Why pesticides don’t mean a healthy lawn

When you look out your window, it is common to see neatly maintained grass lawns fronting the neighbouring properties—this is all part of the long-standing “American Dream.” But, as a Native Plant News article explains, the ideal lawn grass is native to Europe rather than North America. This grass species is poorly suited to our climate and usually requires fertilizers, all the while risking being overrun by other plants (such as clovers or dandelions).

But before you bring out the herbicides to remove these broad-leaf plants, let’s take a look into these chemicals.

Herbicides

Herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides—these “icides” can get quite confusing. Pesticides are known for their general removal of pests, and as a result, they are considered the overarching family name. While herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are pesticide subsets—each with specific targets to remove (plants, insects and fungi, respectively).

The use of pesticide chemicals has long been debated over, and while there are some benefits to their use, there are also many drawbacks. For example, pesticide use increases food production in the agriculture industry by negating insects or aggressive plants, but decreases the local biodiversity of plants and insects (both targeted and unintentionally targeted species). They also increase the likelihood of human health complications.

Bringing pesticides to the home for cosmetic uses (aesthetics and visual appeal) increases the interactions between people and the chemicals. While the Government of Ontario regulates cosmetic pesticides, organizations like the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) have expressed health concerns over their allowed use.

According to Dr. Jane McArthur, Toxics Campaign Director at CAPE, “Children are especially vulnerable during the early stages of physical development and periods of rapid growth.”

Depending on the mother’s exposure during pregnancy, there is an increased risk of childhood cancers and premature births. And in adults, there is an increased risk of cancers, lung complications and Parkinson’s disease.

“A need remains for public education on achieving beautiful, healthy landscapes without harmful chemicals”

But if we stop using herbicides, won’t the lawn be overtaken by weeds?

Let’s talk monocultures

Everyone knows the struggle each spring to remove all weeds from our lawn before they go to seed and stay indefinitely, and then the upkeep throughout the year. Together, this is what creates a monoculture (single species) lawn. While the uniform look may be pleasing, did you know this maintenance is harming your lawn’s health? Polyculture (multiple species) lawns are different, as you can see from the comparison below.

Monoculture Lawns

  • Intense weed control
  • Lack of resilience to environmental factors
  • Often require additional fertilizers

Polyculture Lawns

  • Less (or no) weeding
  • More resilient to environmental factors (such as drought)
  • The mix of species help maintain/cycle nutrients in the soil

In your lawn maintenance, get rid of a couple of weeds that annoy you, but consider leaving some other ones like clover, violets and wild strawberries that will help keep your lawn healthy!

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Additional Resources

Article Photos: Green Ottawa

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