Yesterday evening I took my older daughter to dance class while my wife stayed home.  While she was entertaining our younger daughter, the TruGreen guy came to the door to tell us that we had weeds in the yard (Damn, I had no idea!).  He went on to tell my wife that we really needed to use his company to get rid of them.  I was so disappointed that I missed him because I wanted to know all about what he had planned for our yard.  Many of our neighbors use TruGreen and I have to say that I’m not particularly impressed.  It’s not that they’re not professional — they certainly are.  It’s not that they don’t do things by the book — they certainly do.  It’s just that the book that we use is getting a bit outdated.   When I read TruGreens online FAQ it looked like they actually plan six applications of chemicals per year.  I’m assuming (I don’t know this for sure), that at least four of those include herbicides to one extent or another.  It looks like people who have no tolerance for weeds should love TruGreen.   But really, how many weeds should people allow in their yards?  Is it one per square foot? Two? Five dozen?  And what are weeds?  Is clover a weed?  At what point do we say enough is enough and that we’d rather just cope with a few weeds than hose down our whole yard with herbicides.

After reading my own words I feel like some kind of radical.  In my job I tend to see two types of people, those who can’t stand pesticides and those who can’t stand weeds.  One group is happy to spray five times a year if it means that their lawn will be weed free, and one won’t touch an herbicide.  I’m not sure that either group is correct.  I tend to handle weeds in my yard the same way I handle haircuts – I hate having my hair cut so I don’t go to the barber that often, but I do go to the barber eventually because my hair looks pretty ridiculous if it grows too long.  I feel the same way about weeds (specifically dandelions) which infest  the grass in my yard.  I prefer not to add herbicides, but there’s a big weed bank in the area and so I end up needing to apply once every two years or so because otherwise it looks pretty bad.  Rather than making either the making the weed-free lawn or the no-chemical group happy though I think that it just pisses them both off.  They see my unwillingness to commit to one way or the other as a cop-out rather than reasonable moderation. What do you think?

17 thoughts on “Disappointment”

  1. I am pretty anti-herbicide/pesticide myself, but I’m not a purist. I get frustrated with people who simply will not, under any circumstances, consider a chemical solution to any problem, no matter how intractable it might be otherwise. That said, I think we (as a culture) rely way too heavily on quick, easy tech solutions which have negative long-term and/or diffuse consequences, and herbicides definitely fall in that category. If only in protest against that pattern of behavior, I will resist herbicide use until or unless there is no other option.

    I’m also of the opinion that we’re way to obsessed with creating a “perfect” physical environment. Nature does not conform to human standards of perfection, and our efforts to the contrary are both harmful and ultimately futile. And I think few things are uglier than a patch of chemically-killed weeds.

    For your recurring dandelion patch, have you tried a good heavy sheetmulch? 2-3 layers of cardboard and 6″ of woodchips should keep those weeds down for years, possibly forever, depending on the level of vigor. Weeds will of course root in the woodchips as they start to break down, but those are easy to pull or hoe, because they’re rooted in loose proto-soil.

  2. You should avail yourself of the services provided by the lawn maintenance company. In your post, you have revealed your distaste for weeding the lawn, and your aversion to herbicides. Therefore, let someone else take care of this unpleasant and controversial matter for you.

  3. A weed’s simply a plant growing where you don’t want it, and your pretty lawn grasses are nothing but weeds when they’re in my garden. A dandelion there, however, is a tasty spring salad treat with a root to be harvested later for use in a medicinal tea. My current lawn’s a sturdy mix of grasses, clovers, and various nutritous ‘weeds’ kept nicely trimmed by the yard birds who also control the tick population.

  4. I am pretty anti-herbicide and somewhat anti-large lawn myself. I have seen those companies TruGreen, Scott’s, etc.. actually applying chemicals in pouring rain! Not mist, not light rain, I am talking about a full on down pour. So by the book? I am not so sure.

  5. I can’t believe anyone cares enough about something so trivial as what’s growing in a lawn to give their neighbors a hard time. T
    hose kind of people need to find something more important to do with their time.

  6. I can tolerate some weeds in the lawn as long as they are green. If it stands out and says look at me–I get the spray out. After a good soaking rain I get a certain pleasure in hand pulling weeds especially crab grass when it clumps.

  7. I live in VA where the ground covers itself with or without my help. As long as it’s shortish and greenish, I’m happy. That said, I also live well out of the public view.

    One of the things I value most about this blog is the science behind what does or doesn’t make sense. I’d love a follow up to your post that more specifically addresses the reasonable and unreasonable practices of lawn care companies.

  8. My yard is about 30% “grass” and 70% clover, creeping charlie, crab grass, etc. My yard (Northern IL) has been green and growing since the last snow melted. My neighbor’s chemically treated all-grass lawn is still brown and dead.

    ‘Nuff said.

  9. We have spent years training the public to despise dandelions and clover in their lawns so that they will spend their dollars on fertilizers and herbicides. There is no more than a fringe movement trying to change these attitudes, and most of the public could care less. Those of us in business face a challenge trying to educate, with a real possibly that we’ll turn off our prospective customer, or we can go with the flow and sell them what they’re asking for. A conundrum is what it is.

  10. It’s not unusual for something like this to happen when trying to classify folks, but I fall into the category of someone who has a rather sneaking admiration for weeds and even enjoys insects (more than most,anyway) and also thinks that pesticides (natural and synthetic) are being unfairly maligned, given the benefits they provide. Any tool can be used improperly, so education about proper use is paramount, and without hyper scare-mongering about potential risks.

  11. I live in a country where moss in the lawn is the bane of the gardeners. We spray, rake, and curse moss but it returns after much cost. We can’t accept that weeds grow in conditions that suit them. Why not embrace this rather than waste money and energy? Here’s why – some weeds are beautiful, i.e. Veronica filiformis (blue speedwell), some are ever green and drought resistant (moss) and some provide nitrogen (clover). I love seeing seasonal change in my weedy lawn!

  12. Philosophically, I’m a firm believer in Integrated Pest Management which puts me in neither camp. At the same time, I don’t personally use toxic substances in my garden. They give me the willies.

  13. I’m afraid that I would have told him that I prefer not to poison my children. I like being able to walk barefoot in my own yard. But I also think dandelions are cheerful, so, totally counterculture there, too. I don’t spray weeds in my lawn; I have been known to spray poison ivy and a really pernicious perennial weed that didn’t die when I sheetmulched it. Herbicides should always, in my book, be the weapon of last resort.

  14. I don’t have any weeds in my lawn even though I don’t use weed killer. I have a few dandelions, some nice yellow wood sorrel, lots of clover, and the occasional violet but no weeds. When the dandelion foliage gets large and ugly to my eye then I’ll dig it out but until then I like the occasional spot of color.

  15. We have no lawn. We mowed it flat in the summer (when it’s dormant) and deep chipped the whole yard to kill the turf. Now it’s all in trees/shrubs/groundcovers/herbaceous perennials/hardscape/wood chip mulch. The few weeds we do get are easily dug out. Perhaps not a child/dog-friendly landscape, but that’s why we moved near a city park – whose untreated but mowed turf is a riot of tiny flowers in the spring.

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