4 easy steps to a chemical-free backyard

(BPT) - Because everyone is spending more time in their own backyards now, parents are wondering how to create healthier lawns for their families.

You might be surprised to learn that exposure to pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers can be harmful, particularly for growing children. This is why flags are posted after a yard is treated — they are warnings to keep children and pets away from dangerous chemical exposure.

Chemicals found in pesticides and other lawn products have been linked to asthma, organ damage and cancer, as well as neurological diseases and behavioral problems, according to the National Institutes of Health. The safest approach for everyone, and the environment, is to go organic.

Stonyfield Organic yogurt has cared about where cows graze for the past 36 years. In 2018, Stonyfield Organic yogurt extended its mission beyond cows grazing fields to outdoor spaces where kids play, starting with the #PlayFree campaign to remove toxic pesticides from parks and playing fields. Now Stonyfield is helping families do the same for their own backyards.

Organically maintained lawns made easy

Having a chemical-free, healthy lawn is not difficult if you follow practical, proven organic lawn management techniques.

Follow these steps from Stonyfield Organic to transform your yard into a healthier environment for everybody.

1. Stop using pesticides

Because of the harm that can be caused by pesticides, it’s best to simply stop using them. If you have nuisance insects in your yard, there are natural approaches to curbing them.

Pesticides kill both harmful and beneficial bugs, so you miss out on the benefits many “good” insects provide. Good bugs include dragonflies, honeybees, ladybugs and butterflies. "Bad" bugs like grasshoppers, aphids, fire ants, grubs, snails, chiggers, centipedes and mosquitoes can harm your plants and annoy humans.

How can you reduce bad bugs without pesticides, while helping the “good bugs”?

  • Plant flowers to support pollinators
  • Provide fresh water for good bugs and bug-killing birds
  • Add mulch to offer shade for plant-friendly insects
  • Use apple cider vinegar or cedar oil as bug repellent
  • Spray neem oil on infestations
  • Repel mosquitoes with crushed parsley, rosemary oil or citronella candles
  • Grow insect-repellent plants like marigolds, lemongrass, fennel, basil or thyme
  • Hang a bird feeder for bug-eating birds
  • Hose visible bugs like aphids and caterpillars off plants

2. Test your soil

Most people apply lawn products without first determining what the soil actually needs. Testing helps you discover the right balance, so your soil won't be too acidic or too alkaline.

Many universities provide soil testing services at reasonable prices. Check your nearest university’s website for details.

Or turn soil testing into a fun family project. All you need is red cabbage, distilled water and the directions at Stonyfield.com/playfree/change-your-own-backyard.

3. Switch to organic fertilizers

Synthetic fertilizers are manufactured with fossil fuels and are salt-based. They directly feed plants, and can harm your soil. Organic fertilizers feed the life in your soil, and the soil in turn will feed your grass or plants.

4. Use effective organic lawn care tactics

To achieve a lush lawn without chemicals, it helps to understand what grass needs to grow its best.

  • Feed soil — Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients help your grass grow. But don’t feed without testing — the soil test will determine if your grass is getting what it needs from the soil.
  • Mow high — Short grass is stressed grass. Most grass grows best at around 3 inches. This allows your grass to efficiently produce its own food, develop deep roots and withstand drought conditions.
  • Mulch with grass clippings — Healthy soil will turn the grass clippings into the nutrients it needs.
  • Water deep — Lawns love about an inch of water each week. In many areas, rainfall is plenty. Less frequent but deeper watering builds heartier, healthier roots. Water as needed but aim for no more than 3 times per week, and water in the early morning.
  • Overseed — Spread a layer of grass seeds across your existing yard to help grow a green and lush lawn.
  • Weeding — The best weed prevention is a healthy, thriving lawn. Thick grass blocks out sunlight that weeds need to grow.

Following these approaches can make your lawn beautiful as well as safer for your entire family.

For more helpful organic backyard gardening tips, visit Stonyfield.com/PlayFree.

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