Ecology + Design

2018 Eco-Resolutions Part 2: Take Your Landscape Organic

Green Jay Landscape Design follows a holistic, organic land management program. Our background in ecology and horticulture guides us to consider the entire ecosystem when caring for plants. We never use synthetic chemicals because of their indiscriminate toxicity, ability to spread easily, and the hazards they pose to human health.


According to the EPA, 80 million US households apply 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides to their lawn and yard each year. Lawns require fertilization, but the average homeowner over-fertilizes, using improper timing and application methods. As we discussed in our last post, storm water runoff can accumulate fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals as it flows into streams, lakes, and oceans. Harmful Algal Blooms in waterways are a concern, as the toxicity of yard chemicals on aquatic plants, fish and organisms. A USGS survey of 186 agricultural, urban and mixed-use streams found that “three-quarters of urban streams had concentrations of pesticides in water that exceeded one or more benchmarks for aquatic life” and half of all agricultural streams were contaminated.”


There are dozens of synthetic yard products on the market today, and finding accurate information about them can be confusing. A product’s EPA registration does not mean it is non-toxic, nor does it ensure that the effects of the chemical have been thoroughly studied. Often, industry-sponsored studies influence the EPA rulings, despite mounting evidence from universities and non-profits. Furthermore, “inert ingredients” are not required by the EPA to be listed on a product label or included in studies, despite their potentially synergistic, toxic capacities.

Landscape contractors must pass a test, obtain a license, and follow local regulations when applying pesticides. Homeowners, however, can purchase virtually any pesticide product and apply it themselves with no training or oversight. Buyer Beware! Pay close attention to the ingredients, instructions, lethal dose (LD50) and expiration date. Pesticide exposure can occur both dermally and through inhalation.

Here’s a quick overview of the most common yard chemicals and their risks. For a detailed chart, see Beyond Pesticides.

2,4-D: One of the most widely used herbicides ingredients in the world: 11 million pounds per year are used on residential landscapes. Associated with fertility problems, non-hodgkins lymphoma, endocrine disruption, and bladder cancer in pets Learn More.

Glyphosate: Active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp—the most applied pesticide in the world. Acute exposure symptoms include burning, itchy eyes, blurred vision, skin rashes, nausea, sore throat and asthma. Chronic associations include non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, miscarriages, attention deficit disorder, and disruption of sex hormones. Learn More.

Clopyralid: Herbicide found in brand name products such as Transline, Tinger and Confront. Linked to reproductive issues, irritation to the eyes and throat, and permanent vision impairment. Given its water solubility, the EPA concluded clophyralid “has the potential to leach to the ground water and/or contaminate surface water”. Learn More.

Dicamba: Widely applied lawn herbicide, used on 3 million acres in the US. Linked to enzyme disruption (acetylcholinesterase) in humans and reproductive issues in lab animal tests. Learn More and more.

Contact your local Poison Control Center if you think you have symptoms of unsafe exposure to synthetics.


Most pesticides and herbicides affect more than their target species, killing essential microbiology, fungi and beneficial insects that make up a healthy soil. Chemicals can persist in the soil; in compost composed of a treated plant material; by vaporizing into the air on high temperature days; or by leeching into waterways during storm events. Clopyralid is extremely persistent in soils – the EPA detected it in soils fourteen months after application (bear this in mind when transitioning your yard off its chemical dependence can take several years).

Yellow pesticide warning signs indicate to stay off the sprayed area for 24 hours, however many chemicals remain transmissible for up to 48 hours. Many homeowners do not realize they track pesticides into their home on the bottom of their shoes and on pets’ fur. Once indoors, pesticides can persist for years, because they lack the heat and moisture of the outdoor environment required to break them down. Pets are of particular risk because of their grooming and sniffing habits, as are children because of their developing bodies and tendency to touch everything.


Yes, you can go organic and still maintain a beautiful lawn and garden. The most important take away: sustainable organics is not merely a product swamp; it is a shift from compartmentalized management to holistic stewardship. That means instead of reacting to a problem, we strive to create the best growing conditions for each plant. When choosing products, look for the Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI) stamp.

Above: What not to do. Bagging away lawn clippings wastes valuable nutrients!

For Your Lawn:

  • Test Soil & Amend: Testing your soil is essential! Cornell, Rutgers and Uconn all perform soil tests through their cooperative extensions. After analyzing the results, we amend as necessary with products such as enhanced gypsum (aids nutrient uptake in clay soils), high calcium lime (raises pH), and green sand (aids in cation exchange of water molecules). Apgar is a local supplier.
  • Aerate – Aeration relives compaction, which occurs when the soil is so compressed that it lacks oxygen and water permeability. Roots cannot develop well in compacted soil. Construction and heavy foot traffic often result in compacted soils.
  • Mow High – 3 ½ – 4 inches is the ideal mow height. This length stimulates root-to-shoot growth and also shades the roots from the sun. Most turf grasses grown in the Northeast are cool season grasses, so maintaining cooler temperatures is essential. Use a mulching mower to mulch grass clippings – we use the Scag Hurricane Mulching system.
  • Fertilize Naturally – Grass clippings are the most natural and cost effective fertilizers for your lawn. The average lawn needs four pounds of fertilizer per year; by leaving clippings on your lawn, you can reduce fertilizer inputs by one lb.
  • Water Long & Infrequently – Most homeowners overwater their lawns (too frequently, for too short of a time). This encourages grass roots to stay shallow, instead of growing deeper to find water. Deeper root systems make your turf more resilient in times of drought and help curb erosion. An irrigation system should be modified to reflect plant maturity and season.
  • Compost & Bio-Stimulants – We choose Natural-Source products such a s bone meal, feather meal, chicken manure, and compost tea. These products are designed to aid plants in their nutrient uptake, by enhancing the soil with enzymes, fungi, beneficial bacteria and hormones. As you get further along in your organic program, you will likely need fewer amendments.
  • Re-Seed Often – We use a top shelf blend of thirteen varieties of Pure Live grass seed. Overseeing allows the hardiest grasses for your soil conditions to flourish, while crowding out weeds.
  • Rethink Clover – Clover naturally fixes nitrogen in the soil. Including it in your lawn mix will further reduce your fertilizer inputs.
  • Natural-Source Bio-cides: Pre-emergent, organic applications of products like ICT Organics Pre-Emerg help suppress crab grass and other broadleaf plants, without compromising the turf grass. Post-emergent products like HALO target dandelion, foxtail, orchard grass and more. Both these products are “EPA-exempt” meaning they are not considered pesticides.

For Perennials, Trees, and Shrubs:

  • Stop indiscriminate spraying of funcides on trees!
    • Fungicides attack mycorhizal fungi which are absolutely essential for trees nutrient
  • Yucca can help with water absorption in clay soils (granular and liquid)
  • Compost & Bio-Stimulants – Choose a high quality compost – we source from Stone Barns Center For Agriculture. Quantum Growth, Plant Magic are great bio-stimulant products for building essential microbiology in the soil.
  • Choose an organic fertilizer like Nature Safe or North County Organics.
  • Transplant help – reduce the shock of transplanting, especially on hot summer days, with products such as Roots and BioPlex.
  • Biocides (granular and sprayed) such as garlic and vegetable oils can deter deer. We like Garden Girls Repellents Deer Free Winter Armor.
  • Prune appropriately – next season’s growth can be drastically affected by this fall’s pruning. Plants should be pruned in accordance with their growth and bloom patterns.

Depending on how long your property has been maintained chemically, it may take several years to completely detox your yard. Be patient, the Earth Thanks You

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