Clean Green: Holistic Lawn Care

by Michael Braunstein

Americans love a green, manicured lawn. It’s the mark of success, the badge of beauty for a homeowner. At least, that’s what we’ve been programmed to believe. But in the face of a virtual epidemic of chemically induced cancers, it’s time we rethink how to grow that verdant velour of Kentucky Bluegrass.

We spend billions each year to spray tons of known carcinogens on our lawns or worse, pay others to do it for us. What a con job. The antiseptic, shiny trucks with images of dogs, happy children and green lawns pull up to the house, uncoil a hose, spray the lawn and leave a tiny little sign so we keep our pets off until it dries. All that you see is that cute little yard sign. But it’s what you don’t see that can kill you.

Chemical dependency. Each spring in the temperate climes of North America begins the ritual of America’s love affair with the perfect lawn. Like our graven image of the perfect body, that perfect lawn is an illusion based on a suggested perception that we fell for. And to get it, we sell our soul.

There are two major problems with the way we commonly treat our lawns. First, it is destroying a valuable resource, the soil, and making it sterile. Secondly, we are spreading toxic chemicals in an area where we spend a great deal of time in contact with them. And contrary to what the paid-off spokespeople in the industry pocket would have you believe, there is no such thing as “Safe when used as directed.”

Lawn chemicals leave us with an artificial and drug-dependent carpet of grass that is growing only because we fertilize it periodically. Oh, it’s green. And it’s weed-free. But it’s also devoid of any life beyond that. The soil is depleted and incapable of growing anything. It has gone from a teeming medium rich with life, to a sort of powdered muck that serves only to hold the chemicals we buy.

There are three basic classes of chemicals we dump on our lawns to achieve the greening of the grass, each with inherent problems and side effects. We use chemical fertilizers to artificially boost growth. We spread deadly herbicides to kill weeds and then poisonous pesticides to kill bugs. We wage war on life in our yard.

The synthetic fertilizers are actually harmful to grass in the long term. They radically alter the chemical balance of the soil and the runoff becomes part of our water table. The herbicides reek with known carcinogens and toxins. And pesticides kill everything that isn’t plant life. All of them make us sick. Sadly, we don’t need them, even to get the lawn of our dreams.

Kills Weeds. Kills Humans, too. One 1991 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute draws the link between the common herbicide 2,4 D and lymphoma in dogs. Studies don’t stop there. In a 1990 study from the journal Epidemiology, “A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and the Herbicide 2,4,-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid (2,4-D) in Eastern Nebraska,” and scores like that one, we see humans are affected too. Duh.

It shouldn’t take scientific studies to reason that it’s nonsensical to pour tons of the most unnatural and poisonous chemicals known to man in areas where our kids play. Yet school systems around the country (90% of them in one study) use pesticides and herbicides on and in schools! And we do it on our lawns. There is a better way. While conventional use of chemicals destroys the soil, organic practices do just the opposite. Organic lawn care doesn’t cost any more than toxic but sometimes patience is needed.

Any time you can build up the soil, you’ll get a better crop or better grass. In an organic program, the grass feeds off the soil, not off the chemicals. Sometimes the process takes a little time to reverse the poisoning of the lawn but it’s worth it. You’ll get a lush, green lawn without poison.

Repeal the ‘scorched earth’ policy. Synthetic fertilizers are basically salts. Not only do they change the alkaline balance of the soil, the runoff ruins water supplies. But once the cycle is established, yes, the plants require synthetics to live because the soil is dead. And they require more water. Ironically, we never used chemical fertilizers before WW II. And coincidentally, chemical fertilizers are based on anhydrous ammonia, the primary component of bombs made during the War.

Beyond just organic. Implementing self-applied organic methods are certainly a socially responsible way of maintaining a lawn. Or you can take it a step beyond. A method called “xeriscaping” saves water and makes it easy to care for your yard in a drug-free manner at the same time. Devised by a water utilities planner in Denver in the 1980s, xeriscaping is the practice of choosing indigenous plants for your yard that thrive without irrigation or with little water beyond that provided by nature. The plants chosen vary by climatic region but may include ornate grasses, flowering plants, shrubs and so on. Once established, the result can be a very low-maintenance yard that is both beautiful and ecologically healthy without the need of excessive watering or chemical applications.

Each year Americans spend billions of dollars on millions of pounds of poisons to kill weeds and harmless insects. To think those chemicals aren’t harmful to humans is the depth of denial. And for what? Green grass? Pretty senseless considering there is an option.

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit

Leave a comment