RMOW Environmental Coordinator
As you ready your yard for the imminent winter snows, it's important to know Whistler is one of 12 communities in British Columbia with a bylaw eliminating the non-essential and cosmetic use of pesticides as we move toward a greener, healthier community.
Why the ban on cosmetic pesticides? Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Studies show that lawn pesticides increase the risk of cancer and asthma particularly in children and pets as they spend a great deal of time rolling around in the grass and playing in gardens.
So, where does that leave the homeowner or business that pines for a lush, weed-free, green lawn and garden but without the toxicity? Rest assured that this can be achieved naturally as pesticide-free lawns are easy, affordable and healthier. The key factors to a good lawn are: healthy soil and good mowing, watering, and fertilizing practices.
Healthy soil contains high organic content and is teeming with biological life and supports the development of healthy grass that is naturally resistant to weeds and pests. Once established, an organic lawn uses fewer materials, such as water and fertilizers, and requires less labour for mowing and maintenance. More importantly, your lawn will be safe for children, pets and your local drinking water supply. Follow these tips to start transitioning your lawn and remember the term "ORGANIC" and you're well on your way to a lush, green, pesticide-free oasis.
O verseed. It's simple: a thick lawn will crowd out weeds, so overseed during the fall or spring. Bare patches can easily be repaired by heavily raking the ground, adding a centimeter of light soil, and applying grass seed instead of pesticides. Overseed your entire lawn as well to introduce more drought and disease resistant grass species. When seeding your lawn, make sure to keep it well watered so that it can germinate. Also, topdress your lawn with compost and/or triple mix at the same time.
R emove . Remove thatch, weeds and/or insects manually instead of reaching for the pesticide applicator. Found at the surface, thatch prevents water, air, and valuable nutrients from reaching the soil, thus making your grass more vulnerable to drought, infestation, and disease while harbouring harmful insects such as cinch bugs. Remove excess thatch with a heavy rake in the late spring or early summer. Developing a healthy soil will create all the components necessary to break thatch down naturally.
G rass Cycling. Save time and money by leaving your dry, short, nitrogen-rich grass clippings on your lawn. This will reduce your need for fertilizers by over 30 per cent. Grass mulch encourages your lawn to grow deeper roots and the soil to retain more moisture therefore allowing your lawn to become more resistant to drought, infestation and disease. Make sure to grass-cycle when your lawn is dry.
A erate . Aerating your lawn relieves soil compaction and provides a more efficient means for water, air and vital nutrients to reach plant roots. Aerating can be done during the spring or fall, depending on your soil conditions. You can purchase special shoes equipped with spikes that are sufficient for aerating small lawns. Or get together with your neighbours and rent an aerator. Worms and birds pecking at your soil will aerate a healthy lawn for free!
N utrients. By spreading compost or triple mix topsoil on your lawn (also known as topdressing), you introduce much-needed nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and organic material to the existing soil. Topdressing is simple: with a rake spread a thin layer of compost over your entire lawn.
I rrigate. Water two centimetres once a week early in the morning to promote deep root growth. Too much water will dilute your soil of oxygen and nutrients and too little water will encourage shallow root growth. Shallow roots equals drought and various pest problems. Watering during the afternoon leads to evaporation. Watering in the evening will leave your lawn wet for a longer period of time, increasing its risk of fungal diseases.
C ut High . Cut your grass to a height of 5-6 centimetres. This provides shade, will lead to moister soil, deep and extensive root systems, and prevents weed seeds from germinating. Avoid stressing your grass by using only a sharp blade and never cut more than a third off at one time, making sure to cut your lawn when it's dry.
Consider planting trees, perennials, ground covers, wild native flowers, or even add stones in areas where grass simply won't grow. And trust that most insects are not harmful and are even crucial to the ecology of your soil. So if a dandelion or another type of pest pops up don't reach for the pesticide applicator. Try different means to remove it, and if all else fails develop a tolerance for it. Find a balance between what you want and what you need. A healthy pesticide-free lawn, full of life, is an ideal place to relax. So enjoy it and invite others to the same.
To learn more about how Whistler is managing our journey toward sustainability check out www.whistler2020.ca.