I’d be happy to have a stand of goldenrod in my backyard wildlife habitat if it attracted butterflies and honeybees. Were I to use Scotts lawn and garden chemicals on my lawn and garden, I’d stand a reasonable chance of killing the very wildlife my habitat was supposed to attract.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Scotts (the cure-it-with-chemicals lawn & garden company) have created some kind of partnership where Scotts is giving money to fund NWF projects. The NWF seems pleased to have this support from Scotts. Scotts must be ecstatic to have bought a relationship that looks like an enthusiastic endorsement from an alleged environmental watchdog. For that to make sense, I relate a conversation from many years ago that significantly shaped my attitudes about putting chemicals on my lawn and my small kitchen garden.
My Brother the City Gardener
My brother lives down-river from me near the Chesapeake Bay. He has managed the gardens in a large city for years, and his job has put him through training in all things horticulture: plants, insecticides, fertilizers, weed killers, heavy equipment operation, hydraulics… He has written some posts for this blog, and has corrected my errors when I’ve misspoken or misconstrued things on a Facebook group where we hang out.
We were chatting some ten or more years ago and I mentioned I was going to treat my lawn to knock out broadleaf weeds and crabgrass. He offered the following rule of thumb: To beat crabgrass, apply pre-emergent weed killer before the blossoms drop off of your forsythia plants.
Then he went on a rant. He complained that all us lawn-owners in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (I live near the Susquehanna River which drains central New York and Pennsylvania into the Chesapeake Bay) should scrape our lawns bare, layer on six inches of high-quality sop soil, condition it with aged compost, and start fresh. If we’d manage our grass better, the Chesapeake Bay wouldn’t be choking to death from all the chemicals that wash out of our lawns and down the Susquehanna river.
When I Realized I was Stupid
I took stock. It had always killed me to shell out more than $40 in very early spring to cover my lawn with crabgrass preventer. I’d hit the lawn again in mid spring to knock out broadleaf weeds—another crazy price tag. The chemicals coated my sneakers as I worked, and they smelled bad. So, I’d ban the kids and the dogs from the lawn for days until a decent rain had washed the stuff down to the soil.
I’m excavating to establish a rain garden. The long channel along the garden’s retention wall will receive gravel and perforated pipe before I fill with soil. The wet area in the left front of the photo is the actual rain garden, though I’ve dug it much larger since I took the photo.
I’d buy grass seed and work it into bare areas, but there were always new bare spots. Of course, I’d mow at least once a week, and sometimes twice. This meant more than an hour each time walking behind a noisy, stinky device, and heaping the clippings into a compost pile. If it wasn’t enough to burn all that gasoline (and time), I once had a mower catch fire and I let it burn on my driveway (kind of satisfying, actually).
Could I mow the lawn when it was convenient? Nope. I had to do it on dry days; couldn’t count on mowing on Saturday or Sunday. Oh, and I wasn’t the only one. During rainy seasons, if there was a dry day, there were mowers roaring all over the neighborhood. My family couldn’t (and still can’t) eat on our screened porch without hearing at least one mower grinding away every time.
And why do I have a lawn anyway? Because it’s the default when you buy a house. Even with young children, we had very little use for a lawn. But when I gave it serious thought I saw that the lawn is useless; I was doing all that unpleasant work and spending hundreds of dollars a year to grow something so I could cut it down and throw it away. I felt pretty stupid about it.
Chemical-Free Small Kitchen Garden
Once you try ornamental, you just want more. Some day, there’s likely to be a stand of bamboo growing in my yard… not because I need it, but because I really like the way it looks. I hope we can still get along.
Now I try NEVER to buy packaged chemicals for my lawn or garden. If I’m putting anything on the soil, it’s compost, mulch, or manure. I manage my kitchen garden by mulching with lawn clippings and adding compost when I set plants in the ground. From a lawn-growers perspective, mine is horrid, but it’s green when it’s supposed to be.
The bigger news is that I’m getting rid of my lawn. Three years ago, I gave myself 10 years to reduce the lawn to pathways and decorative patches. In its place there will be food. I’ve added several planting beds as well as perennial fruit bushes. In time, I’ll have nut trees, fruit trees, brambles, strawberries, and grapes. As well, I’m planning decorative herb gardens, extensive trellising for annual vegetables, and unusual land features (such as rock piles and amorphous raised beds) to handle other annual veggies.
I’ve excavated much of what will become a rain garden to redirect excessive runoff away from my main vegetable bed. That will be an ornamental feature which, I’m afraid, will start me down the slippery slope at the bottom of which are more ornamental plantings. At the risk of diluting my “grow food” message, I’d love to have a stand of bamboo in the yard.
What of the National Wildlife Federation?
I’ve lost all respect for the National Wildlife Federation. They have a certification program through which you might get your yard certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat. It’s inconceivable that they’d recommend tossing Scotts chemicals into such a habitat for ANY reason. Yet, if you pay for the certification, you’re supporting a program that enthusiastically publicizes it’s a good idea to use chemicals in gardens and lawns. Seriously, if you use weed killer, bug killer, and fertilizer on your lawn and/or planting beds abutting your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, you contaminate that habitat and make it unsuitable for the wildlife it’s supposed to attract. Pretty much the way Scotts’s relationship with the NWF contaminates the NWF.
Here are some articles I read over the past day as I was deciding what to write about this inappropriate alliance between the National Wildlife Federation and Scotts: