grass (a rant)

I'm actually not in a ranty mood this morning, so perhaps I won't be too grouchy afterall.

bare feet in October!

Just a heads up on a lawn care issue:  Our neighbors use a lawn service (sigh) which sold them on a new, safer product a year or so ago.  It was low toxic ("I don't even have to wear gloves!" said the employee--yegads!) and better for pets and the environment, they said.  Turns out, Imprelis is a tree killer, specifically pines and spruce.  Our neighbor lost a 40 foot tall tree, which acts as a privacy and noise buffer for them and somewhat for us.  Thankfully their other pines seem okay for now.  A coworker of D lost a tree as well.  Talking to the lawn service, who said they only used it on 10% of their clients, THOUSANDS of trees in our area alone were affected.  Per DuPont's "fact sheet" the damage is spread across Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Wisconsin.  (Note, if you find the the carefully worded info provided by the manufacturer scary, there may be a problem...)

Thank goodness this product was only approved for professional use, imagine if it was on the shelves of Walmart. Imprelis was "voluntarily" pulled from the market this summer, and a large claims process is proceeding.  (Another note:  my neighbors were offered 3 years of free service as part of their reimbursement over the issue...SIGH.)  And of course, I have to ask myself if they didn't know it had the effect of killing pine trees, what other affects did the chemicals have (on wildlife, or edible plants)?

But this isn't the end of the story.  Grass clippings from yards with Imprelis, per the label, are not to be composted.  Mulch from the killed trees, per their website, is not to be used for landscaping purposes as well. (Firewood is okay).  So where are all of these thousands of trees going?  For trees reported to the company, there is a protocal being created for disposal.  Many homeowners may not even know the cause of their tree loss, and send those pines to the municipalities for mulching, or have them shredded by the tree service.  And if not, thousands of these trees are going into landfills.

It's a pickle, and we are concerned about using our free city compost and mulch next year.   What to do?  Free mulch is a mainstay of my garden paths, and I use it in ornamental gardens as well.  There's no guarantee where purchased mulch comes from, either.  I suppose we can try to find a known source--a tree taken down for other purposes, perhaps?   I'll definitely be making my own leaf mulch this year too.  As for the compost, I know people bring their grass clippings to our dropoff sites, and I'm sure at least some of them are from treated lawns.  In the past, I've weighed the benefits of the program against the relative risks:  Recycling yard waste and keeping it out of the landfill is a great service, and the input of chemicals along with all the leaves and compostables seems pretty small, but STILL. 

One final afterword: I am also grateful that our state has a pesticide notification registry.  Lawn care services are required to give a days notice before applying herbicides or pesticides.  I can keep my hens in, and not hang up laundry on the days they are spraying.  It's not a great solution, but I do appreciate it.  Also--when I ratted on the lawn service last week (new employee, didn't call ahead, and was snarky to me when I asked him about it), I had an awesome conversation with my representative from the Department of Ag:  she was well aware of all the nuanced issues involving the Imprelis recall, and gave me a sense that they were on top of the issue.  See, government regulation, and State employees, a GOOD thing!

I did feel a bit guilty calling to complain, but then again--who is holding these services accountable if not us?  While I don't fault these guys for trying to make a living, I do beleive they should have to follow the rules at all times.  I have a BIG problem with a business that exists to poison the soil, all for the vanity of a perfect lawn.  I feel like they prey on the insecurities of new homeowners to conform to an unrealistic idea of the carpet-like lawn.  I do try to not give my neighbors a hard time (though I'm pretty sure they know how we feel by now).  I do try to live a good example, and hand out organic produce and fresh eggs.  And I don't apologize for my weedy lawn.

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  1. "who is holding these services accountable if not us?" Exactly. Count your blessings RE the pesticides notification legislation. There is big $ lobbying in Maine to repeal the notification law, which isn't even as strong as yours.

    The free mulch is a problem, but who is to say the purchased mulch will be any safer? Arghhh. I find your restraint admirable. It is experiences such as this that remind me why I would be a terrible lobbyist -- throttling the enemy is counter productive if ever so satisfying.

  2. Well, here's hoping our law is maintained, a lot of environmental rules are getting weakened with our current, governor, who hopefully will be recalled soon, ha!

    Definitely there are risks with purchased mulch too. And I think the local stuff is better (more sustainable) overall. I love your idea that perfect is the enemy of good, we just have to do the best we can!

  3. A couple weeks ago we saw signs up on the Madison DOT building lawn that they had treated the lawn that morning. That Westside farmer's market Saturday morning. We saw the signs after our kid and a half dozen others had been running around on said lawn. Not to mention the kid's violin group that had been sitting on the lawn all morning.

    I can't begrudge my elderly neighbors their obnoxious lawn service (who always manage to come during naptime), but the chemicals. Ugh.

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  5. Ms. "Beagle": Argh, that stinks, why would they spray on a weekend morning?! Its frustrating, and I have to remind myself that if we lived in the country, there'd be other "neighbor" issues like manure spreading and worse pesticides, so I guess you literally have to choose your poison!


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