Posts Tagged ‘gardens’

Picture-Perfect Lawns, at What Cost?

Friday, May 18th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
As the weather warms, the tranquility of the Wallkill Valley is punctuated by the calls of red-winged blackbirds and the constant drone of lawnmowers. We put a lot of effort into our perfect lawns, but is it really worth it?

We pour 10 times more chemicals on our lawns than farmers use in their fields, according to my friends at Soons Farm in New Hampton. This makes lawns toxic to wildlife, soil-microorganisms and earthworms, and polluting local water supplies. Up to a third of bagged household waste going to our landfills is lawn trimmings and leaves raked from our yards.

Traditional gas powered lawn mowers are responsible for 5 percent of our air pollution according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Even the innocuous Weedeater results in 21 times more emissions than the typical family car, while the leaf blower can emit up to 34 times more, according to

All this adds up to about 800 million gallons of gas burned each year in the quest for the perfect patch. But, about 17 million gallons of that fuel doesn’t quite make it to the mower tank and winds up spilled on the ground. That’s more than the Exxon Valdez spilled in 1989, and chances are that most homeowners do not clean it up. If that spilled fuel is left to evaporate into the air, it results in smog-forming ozone when cooked by heat and sunlight, and seeps into our water supply.

If your mower happens to have a two-cycle engine, it releases 25 to 30 percent of its oil and gas unburned into the air, along with particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and other ingredients of smog. This unhealthy soup we breathe contributes to cancer, and damages our hearts, lungs, and immune systems.

Want to lessen the environmental impact of your lawn?

The “greenest” thing you can do is convert your lawn to a vegetable garden and replace the turf with lovely raised beds of edible greens.

If that is too crunchy for your taste, how about trading in those gas guzzlers for the old-fashioned human-powered kind of mower? Reel mowers are easier to use, quiet, non-polluting. And you don’t have to worry about spilling gas. With the money you save on gas alone, you could buy a good pair of clippers for the bushes and a scythe for whacking weeds.

If you want to take the work out of lawn care, consider investing in electric mowers and weed whackers. Electric mowers range in price from $150 to $450, and the average cost in electricity to power the mower for one year is about five bucks, with no spilled gas and fewer emissions. Propane powered lawn equipment is a good choice when your lawn is the size of a golf course.

Use your brain instead of herbicides. If your lawn has dandelions, then your soil has a high pH level. Lower it with sulfur, or spot treat individual dandelions or poison ivy with a shot of vinegar.

Set up a compost pile, or buy a composter for leaves and lawn clippings. Use your composted yard waste and vegetable trimmings to build healthy soil on your lawn.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.