Are Green Lawns Really Green?

Sometime in the late-70’s we saw the widespread emergence and acceptance of home lawn care featuring “blanket spray” treatments for home lawns, using a steady dose of fertilizer and insecticides.

Keeping up with the Joneses next door became the standard.

A lush green lawn, without a single weed or brown spot, became the goal.

So much liquid nitrogen was being applied 40 years ago, that you could easily overflow a full-size pickup truck’s 8-foot bed with bagged grass clippings, just from the weekly mowing of a 10,000 square foot lawn in Springtime. Some lawns were growing so fast they should have been mowed twice a week. We began seeing dead birds in the week following blanket sprays of lawn insecticides for chinch bugs and other lawn insects.


It was all licensed and legal, while literally being “overkill.” If you were to believe my former turfgrass professor at Penn State, a Pennsylvania lawn did not require any nitrogen fertilizer until June, but homeowners began to love that early-Spring ‘green-up’ and lawn care companies thrived on early and steady cash flow. Four applications became the standard, perhaps even five if treating for grubs or applying a ‘winterizer.’


Heavy doses of quick-release nitrogen, which creates that rapid growth and green-up, makes them more susceptible to some lawn diseases, and also contributes to the development of lawn thatch. ‘Thatch’ is a thick carpet-like layer, that becomes home lawn enemy No. 1, when it thickens to over 1/2-inch (1.27 centimeters).


Insecticides have come and gone over the years, and this latest ban involves chlorpyrifos which is the active ingredient in Dursban Pro. While the latest ban seems to reflect mostly on food crops, it was also widely used for residential insect control until banned for household use in 2001. There are huge concerns about the risks it poses risks to children and farm workers.

According to the NRDC:

“Exposure to low levels of the pesticide in early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ, developmental delay, and behavioral problems, such as ADHD. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific analysis showed that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children through sprayed fruits and vegetables could exceed safety levels by 140 times.” Source

California, Hawaii, New York, and Maryland didn’t wait for the EPA ban to protect the health of their children and workers.

So then, back to home lawns:

Does your lawn have to be “perfect” or can you accept having some weeds and brown spots?

Grass is a weed on a dandelion farm!
Have you taken advantage of other measures to improve lawn vigor like:
  • Tested your lawn soil and corrected the soil pH according to test results?
  • Performed a core aeration (photo below) once or twice a year?
  • Limited fertilizer applications to twice a year, spring and fall?
  • Raised your mowing height as high as possible without grass laying over?
  • Mowed often enough to mulch clippings back into the lawn?
  • Kept your lawnmower blade sharp?
  • Limited or eliminated your use of herbicides and insecticides?
Who knows, maybe having some dandelions and brown spots on your lawn will become the new, healthier trend, just like buying organic food.

MORE: September is ‘Lawn Month

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