Growing up in North Baltimore I knew that spring had arrived not because of the crocuses blooming first in my mother’s garden. Rather, it was the appearance of the lawn service my father so revered. I vividly recall their truck and trailer pulling up to the house and the tractor rolling off to do its work spreading fertilizer and pesticides. It seemed that the same crew made annual stops at nearly every house in the neighborhood.
I was always curious about the little white balls scattered in the grass and on the walkways, but until recently did not give them much thought. The results, however, were impressive – bright green, weed and pest free lawns as far as a boy could see. I even remember one family eschewing such service and boldly planting a “pesticide and fertilizer free lawn” where all the neighbors could see. True, their lawn was not nearly as green nor at all weed free, and they were probably not popular with the neighborhood association types. But maybe they were just ahead of their time…
If you took a stroll on my lawn today, it might look a lot more like the one neighbor’s and a lot less like my father’s. While I do not have a sign to broadcast my position on lawn treatments, I do think it is wise to reconsider the widespread use of such products. We have learned that these chemicals can have many and significant unintended consequences for our environment.
Surprisingly, homeowners contribute more nutrient runoff into our Bay due to over fertilizing than agriculture does. Remember all of those little white balls on the sidewalk? Those wash quickly and easily into our storm water system and into the Chesapeake. Along the way those nutrients can negatively impact a multitude of species. And once there, they contribute to algae blooms and dead zones not to mention ending up in the oysters, crabs, and rockfish we Marylanders cherish.
So what can you do? Reconsider using chemical pesticides and fertilizers and explore natural, organic alternatives; plant rain and pollinator gardens and diversify your lawn with native species; and encourage your friends and family to do the same.