The Home Guru: Is Your Beautiful Lawn Dangerous to Your Health?

“When people have their lawns treated chemically, it’s almost like a toxic waste dump,”John Jones of Healthy & Happy Lawns says. Scary, isn't it?


Have you paid attention to those official notices posted on lawns when they are treated with pesticides? They are not placed there by the courtesy of the homeowner or the lawn care company but required by New York State law.  That might give us all pause to wonder.

I must confess that I haven’t participated in the chemical vs. organic debate in the use of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides to treat lawns and to make them beautiful.  I had figured that if the law allows the use of chemicals for that purpose, they can’t be all that bad for us, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

John Jones, owner of Healthy & Happy Lawns, an all-natural lawn care company serving the lower Hudson Valley region, presents a strong argument for thinking about going totally organic for lawn care.

“When people have their lawns treated chemically, it’s almost like a toxic waste dump,” Jones said in a recent discussion. “It’s true that they have an almost-instant beautiful lawn,” he conceded, “and we are a society where the majority wants instant gratification.” he continued. “But Mother Nature just ‘don’t’ work that way!”

Jones admits that when he first started in business in the 1970s, he offered only chemical lawn care “because I didn’t know any better,” but when his science teacher from high school strongly urged him to offer organic lawn care, he practiced both methods for a number of years.

The decision for him to offer only complete organic treatment of lawns came to Jones in 1985.  He explained his epiphany with some statistics, noting that in that year, he had 500 customers and found that his accounts were split exactly down the middle between chemical and organic treatment.

“Coincidentally, that year was a bad drought year, and I found that, under those conditions, my organic customers had much better lawns than those that were chemically treated. The organic lawns stayed greener a lot longer,” he said.  “It was proof to me of the superiority of what organics do to both the soil and the grass to make a strong, more resilient lawn.  I knew I was on to something and made the decision to go 100 percent organic.”

I related to Jones that I had read some of the cautionary literature about chemical treatment of lawns and wondered why the government hasn’t placed a total ban on its use, as have some provinces of Canada. “Because the chemical companies like Monsanto and Union Carbide have very deep pockets to perpetrate the myth that chemicals are needed for better lawns and gardens,”  he responded. “The advertisements that consumers see on TV are all chemically oriented now. And the chemical companies have mounted a ‘mis-information’ campaign that natural lawn care is expensive and it doesn’t work.”

Jones says that the evidence of the dangers of using chemicals for the landscape will continue to grow.  He keeps up with findings supporting his position and says that there is data about to be released by the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine that links Alzheimer’s disease and Hodgkin’s lymphoma to exposure to chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.

If a homeowner wants to go organic, how do the costs compare? “It’s probably true that some organic landscapers are raping the public with their prices because they know that a certain percentage will pay more for all-natural care,” he said, “but because I use only organic products, I buy in much larger quantities and can be very competitively priced to chemical lawn care.”

While in a confessional mode, I told Jones that some time ago I wrote an article about time-savers for outdoor maintenance that suggested the use of both Roundup and Preen for weed control. With an all-gravel driveway and a large parking area for my business, I told him that I treat them with Preen to inhibit weed growth and follow that up with Roundup to kill those weeks that still manage to pop through.

He didn’t mince words when he responded. “Roundup is probably the most dangerous herbicide on the planet,” he said, “and Preen is way up there too in toxicity.”

He suggested instead that I use natural means to accomplish my goal, recommending that, instead of Preen, I apply corn gluten, a product I knew nothing about.  “It’s even rated for vegetable gardens, but Preen would contaminate the food supply if used in the garden,” Jones cautioned.

And I learned that if weeds do take root, they can be killed by spraying a mixture of 60 percent vinegar and 40 percent clove oil, another product of which I had no awareness.

Jones went on to explain the process of soil testing and how it sets the blueprint or the “bible” as he calls it, for addressing the needs of the soil to host all-natural, healthy grass growth. The process is longer than the instant fix of chemical products, but, according to Jones, it is longer lasting and healthier. But, that’s fodder for another column about achieving beautiful lawns.

For now, if you want to know more about all-natural lawn care, visit www.organic.org. John Jones of Healthy and Happy Lawns can be reached at 845-733-5296 or visit his website at: www.healthyhappylawns.com.

Bill Primavera is a residential and commercial realtor associated with Coldwell Banker and a lifestyles columnist who writes regularly as The Home Guru.  For questions or comments or if you want advice about buying or selling a home, he can be emailed at bill@PrimaveraRealEstate.com, or called directly at 914-522-2076.

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NorthCountyHound August 20, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Yes. I have been doing the same thing for years. It's way better.
Jay August 21, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Well I get those little signs on my lawn too, but it's to stop all those mosquitos from attcking me the moment I head out the house. It's become so once the sun goes down if you dont have a repellant on you, in the span of 15 minutes I could have up to 4 bites. I was once bit 5 times on my face alone in about an hour working on a really steamy day. With west nile and a toddler always wanting to play in the back, I took no chances and got a company to spray the area. Now, the mosquitos have cut back drastically even though the occasional one with get at us. It's one risk I feel I have to go with for now.
Lawn Trouble September 08, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Scotts Miracle-Gro gets record penalties in pesticide case: EPA. Scotts sells birdfood treated with Storicide II which kills birds. http://1.usa.gov/Qp0qYL http://bit.ly/Ttg9fz
Paula September 08, 2012 at 05:37 AM
Lawn Trouble - Thanks for posting this - problem is that it isn't making waves on the major TV news shows and newspapers. Some people who use those popular Scotts products honestly won't care, but some people do and just don't think something so horrid could be on the market.
Chris Clement September 08, 2012 at 10:49 AM
ZYOSIA is low maintenance grass, and competes w/weeds. Slow to establish but once rooted it's plush & beautiful, like a carpet. Don't use chemicals on my lawn and it's practically weed-free. Zyosia has drawbacks, one being it's first lawn in winter to turn brown. Thanks for info on Scott's Miracle-Grow that I use on marigolds. Will stop using it.


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