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Saving Money and Eliminating Chemicals At the Same Time

April 20, 2011 · 21 comments

in Home & Garden, Personal Finance

The calendar says April, which means that technically it is Spring!  Of course, the weather we have had recently is not indicative of Spring, but I have hope that it will feel like Spring in the not-too-distant future.

When I think about Spring, I think about birds, starting my garden, green grass, and dandelions.  Our yard backs up to a public area that is not treated with any fertilizer, so dandelions do tend to creep into our yard.  In the past, we have paid for 5 applications of fertilizer per year to keep the weeds and crabgrass at bay.  Last year, I chose to use a more natural lawn fertilizing service thinking I was being more ‘green’.  However, there were still many unnatural chemicals applied to my lawn, and we had more crabgrass than ever before.

One reason I hate lawn chemicals

I kind of always just applied fertilizer to the lawn because it was what I thought homeowners did.  Everyone in my neighborhood always had those little warning signs spiked in the lawn indicating you needed to stay off the grass until the chemicals were dry. However, going chemical-free entered my mind when my son played in a soccer game in a local park where the grass had just been fertilized.  There were little signs indicating that chemicals had been applied, but it wasn’t like the kids were forbidden to play or anything.  After the game, I looked at my son’s cleats and they were a bright yellow/green color, and so were all the other boy’s cleats.  I thought about how the kids fell on the ground and rolled around during some plays and such, and I thought of all the yellow/green ‘stuff’ getting all over their skin and being inhaled.  I found that very disturbing.

My lawn plan for this year…

I intend to go totally fertilizer-free this year.   Not only will this save me close to $300.00, but my family will be able to walk on the lawn whenver they want.  I recognize  that weeding will be time consuming, but I have three kids that can help.  My neighbors might start to hate me if my experiment fails, but there will be plenty of flowers to distract from any weeds that get out of control.

Suggestions anyone?

So, since I will be performing all weed control for the lawn this year, does anyone have any tips or tricks to keep weeds under control?  Besides dandelions and crabgrass, my lawn also tends to get attacked by thistle, which seems to grow about 8 inches a day.  (I hate thistle, so spiky!)    The only two natural methods that I know of to deal with weeds is to apply white vinegar to the top of any weeds, and  to keep the grass longer.   I believe parts of Canada have banned lawn chemicals, so are there any suggestions from the north?

I hope going fertilizer-free does not turn my lawn into a field of nightmares.  Maybe I just need to accept the beauty of dandelions??

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos April 20, 2011 at 7:04 am

I’m with you on the nasty yellow-green stuff sprayed on lawns. For a different view on lawns, try http://www.richsoil.com, and clicking on the “lawn care” link on the sidebar.


Kris April 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Thanks for the link 101. Do you use any chemicals for your farming?


101 Centavos April 24, 2011 at 8:42 am

On our vegetable gardening, the only store-bought products I’ve used are Neem oil concentrate and diatomaceous earth, but neither are commercial chemicals. I’m trying to learn more about integrated pest management for pest control. This year, we’re also eliminating any chemicals on our house lawn as well.


Kris April 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm

I was just looking at all the crab grass that has already shown up in our lawn. The lawn company we had last year even said that their ‘preemergent’ didn’t work for the crab grass, but they did nothing to remedy the problem. I think I will be doing a lot of pulling…


Nicole April 20, 2011 at 8:55 am

Get some different mechanical devices to help you weed (one for each kid, even) if you don’t have them already. Weeding dandelions is almost fun with some of these contraptions. For thistle make sure everybody has lawn gloves (thistle is also not as fun because of the zillion tiny roots rather than the one big one). Portions of my childhood were spent keeping an IL lawn weed-free and it’s not so bad, especially since regular mowing gets most of them.

And hey, you could take a note from penniless parenting and eat the edible parts of both thistle and dandelion! (Except, dandelion greens are nasty. Even baby ones.)


Kris April 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Oh my gosh, you definitely need the gloves when dealing with the devil weed called Thistle. They grow so fast, and you are right, the roots are ridiculous.

My youngest like to take a golf club to the dandelions (while they are still yellow) and see how far he can hit the dandelion tops. He asked if that counted as weeding and I said it would if he went back and dug of the rest of the plant after knocking the top off.

Dandelions do seem so bitter. I had no idea you could eat some thistle, sounds like a dangerous type of food to prepare!


First Gen American April 20, 2011 at 8:55 am

My husband loves chemicals on the lawn. I still do a lot of weeding by hand though. Our lawn is pretty nice now but when we started there were more weeds than grass. If you don’t have one already, spend a few bucks and buy one of those weeding forks. They are worth their weight in gold.

Hand weeding does work. We usually spend 20 minutes before mowing the lawn pulling up the obvious big weeds as to not spread them around after mowing.

