It’s dandelion season in many parts of the U.S. If you don’t have a sea of yellow on your lawn yet, you probably will soon. The temptation is to KILL THEM ALL with POISON POISON HERBICIDE POISON, but Enviro Girl begs you, please reconsider.
That monoculture of a green lawn is very unhealthy for many reasons. Let’s start with bees. The poor bees have been decimated in recent years. One of the reasons is because of chemical poisons people use to kill pests and weeds. Another reason is because bees require a diversified landscape. More plants means more biodiversity which benefits insect populations as well as bird populations. Just as people cannot live well on a diet of only one food, neither can any other creature. Biodiversity in your backyard benefits many creatures and even helps reduce population imbalances.
To get a stronger sense of how a monoculture destroys biodiversity, click on this link: Cornstalks Everywhere But Nothing Else, Not Even A Bee. If you plant only one thing, very few things survive. Consequently, other things thrive without their natural predators to keep populations in check. Enviro Girl’s in-laws live within an Iowa cornfield and she can attest to the devastation of planting nothing but corn firsthand. The mass amounts of black flies and Asian beetles is pretty overwhelming, but with no birds, bats or other insects to eat them, they continue to reproduce unchecked.
Soil and water health also depend upon humans NOT spraying herbicides across their lawns. Dandelion killer also kills the beneficial fungi and organisms in soil that helps other things, like grass and flowers and earthworms, grow. There’s no specifically targeted way to eliminate one plant with a broadfield application without somehow damaging other plant life and soil health. Residual amounts of weedkiller end up washed away into water systems, creating a new set of problems. According to the EPA, of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, and 23 have the potential to leach.
It stands to reason, then, if weedkiller is bad for the environment, it’s also bad for us people. Again, let’s check out some EPA facts:
*Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides 19 have studies pointing toward carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system.
*Scientific studies find pesticide residues such as the weedkiller 2,4-D and the insecticide carbaryl inside homes, due to drift and track-in, where they contaminate air, dust, surfaces and carpets and expose children at levels ten times higher than preapplication levels. In other words, just because you apply it on the yard and tell kids to stay off your grass, that’s no guarantee you’re keeping children away from the poison.
*This especially gave Enviro Girl pause as she knows of five young people recently diagnosed with leukemia: A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds home and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia by almost seven times.
*Which doesn’t make this tidbit terribly surprising: The U.S. GAO has told Congress on several occasions that the public is misled on pesticide safety by statements characterizing pesticides as “safe” or “harmless.” EPA states that no pesticide is 100 percent safe.
*And if you’ve ever tried to read the label on a lawn care product, this probably doesn’t surprise you AT ALL: pesticide products are made of an active ingredient and several inert, or other, ingredients. Inert ingredients are neither chemically, biologically nor toxicologically inert. Inerts are not disclosed to the public due to their status as “trade secrets”. Active ingredients usually comprise only 5% of the actual product; the other ingredients make up the majority of a given pesticide product or formulation.
You can read more scary stuff here. Enviro Girl’s pretty freaked out right now, aren’t you?
So what SHOULD you do? Mow the dandelions, endure the two weeks of dandelion season, and do whatever you can to improve your turf (soil health, choice of plants, keep mower blade at least 3 inches off the ground) so other stuff crowds out dandelions trying to take root and thrive. If you’ve got a small lawn and plenty of time, you can fork ’em out one by one. But please, pretty pretty please with sugar on top, for the sake of your environment and ours, do not assault your dandelions with weedkillers!