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Why Abstaining from Lawn Fertilizer Can Save Your Lawn, Your Home, and help Fight Climate Change‍

Rob Moir

When I look out my window during these weeks at home, I see grass coming back to life, pushing up green blades between brown stalks of last year’s lawn.  The lawn and I, in our own ways,are fighting the epic rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting in a crisis called climate change.  

While humanity strives to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gasses,established lawns that have not been fertilized with synthetic fertilizers are capturing carbon through photosynthesis and storing it.  And, a lawn’s carbon storage is not threatened by forest fire.

Let your grass grow naturally. Save money by not using fertilizer.Without it, grass grows further into the soil and captures more carbon for a healthier greener lawn.  With fertilizer grass roots stay shallow. The soil below becomes compacted and turns to lifeless dirt. These grass plants have thinner blades and stems. They don’t fill in.

Beat the weeds and grow a beautiful lawn by not spreading fertilizer.  I know this sounds counter intuitive.  The “science” tells us the best way to kill weeds is with the herbicide Round Up. And if you do have some on-hand, beware the directions on the fertilizer bag that says to apply liberally (like the old toothpaste ads)on Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and in the fall.  Your grass will be “burned”. The fertilizer industry would like to keep your grass swimming in nutrients. Most of it pollutes waterways, feeding harmful algal blooms, closing town beaches, killing fish, and creating ocean dead zones.

A fertilized lawn provides easy munching for pests and opens dusty real estate for weeds, as well as providing the particulate ingredients of haze, a driver of climate change.  The fertilizer industry solves the weed problem they create by mixing herbicides in with the fertilizer.

Let lawns do what grass does best: to grow naturally.  Save time, effort and money by not spreading fertilizer.  Let the grass grow roots down into the soil to open it. Bacteria fixes nitrogen.  Filamentous fungal strands (mycorrhizae) intertwine with fine roots. Fungi provide plants moisture and nutrients.  Mycorrhizae transport usable nitrogen from bacteria to grass. The grass is now more robust, more drought tolerant. Grass blades thicken and new blades fill in the lawn. (Otherwise you’ll be killing a quarter of the mycorrhizae with one application of Roundup.)  

Leave the grass clippings on the lawn to provide as much nitrogen as an application of fertilizer (one-pound per thousand square feet of lawn).  

Insects on your property are very important and not just for the birds.  An acre of lawn soil was found to contain 72 million insects. Bacteria and nematodes decompose dead insects.  Dead insects along with bug poop return to the soil 70% of the nitrogen used by healthy grass.  

Earthworms tunnel about the soil, let in oxygen, and leave worm castings (vermicast) to improve soil conditions. Thanks to worms, a healthy lawn can absorb seven inches of rain water. As soils deepen and microbial ecosystems expand over time to three feet of soil depth, the lawn is able to absorb 9 inches of rain. Thus, a healthy non fertilized lawn better protects homes from extreme weather events.   Healthy lawns are so good at capturing carbon that the Ocean River Institute’s Blue Sky Over Massachusetts Challenge is offering prize money to towns with the highest percentage of homeowners making the pledge not to spread.  

Lawn turf covers more than 20% of the total land area of Massachusetts.  Your lawn, your town, can make a big difference. Let your lawn grow naturally to capture more carbon,protect your home from extreme weather events, and help save our planet


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