I’m not sure you’ll be able to prevent the crabgrass though. A few of my friends subscribe to the mantra of “if it’s green, it’s lawn”. I have friends with 65 acres. They don’t do anything to their lawn but mow it. No way are they putting chemicals on their huge plot.


Nicole April 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm

We don’t have a problem with crabgrass these days because the only grass available in this part of the country is what Midwesterners call crabgrass.


Kris April 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Nicole, I think Florida has very similar grass to the type you mentioned. I think ours is more Kentucky Bluegrass, but I really don’t know.

I already see nice big clumps of crabgrass forming as we speak.


Kris April 20, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Wow, cutting 65 acres would be quite a task!

I do have one of those forks, and I will be buying 3 more! I love that fork, and use it in the garden all the time.

I wish the US would act similarly to Canada and ban some of the yard chemicals. Then my weedy lawn wouldn’t look out of place! 🙂


Linda April 20, 2011 at 10:36 am

Do you have an HOA that will force you to keep your lawn a certain way? I live in the city where the front lots are fairly small and there is no HOA. I ripped out the entire front lawn and replaced it with mostly native plants and mulch. It looks great and does not require fertilizing. I also put down soaker hoses so when supplemental watering is needed I can just connect up the garden hose and do something else for an hour or two. I do have to weed out dandelions here and there, but not too many. And of course there is no lawn to cut.

In the backyard I have some turfgrass, but I intentionally mix in clover seed wherever things get a bit bare. I don’t want a lawn that is a monospecies because that is unsustainable and needs too many unnatural inputs. I do have dandelions in my lawn, but if I’m feeling overwhelmed I focus on just pulling the heads so they don’t seed. Then I lever then out with a weed puller when I have more time. I also don’t water the lawn at all. When we get into the hot summer months it may go dormant, but it comes back.

Your biggest problem with the change will probably be with your neighbors. If they are perfect lawn freaks they won’t be happy that you have a dandelion or two which could potentially contaminate their lawns.


Kris April 20, 2011 at 11:25 pm

My neighbors on either side of me have unattractive yards in general, so I don’t worry about them. However, my neighbor across the street may stop inviting us to swim in her pool as their grass is perfect.

Our HOA does nothing, so I definitely do not have to worry about them. Do you have a picture of your yard? I would like to see it!


Linda April 24, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Here’s a view of the front: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22748341@N00/1245258010/in/set-72157600198037165

And here’s a view of the back, where the small amount of turf is located: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22748341@N00/1208508467/in/set-72157600198037165

This was shortly after the landscaping was installed, so it looks really stunning, but not very full. And the lawn is looking pretty green here for August! That was back in 2007, and this year I need to replace some plants. If I keep the beds heavily mulched then I have very little weeding to do in the beds themselves.


Kris April 25, 2011 at 9:41 am

Oh my, that looks wonderful! The neighborhood looks so cute too. It looks like a totally manageable space and so serene!

Thank you for sharing Linda. You are getting me so anxious to get my garden started! If only it would get warmer than 50 degrees here.


Money Reasons April 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm

For the first few years, I kept up with the Joneses in the lawncare front, but after my daughter was born, I used chemicals more sparingly (alas, my poor son).

So for the last 6 years, my lawn would get weed and feed the day or two before we left for vacation, and then winterizer at the end of the year, and that would be it. My lawn doesn’t look the best on our street (and it pretty darn close to the worse looking one), but I have peace of mind… until last year.

Last year, I bought the natural stuff (corn meal for crabgrass), but it just did a fair job. It cost over twice as much as the normal stuff though!

So I’m the odd guy out in the lawn picking his weeds by hand and occasionally spot spraying.

I especially feel that the chemicals are bad for kids as they are growing. Afterall, if smoking cigarettes cause lung damage, what will chemicals do that kill plants and bugs?… Not to mention the environmental damage…

You definitely hit something that I feel strongly about. If I’m wrong… oh well, I had a crummy lawn while my kids were young, life could be worse 🙂


Kris April 20, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Our lawns will look similar soon MR. You were smart and quit the chemicals before I did.

I wonder if I pulled out the patches of crabgrass and reseeded those areas if that would work? It seems to be in clumps for some reason. The ‘natural’ stuff seemed to make my crabgrass worse! 🙂


The Biz of Life April 20, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I drink well water and have quite a few acres of grass so weeding and feeding are impractical (and I really don’t want to cut my grass any more often than I have to). If it’s green and I’m not putting chemicals in my water supply I’m happy whether its weeds, grass or crab grass.


Kris April 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Good point about how the chemicals can affect your water, I never thought of that since I have city water.

How nice that you have a few acres. Do you garden???


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager April 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Just did a quick Google search and came across this: http://www.organiclawncare101.com/tips.html Though you might enjoy it.


Kris April 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Thank you Jenna, I will definitely check it out.


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