So here goes the solutions part:
Those of you with weedy sidewalk cracks can verify that hand weeding is difficult, unlikely to be a permanent solution, and never the funnest landscape care task at hand. I’d recommend using vinegar spray or burning them with a propane torch. Both options may not kill taprooted weeds permanently, but are easy and quick, and much safer for our bodies and groundwater than chemical options.
I understand the high value of an open play space for children, pets, and adults. It’s also important from a design perspective to have a place to rest your eyes and invite calm. Often, these same features can be achieved with lawn replacements such as Dutch white clover or any number of “stepable” groundcovers. Contact me for a list, or check out Evelyn Hadden’s book Beautiful No Mow Lawns . If you’re looking for some additional inspiration, she’ll be speaking both Saturday February 14th and Sunday February 15th at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. There’s also the option of hand-weeding species that specifically bother you, or spot spraying them with vinegar.
Finally, I’d like to note that poorly performing lawns are often the result of poor conditions. Lawns enjoy well-aerated soil, full sun, gentle slopes, and regular compost applications. In the urban northwest, a lot of our soils are heavy, compacted, and sometimes waterlogged. Creating a beautiful landscape under these conditions is quite possible with mulch and good management practices, but it’s difficult to create good lawn habitat. A well-sited lawn that receives annual compost, occasional re-seeding, and gets cut regularly will choke out most weeds and be lush enough to disguise a few weeds. The Garden Hotline has lots of information about organic lawn care, which you can find here.
Although many pesticides including weed-killers, insect, and rodent control are marketed as safe to use around pets and family, research indicates otherwise. Many chemicals are known to degrade quickly, but in a CDC study of 9,282 people nationwide found 13 of 23 pesticides they were testing for in the average person’s blood and urine.
Finally, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has found that homeowners often exceed recommended application rates, and as a whole use up to 10 times more pesticides per acre than conventional farmers. Perhaps this is because our desire for ease and convenience tempts us into using stronger doses, or because we imagine that our small gardens are somehow separate from the larger ecological systems that include groundwater and wildlife. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s not worth the risk to our families and neighbors of all species. I want to care for the water here, which is becoming increasingly precious as larger and larger swaths of our world experience severe drought. I want to care for future generations experiencing the lingering effects of pesticides used in the past and present. And I want to show that we can have beauty, peace, fun and productivity in our landscapes without relying on mysterious and powerful concoctions that have been poorly tested.