Choose organic lawn and landscape services
How you care for your lawn and landscape affects your local water, air, and soil, not to mention the health of your family, neighbors, and pets. Hiring a landscaper or lawn service doesn't mean you have to settle for dousing your yard with toxic weed killers and pesticides. Many professional landscape and lawn services are going green: becoming trained in organic, eco-friendly landscaping and lawn care practices.
How to hire an organic landscaper or lawn service
Organic landscaping and lawn services plan and maintain lawns, gardens, trees, shrubs, and other natural areas without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and soil amendments. Instead, they use materials and methods that protect the local ecosystem. When choosing an organic landscaper or lawn professional, look for one that not only uses organic materials and plant care methods, but also uses eco-friendly landscaping tools. When hiring a service ask if it can:
- Mow with a non-polluting electric mower to reduce the noise pollution and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) generated by gas-powered mowers.
- Use a mulching mower to keep fine grass clippings and shredded leaves on the lawn, providing a natural fertilizer.
- Fertilize your lawn and landscape with organic soil amendments. Organic fertilizer's slower release means grass won’t grow so fast and you won’t have to have your lawn mowed as often.
- Use natural herbicides to control weeds rather than toxic, chemical weed killers.
- Help you choose the right landscape plantings for your climate.
- Help you choose native or drought-resistant plants for your yard that will require little extra water.
- Apply eco-friendly mulches to prevent weeds and conserve water.
- Help you choose the right watering system for your landscape. An effective watering system can save water, time, and money.
- Trim, prune, and maintain your lawn, trees, and shrubs with electric or people-powered landscaping tools rather than gas-powered blowers, trimmers, and saws.
Find it! Organic landscaping and lawn care professionals
Unlike organic farming, there are no federal regulations that set standards for organic landscaping and lawn care. Many city, state, and regional organizations have stepped in to fill the gap, providing training and their own certification for organic landscape and lawn professionals. Below are a few websites you can check to find an eco-professional in your area. Organic landscaping and lawn care is still a new field, so don't be discouraged if the sites listed here don't turn up a green service in your area. Try asking your local Cooperative Extension or garden center for suggestions.
- Coalition of Organic Landscapers (COOL): The Coalition of Organic Landscapers (COOL) is a collection of professional landscapers committed to organic and sustainable garden care and design. Check out their listing of organic landscapers in the Seattle and Puget Sound area.
- Ecological Landscaping Association: Use the ELA’s "Find an Eco-Pro" nationwide directory to locate ELA members who provide ecological services or products in your area. The ELA is a nonprofit, member-based organization of landscape professionals, homeowners, and community groups who advocate for environmentally responsible stewardship of land and natural resources in landscaping and horticultural practices.
- Neighborhood Network Long Island Organic Landscaper List: The Neighborhood Network maintains a list of landscapers and arborists who provide organic services on Long Island, New York, including mowing, fertilizing, pest control, and tree work.
- Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals: NOFA maintains a list of hundreds of accredited organic land care professionals in over 17 states. Search for firms that offer services including lawn care, planting, mulching, compost, storm water management, tree care, landscape design, and more.
- Society for Organic Urban Lawn Care (SOUL): The Society for Organic Urban Lawn Care lists organic landscapers in Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba.
Choosing an organic lawn and landscape service helps you go green because…
- Using organic landscaping and lawn care methods, including eco-friendly landscaping tools, prevents pollution of the air, water, and soil.
- Eco-friendly plantings and irrigation methods save precious water.
The American ideal of the perfect lawn and landscape—maintained with chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, gas-powered mowers, and petroleum-powered leaf blowers and trimmers—comes at a high cost to the environment, as well as to human, pet, and wildlife health.
According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), American homeowners use 10 times more pesticides per acre than American farmers. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found agricultural weed killers—including atrazine, cyanazine, metolachlor, and acetochlor—in the tap water of 28 of the 29 cities tested. In 13 cities, average levels of weed killers in the tap water exceeded federal standards.
Gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf vacuums, snow blowers, chain saws, and other power landscaping tools are major polluters, producing high levels of carbon monoxide and ozone-forming hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. Ground-level ozone is a triple threat: it impairs lung function, it stunts plant growth, and it's one of the main components of smog. A gas-powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution in one hour as 11 cars; a riding mower as much as 34 cars. A gas-powered leaf blower produces the same amount of emissions in one hour as a car traveling more than 350 miles.
Traditional landscapes and lawns are also a major source of water consumption. Yards account for the most home water usage, followed by toilets and showers. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), 26 billion gallons of water are used every day in the US. About 30 percent of this—7.8 billion gallons—is for outdoor use, mostly for landscaping.
Related health issues
Studies link organophosphates, a common class of agricultural pesticides, to cancer, fetal abnormalities, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Parkinson's disease. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a five to nine times higher likelihood of having pesticide residues in their blood than those who don't have breast cancer. One study in California found that infants exposed to herbicides before the age of one are 10 times more likely to develop early persistent asthma. Infants, young children, and developing fetuses can't easily detoxify the majority of pesticides, and are especially susceptible to neurotoxins, since brain and nervous system growth continues until children are about 12 years old.
The excessive carbon monoxide emitted by gas-powered landscaping tools is especially harmful to pregnant women, fetuses, young infants, the elderly, anemics, and people who suffer from certain blood, cardiovascular, or respiratory diseases. Gas-powered leaf blowers spew several pounds of particulate matter into air for every hour of use, which is especially harmful to the elderly and people afflicted with asthma, angina, pneumonia, or other lung and heart ailments. Also at risk are blower operators and those who exercise outdoors.
- organophosphates: Pesticides (such as malathion) that are phosphorus-containing organic compounds.
- Northeast Organic Farming Association - Frequently Asked Questions About Organic Land Care
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Wild Ones Handbook
- The Environmental Working Group - Weed Killers by the Glass
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Your Yard and Clean Air
- The Wall Street Journal - EPA Plans Tougher Smog Rules For Mowers
- New American Dream - Green your lawn(care)
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Water Efficient Landscaping: Preventing Pollution and Using Resources Wisely
- Medical News Today - Organic foods in relation to nutrition and health key facts
- Out Stolen Future - Early Life Environmental Risk Factors for Asthma: Findings from the Children's Health Study
- Mindfully.org - Why Food Safety Will Continue Driving Growth in Demand for Organic Food
- Zero Air Pollution Los Angeles - Most at Risk: Infants, Elderly, Ill, Machine Operators and Outdoor Exercisers
- Citizens League for Environmental Action Now - Alternatives to Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers