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Kids: Safe Lawn Care

2:00

This is the time of year when kids are most likely to be playing in the yard. Daylight hours are longer and winter’s chill is fading fast or gone.  It’s also the time when insects and weeds make an appearance, demanding some type of control.

All pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides are toxic on some level. Along with killing pests and weeds, they can also harm you, your children, your pets, and any wildlife on your lawn.

Researchers have noted that young children are especially at risk from pesticides. Their bodies and immune systems are still developing. They are also more likely to spend time outside on the lawn, playing or crawling and coming in contact with any pesticides used there.

As population growth and sub-division building increases, these chemicals have increased in usage.

 However, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides are not the only ways to have a welcoming lawn and insect control. If you must use some pesticides, you can help keep your family safe by using them with care, and only when needed.

Lawn care starts with the basics. When your lawn is healthy, there’s less of a chance for weeds and pests. Pests often mean that the soil is lacking nutrients. Without healthy soil, grass and other plants have a harder time growing and staying healthy. A soil test will tell you what the pH level is and whether your soil needs extra nutrients. Most grasses do best in a soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. If you find that your soil needs help or a pH adjustment, you can add nutrients as needed.

Compost is a healthier option for adding nutrients than many chemical fertilizers. Most lawns can use a good fertilizing at least once a year. You can top-dress with a quarter- to a half-inch of compost. Or look for fertilizer that's labeled "slow release" or "natural organic" fertilizer.

A soil test will tell you what the pH level is and whether your soil needs extra nutrients. Most grasses do best in a soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. If you find that your soil needs help or a pH adjustment, you can add nutrients as needed.

You can also do online research about what kind of grass grows best in your part of the country. County extension offices often have an abundance of material on grasses, flowers and tree types that your area is compatible with and need less watering.

Mowing can have a dramatic effect on lawns. By leaving your grass a little longer -- usually between 2 ½ and 3 ½ inches -- you can usually improve your lawn's health. This is because the leaves of longer grass have more access to sunlight, which helps the grass grow thicker and create deeper roots.

Longer grass is better for your soil, since it provides more shade and helps the soil retain moisture. It also makes it more difficult for weeds to grow.

When pests appear, many experts agree that integrated pest management (IPM) is the most effective and environmentally friendly way to control pests. Basically, this means using holistic ways to treat pests when possible, such as mowing your lawn higher to shade out weeds or planting more disease-resistant types of grasses or plants, and only using pesticides when needed.

Here are a few suggestions to try before you reach for the pesticide:

- Give nature a little time to work. Damaged parts of your lawn may bounce back over time. And most lawn and garden pests have natural enemies that will help control pests. For example, ladybugs and praying mantises eat other bugs while not damaging your lawn or garden.

- Pull out weeds using a long-handled weed puller. It's usually easier than by hand.

- Vinegar can also be used to kill weeds.

- Mulch garden beds to prevent weeds.

- Remove diseased plants so the problem doesn't spread.

If you do decide to use a pesticide, follow these guidelines to help keep your family safe:

- Make sure you know what kind of pest you're dealing with so you can choose the right type of pesticide. Your local extension agent or other local lawn expert can help you identify the problem. There are also organic lawn and pest care companies.

- Don't treat the whole lawn if it’s unnecessary. Use pesticides just where you have the problem.

- Read the label on the pesticide carefully and follow the instructions.

- Wear gloves, and long pants and sleeves while using the pesticide to protect your skin. Wash clothing separately before wearing them again.

- Keep children and pets away from the area for the time recommended on the label.

- If you hire a lawn care service, find one that uses an IPM approach to lawn care or uses organic or chemical-free processes.

Fleas and ticks are some of the most annoying pests during summer and can be difficult to control. 

Fleas and ticks prefer a moist environment. Overwatering is an invitation to these pests. One of the safest ways to treat your yard is the application of Diatomaceous Earth (often just called DE). Diatomaceous earth, which is available at garden centers, is crushed rock that contains the fossilized remains of diatoms, an alga. The hard-shelled alga grates against the fleas and kills them mechanically, not chemically. Don’t buy the DE that is intended for pools; it has been chemically treated and isn’t for use around pets. DE is easy to use by sprinkling areas in the yard where fleas are likely to congregate, such as your dog’s favorite hangouts. Wear a filter mask when spreading the fine powder and keep your dog inside while treating the yard.

Another natural way to treat your yard is by using beneficial nematodes, microscopic round worms that are safe for your family and your pets. Along with fleas, nematodes kill weevils, crane flies, grubs, corn borers, and other vegetable garden pests. The nematodes are microscopic so you won’t see them; you’ll purchase them on a small sponge that contains about one million live nematodes, enough for about 3,000 square feet of yard space.

After soaking the sponge in water, you’ll spray the yard with the mixture. You can purchase the nematodes as far in advance as about a week prior to the yard application; just keep the package in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

Organic lawn care can be a little more laborious at the beginning, but as your soil becomes healthier– less and less time is needed to maintain it.

Having a safer lawn may mean that you learn to live with a weed or two. But even healthy lawns have a few weeds and pests. Knowing that your kids are safe when playing hide-and-seek or leapfrog should make any weeds that do pop up a little easier to tolerate.

Story sources: http://www.webmd.com/children/lawn-care#1

Paris Permenter, John Bigley http://www.petsafe.net/learn/10-ways-to-prevent-pests-naturally

 

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