Keep Your Grass Green: Use Organic Lawn Care Products
A consumer desire for greener products has revolutionized nearly every industry, and lawn care is no exception. As store shelves fill with eco-friendly fertilizers and pesticides, landscapers are being pushed to explore more environmentally conscious ways to do their jobs. But with so many products to choose from, landscapers are often faced with the challenge of deciphering which products to use and how to use them efficiently.
“Organics can cause as many problems as [non-organics] if they’re not used properly,” says Tom Delaney, Director of Government Affairs for the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), a national group that represents landscape contractors, tree care and lawn care specialists. And terms can be misunderstood. “The scientific definition of organic means it contains carbon, so you can have synthetic or natural organic” products, he adds.
Concentrated acetic acid, used for weed control, is organic but can kill surrounding vegetation if it isn’t applied in the right manner and dosage. The same goes for phosphorus, an organic element in fertilizer that is banned from detergents in certain parts of the country. Meanwhile, new technologies have improved old products, such as stabilized nitrogen-based fertilizer, which can be applied in much smaller quantities than its organic counterparts.
Use products wisely
Labels today also require more attention, and landscapers are basing their purchase decisions on multiple factors. Delaney suggests that if consumers want organic products to select those that contain a high percentage of plant or animal-derived ingredients. Some people cut down on fertilizers by leaving grass clippings on the turf, while others turn to products that couple natural ingredients with modern agricultural technology, like a fertilizer that is 30 percent slow release and 50 percent organic.
“The idea is to cause no harm and be more cognizant of what you’re doing,” says Delaney, who predicts landscaping companies will have to do extra training to keep up with trends.
Some companies have released additional information to help clients wade through the new terminology. Dr. Earth, a subsidiary of Kellogg that sells fertilizer containing living microorganisms, has a user-friendly website that defines obscure nutrients and tells people when to add lime based on the pH and sulfur levels of their soil. Local universities that test and decipher soil samples also make good resources.
Be more methodical
William Hildebolt, PLANET president, believes that landscaping generally helps the environment, but thinks overall operating efficiencies can be improved.
Maintaining a sustainable environment requires accurately gauging every task, from watering a garden to selecting appropriate plants. Hildebolt, a turf expert, emphasizes selecting regionally appropriate species of grass, which could be St. Augustine in the Deep South or Bluegrass in the Midwest. Choosing plants that are naturally accustomed to an area’s climate conditions results in using less resources to sustain them.
Accurate area measurements tend to be trickier with lawns than gardens. Slightly overestimating the size of a lawn spotted with trees, flower beds or pine islands can result in the overuse of fertilizer or water. “The biggest waste of water comes from misapplication, like devices that aren’t calibrated properly,” Delaney says.
Consider equipment options
Electric leaf blowers and battery-operated weed whackers are available for small-scale projects, but they may not be desirable for larger projects. However, the quieter, more fuel-efficient two-cycle engine leaf blower significantly reduces work time, according to Hildebolt.
Unnecessarily hauling heavy equipment is another common mistake of landscapers. Hildebolt advises companies to consider composting, avoid unnecessary forms of travel and take these steps to upkeep their lawn mowers:
- Sharpen the blades to use less power.
- Clean the deck and air filters for more efficient operation.
- Recycle the oil.
- Change the oil so the engine will last longer.