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Lawn Care

How to have a beautiful lawn without harmful chemicals

By: Mindy MacLaren

Founder, Irene L. Gossin Nature Preserve

Penfield Resident


Pesticides are insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides which control weeds, insects, and fungal diseases. According to the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, these products “are designed to prevent, destroy, repel, or reduce pests of any sort. They are found in nearly every home, business, farm, school, hospital, and park in the United States.”


Homeowners should be aware that the use of pesticides…does pose some risk. The level of risk posed by a chemical depends on its toxicity and the level of exposure.

According to Dr. James Lamb, past president of the American Board of Toxicology, even properly-used chemicals “pose no more than minimal everyday risks to adults and children.” Yet, they do pose some risk. If you stop to think about how often we are
exposed to freshly-sprayed lawn pesticides at the doctor’s office, at the supermarket, at the park, on your own lawn, you will realize the constant, unnecessary exposure.

Dr. Robert L. Brent, an environmental toxicologist, says: “We know the…level above which harm can be done [from environmental chemicals],” but the minimal level is unknown.

After application, lawn pesticides begin to metabolize within 5-6 months, depending on the chemicals used. That means that over a 7 month period, if your lawn is sprayed each of those months, you will have 3 ½ years worth of pesticide on your


Short-term health impacts of pesticide use:
--Throat & skin irritation; difficulty breathing; nausea; vomiting; dizziness, tremors; headaches; stomach aches; diarrhea; blurred vision; excessive sweating; fever.

Long-term health impacts of pesticide use:
--Asthma; brain, prostate, & lung cancer; birth defects; childhood cancer; Parkinson’s disease; leukemia; miscarriage, infertility & sterility; nervous system disorders; Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Many health risks are still unknown. These effects can apply to pets as well.

“Weed and Feed” products, which are a combination of fertilizer and herbicide, are most often used over an entire lawn. However, no lawn is 100% weeds, so if 2% of the lawn is weeds, 98% of the herbicide used serves no purpose. The excess often leaches into groundwater, washes into streams and rivers, and even volatizes into the air you breathe.

The EPA does not legally require fertilizer and pesticide manufacturers to list the inactive ingredients on their product’s label…products that can include harmful quantities of heavy metals which are toxic to you, your children, and your pets.

Developing fetuses, infants, and young children are most vulnerable to the health impacts of pesticides. They are less able to detoxify harmful chemicals, and because they breathe more air, eat more food, and drink more water per pound of body weight
than adults, they are exposed to greater quantities of pesticides. For children under 10 living where home or garden pesticides are used, the risk of leukemia increases by 4 to 7 times.

Companion animals are more vulnerable to pesticides for many reasons: they unknowingly walk through chemically-treated areas, absorbing pesticides through their mouth, nose, and eyes, and can absorb through their skin any powder that sticks to their fur. Dogs that live near treated lawns have a significantly greater chance of developing cancer.




  • Hand pull weeds from the roots.

  • Flame weeding machines use a targeted flame to kill weeds.

  • High-pressure steam and boiling water can both be used to kill weeds.

  • Horticultural vinegar is a powerful acid that will non-selectively kill weeds. This can be bought at a plant nursery. Use caution as it is an acid!

  • Herbicidal soaps are soaps that dry plants out, killing them.

Easy Recipe for Weed Killer

  1. Bring 2 gallons of water to a boil

  2. Add about 3 cups of salt*, any kind will do. Bring to a boil again and stir, letting the salt dissolve. 

  3. When the salt has dissolved, carefully transfer the salt water to a container with a spout (or you can use a ladle) to pour it over any weeds. Take care not to pour too closely to plants you want as it can also kill them. 

  4. When the weed is dead, pull it out, and sprinkle more salt into the hole from which it came.

*The ratio of water to salt for this recipe is 5:1, in case you want to make more or less. 


  • Spread grass seed over an existing lawn to thicken your lawn. Where grass is thick and lush, weed seeds have no place to germinate.

  • Feed with compost: this greatly improves the grass’ water retention and adds to its organic matter.

  • Water wisely: infrequent watering forces grass to send roots deep into the soil to find moisture which makes it more drought-tolerant.

  • Cut high: mowing cool-season grass 3 inches high is just as effective as using herbicides to suppress crabgrass. Set your mower blade to its highest level and keep your blades sharp.

  • Leave the clippings!

  • Let it be!

These steps are simple. Over time, they require less work and cost you less than conventional lawn care. Isn’t any effort worth the peace of mind you get from safeguarding your family, your community, and the environment?

For more ideas and recommendations, head to Healthy Yards Monroe County's website. 


In the Rochester, New York area, contact TLC Organic Lawn Care for all your organic lawn care needs: or (585) 594-3311.

Here in Penfield: Town and Country has an organic lawn care and landscaping option. 585-872-5073 

Jane E. Brody, Calming Parents’ Fears About Environmental Hazards, The New York Times, July 13, 2004.
Beth Huxta, The Dark Side of Lawns, Organic Gardening.
Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment,
Ian Santino, Pesticides and Pets: What You Should Know to Keep Your Pets Safe, Pesticides and You. 2007.
Karyn Siegel-Maier, The Naturally Clean Home: Over 100 Safe & Easy Herbal Formulas for Nontoxic Cleansers, 1999.
Unites States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Pesticide Programs, 1999.


Pesticide Action Network:
Beyond Pesticides:
Organic Gardening:
The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control by Barbara W. Ellis
Karyn Siegel-Maier, The Naturally Clean Home: Over 100 Safe & Easy Herbal Formulas for Nontoxic Cleansers, 1999.

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