Monday, August 2, 2010

Tips for Choosing an eco-friendly lawn care company

If you are one of the many home-owners who are too busy or just not interested in toiling in the soil and digging in the dirt, there are now companies that offer various forms of environmentally friendly lawn care service. These companies will help reduce the eco-footprint of your home by eliminating inappropriate and polluting landscape practices.

Of course, if you are not a gardener, it may be difficult for you to know what to look for in such a company.

To help find a good “green” lawn care company, you can print out our eco-friendly landscaping quiz and see how prospective landscapers do in answering the questions. If they get all the answers correct, it’s a pretty good bet that they will make the correct choices for your landscape.

For more detailed information, I consulted Catherine Zimmerman, a Metro DC area certified horticulturist and landscape designer. Catherine is accredited in organic land care through the Northeast Organic Farmers Association and has designed and taught a course in organic landscaping for the USDA Graduate School Horticulture program. Catherine is also the author of the new book Urban & Suburban Meadows, Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces.

Below are some comments and suggestions Catherine provided for selecting an environmentally friendly landscape company:

“My approach to the lawn is to reduce it as much as possible in favor of native plants,” Catherine said:

“Where lawn is needed or desired, I take the organic approach. Key things for homeowners to know are:

1) Chemical lawn support such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are harmful to the environment. We annually assault the earth with billions of pounds of these toxins and as a result we are losing native insect species, polluting waterways and putting our own, and especially, our children's health at risk.

2) Start with the soil. Any eco-friendly land care service will do a soil test to see what is needed, or not needed, on the site in terms of nutrients, pH adjustments and organic matter content. A healthy lawn will have high organic matter 5% or higher. High organic matter feeds critical soil organisms and helps hold moisture in the soil.

3) The lawn should be aerated. Grass performs poorly in compacted soil.

4) Mow high, 2 1/2-3" and leave the clippings to help raise soil organic matter. 

5) Pest control. Elimination of pesticides will help bring the site back into balance because we cannot target just one undesirable insect. We wipe out most insects with pesticide use. Unfortunately some insects, like aphids bounce back quicker because of their faster reproduction cycle than it's natural enemy the lady bug. 
So now we have a real problem. Best to let the bugs duke it out. Introduce biologic controls, like nematodes, if needed. 'If needed' is a very important concept. If a company is selling lots of applications, they are likely not eco-friendly."

A few more suggestions for choosing an eco-friendly lawn care or gardening service:
  • Remember that each landscape is different and that your yard does not necessarily need the same treatment as your neighbor's. This is particularly true when it comes to eco-friendly lawn care, which strives to work with the current site conditions, rather than against them. Prospective lawn care companies should take a thorough look at your property and site conditions before giving you an estimate of what work they think your yard requires.
  • Even the best lawns have weeds and pests. Ask what techniques the service provider intends to use to treat these problems. Eco-friendly companies should offer environmentally friendly options.
  • The best eco-friendly companies will ONLY treat weeds and bugs on an as-needed basis, rather than indiscrimatley applying broad range weed killers, fertilizers or pesticides. If pesticides or weed killers are going to be used on your lawn, find out what specific problems are being addressed and what products will be used.
  • Ask lawn mowing services whether they reset mower heights for different turfgrasses and at what height they will cut your lawn. They should know the correct height for your particular grass species. Also find out if they clean equipment between lawns. Mowers and other equipment can spread weed seeds and disease organisms if not cleaned properly.
The Northern Virginia Regional Commission has created a list of professional lawn care services in Northern Virginia who have signed the Water Quality Improvement Agreement with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). These companies offer their customers lawn care services to minimize pollution in order to protect our waterways while maintaining green and healthy lawns.

View the list of Green Lawn Care Companies in Northern Virginia.  

More Metro DC Area Eco-Friendly Landscape Companies
(these companies are listed to help in your selection of a lawn care company. Inclusion in this list does not indicate our endorsement)
  • Richard Landscaping, LLC. Owner Richard Bajana told me that their guiding principle is “keeping things simple. Like Catherine Zimmerman, Richard is credited through the Northeast Organic Farmers Association
  • My Organic Garden– provides organic vegetable gardens, fruit & berries to folks in lieu of lawns, so property owners can get a little more out of their yard. Vegetable gardens can produce food nine or more months a year in our area. A lawn can produce a lot of veggies or host a nice looking orchard of dwarf apple, peach, or pear fruit trees. To increase the eco-friendly aspect they focus on building great soil rather than pesticides, and utilize drip irrigation and mulching to minimize water usage.
  • Solar Mowing - a small local company that uses solar (and wind) energy to power cordless battery-powered mowers. The mowers are quiet and emit NO pollutants!
  • American Plant - a family-owned environmentally responsible garden center, provide superior plants, products, knowledge and services for our customers and community.
  • Bay Country Lawns – An organic lawn care company that offers a wide array of natural and organic based programs.
  • Green Harmony Design - strives to bring nature back into people's lives by creating memorable settings in private and public gardens
  • Lawn-Right: Naturally healthy lawns – Professional organic lawn maintenance
  • Matt's Habitats - Eco-friendly gardens, painting and more!

    How to Find local Farmer's Markets

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared August 1 - 7th, 2010 National Farmer's Market Week.

    Farmers markets are an integral part of the urban/farm linkage and have continued to rise in popularity, mostly due to the growing consumer interest in obtaining fresh products directly from the farm. Farmers markets allow consumers to have access to locally grown, farm fresh produce, enables farmers the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with their customers, and cultivate consumer loyalty with the farmers who grows the produce. Direct marketing of farm products through farmers markets continues to be an important sales outlet for agricultural producers nationwide. As of mid-2009, there were 5,274 farmers markets operating throughout the U.S. ~ From USDA Website

    For fresh, locally grown produce, here are several links to help you find a local Farmer's Market:

    Farmer's Market Search - from USDA website

    Find Farmer's Markets and Local Farms - Local Harvest website

    Website by Water Words That Work LLC