Keeping lawns green is almost an obsession for some Americans. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, almost 80 million U.S. households use 90 million lbs. of lawn chemicals annually. These products are toxic to people, pets and wildlife. Many of them have been linked to cancer, developmental disorders, birth defects and asthma. Reducing their use by switching to natural fertilizers and herbicides may keep pets and people healthier.
Herbicides and fertilizers are dangerous to pets, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. A 2005 study found that exposure to 30 commonly used lawn chemicals can double the incidence of canine lymphoma, notes Beyond Pesticides, adding that certain breeds of dogs exposed to lawn chemicals are four to seven times more likely to suffer bladder cancer. Using pet-friendly fertilizers is a simple way to keep your pet healthy and happy.
Natural soil amendments, such as compost and well-rotted manure, break down slowly, adding nitrogen to the lawn and improving soil texture. An inch of compost or manure applied in the spring is sufficient to green up the lawn. Corn gluten is an organic pre-emergent weed preventer and fertilizer that provides nitrogen to plants while it prevents weeds from sprouting. Some commercial fertilizers are labeled as safe for use with pets. Products made from fish emulsion, compost or bonemeal are likely safe, especially when they are not combined with herbicides or pesticides.
Several lawn maintenance practices minimize the need for chemicals and fertilizers. Practice proper mowing techniques, advises Cornell University, to grow a healthier lawn that crowds out weeds. Cornell University advises gardeners to mow to a height of 3 inches, sharpen the blade and leave the clippings. As clippings break down, they provide nitrogen to the lawn--free, 100 percent safe fertilizer.
Fertilizers, including fish emulsion, bonemeal, compost and manure, are best applied in the fall, according to Cornell University. Corn gluten, on the other hand, should be applied in the spring before new growth emerges, according to "Organic Gardening" magazine, when the forsythia is in bloom.
Compost and manure should be well-rotted to ensure that all pathogens and diseases are destroyed before application. Corn gluten works best after two or three years of application. It prevents all plants from germinating and shouldn't be used on a newly seeded lawn.