And fertilizers and herbicides might help. But there's concern about water pollution from lawn chemicals. Julie Grant reports that some experts say you can use them, just don't over-use them.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer


Julie Grant
July 27, 2009

Many Americans love full, lush lawns. Fertilizers and herbicides might help. But there's concern about water pollution from lawn chemicals. Julie Grant reports that some experts say you can use them, just don't over-use them:

Molly Aubuchon and her husband Stefan Meyer aren’t sure what they’re going to do. Their two little kids are running around the yard. Stefan wants a lawn of thick, soft grass for them to play on. But that’s not what he’s got.

Stefan: “As you can see, there’s no grass here. I don’t know what some of this stuff is. Some kind of moss. I think even the moss died, so now we have dead moss that’s like yellow and brown.”

Molly: “It’s not attractive dead.”

Stefan: “No. I just think, when I’m out here cutting my grass, I’m like, man, if I lived across the street, I’d be like, ‘hey look, they’re cutting absolutely nothing again. They’re just running that lawn mower over bare spots.’”

They see their neighbors, with those thick, green lawns, spreading chemicals a few times a year. Molly and Stefan don’t want to do that.

Molly: “Well, the fact that I’ve got kids running around here all day. And the fact that it seeps into the water supply and the rivers, that’s a concern to me.”

There are lots of people who are concerned about lawn pollution. Lawns have gotten a bad wrap in some places – because of the fertilizers and other chemicals people use on them. In much of Canada, lawn chemicals have actually been banned.

Lou DiGeranimo is General Manager of Water in Toronto. He says lawn chemicals were damaging the water quality.

“People were over-fertilizing, they were using commercial pesticides. That chemical ended up in the rivers and ended up in the lake. We passed a bylaw that prohibited that.”

But some experts say the chemical bans in Canada are extreme.

David Gardner is professor of turf grass at the Ohio State University. He doesn’t think banning lawn chemical will do anything to improve the environment.

“Based on the work that I have seen, based on the research that has been conducted, I believe that if there is a unilateral ban on the use of pesticides it will make absolutely no impact on our environmental footprint.”

Gardner says compared to other sources of pollution, like cars and over-use of chemicals on farms, the impact of lawn care is miniscule.

Still, Gardner says people like Molly and Stefan can keep nice lawns – without using a lot of chemicals.

He says you’ve got to cut the grass and water regularly. He also recommends fertilizing lightly in the spring and more heavily in the fall.

That’s what Gardner does at his house - and he uses only 6 to 8 ounces of herbicide a year.

“Putting it another way, if I were to go to a store and buy one of those gallon jugs of ready-made herbicide, that would be enough to last me for about 16 years.”

Gardner says the herbicide will hit its expiration date before he has a chance to use it all.

But Molly and Stefan just aren’t sold. They don’t want to use lawn chemicals just to appease the neighbors.

Stefan: “I just want to feel good about the way my yard looks for my own satisfaction. I would like to cultivate some grass that looks good, you know, with my hands.”

Besides, Stefan says, they don’t have the worst looking lawn on the street and they’d just rather not add unnecessary chemicals into the environment.

Stefan: “We don’t have the worst lawn on the street. Our street is not that long. It’s only four blocks, five blocks long – there’s a house down there and their yard looks worse than ours.”

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

© 2009 Environment Report

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