Letter to the editor: This year, keep your lawn natural and diverse

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Yards for Kids sign shown in a front lawn. — Lauren Shotwell/Little Village

By Linda Quinn, Iowa City; 100 Grannies and Good Neighbor Iowa

Is your lawn safe enough for your kids to play on? If you do the “weed and feed” routine, it’s time to rethink. Current lawn culture encourages the use of chemicals, with deceptive descriptions like “healthy lawn.” But don’t be fooled, because pesticides and fertilizers have many risks. Children are especially at high risk of exposure which, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, has been linked to prenatal and childhood cancers, neurodevelopmental delays and behavioral disorders. The Iowa Department Of Public Health recommends child care centers omit pesticides. There’s even a state-wide public education campaign from University of Northern Iowa, called Good Neighbor Iowa.

Thanks to our local leaders, we can see what a natural and diverse lawn looks like. Iowa City Community Schools and City of Iowa City Parks have no-spray policies for turf grass. The rare application of pesticide is reserved for the dangerous plants like poison ivy. Isn’t it nice to know that a colorful mix of grass with violets, clover and dandelions means a safe place for kids to play?

People are realizing the many benefits of diverse lawns. They protect water quality. They provide pollinator habitat for the bees, butterflies and insects we need. Even our pets are healthier without pesticide exposure. A sprayed mono-culture of turf grass is no longer being viewed by as many as a desirable norm. Rather it is being seen as an unnatural space that endangers health and ecosystems.

Natural lawn care is as easy as it was for your parents and grandparents. 1) Omit chemical pesticides & fertilizers. 2) Mow it high and let it lie. 3) Over-seed bare spots. And count the time and money you saved. Be glad you’ve made a difference. It’s a positive impact on your neighborhood.

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  1. Thank you for this information. I’m sure many people are not aware of this danger to children and pets. We’ve had a much loved pet die of cancer before we were aware of the dangers of a chemically treated lawn. We now have a natural lawn with a small prairie garden on a sloped section of our yard and its beautiful!

  2. Spring is here and it’s a time to celebrate the tremendous benefits that healthy lawns provide to our families, communities and the environment. Unfortunately, the March 12, 2019 letter to the editor titled “This year, keep your lawn natural and diverse” is likely to leave readers woefully misinformed and unnecessarily distressed about the safety of lawn care products.

    The truth is, pesticides and other lawn care treatments are essential to maintain healthy lawns and green spaces – and their value is much greater than cosmetic. Proper application wards off disease-carrying insects, prevents uncontrolled weeds from causing debilitating allergy attacks, and protects native plants from being killed by invasive species. Healthy lawns also provide other essential benefits: delivering oxygen, capturing pollution, and protecting against soil erosion and water runoff.

    Of course, responsible application of lawn care products used in residential and public spaces is crucial. That’s why lawn care professionals undergo rigorous training to determine what products, if any, are appropriate for lawns and turfgrass on a case by case basis – products that are thoroughly evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency for their potential health and safety risks to humans, wildlife and water systems before they are made available for consumer or commercial use. Further, professionals are trained to use all the tools in their toolbox – including practices such as aeration and overseeding – to balance the need for lawn care products.

    Rest assured, we —professionals who apply lawn care products — breathe the same air, drink the same water and raise our children in this same community; we all want our environment to continue to thrive.

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