Pesticide Free Rowayton

Pesticide Free Rowayton

FoA inspires people to join the change one lawn at a time

By Nicole Rivard

In the springtime in Darien, Connecticut, where Friends of Animals (FoA) is headquartered, and surrounding communities, it is alarming to see the number of bright yellow pesticide application signs on lawns, displayed proudly as if they were something beautiful, like the lovely daffodils that dot the landscape around them.

In the past, a well-manicured lawn was a status symbol, representing pride in home ownership. But those pesticide signs are actually badges of dishonor.

At Friends of Animals, we know that using toxic pesticides and herbicides puts kids, pets, pollinators and wildlife in harm’s way. Without bees, butterflies, insects and birds there would be no healthy ecosystems, there would be no us. We also know that organic lawn care is not just done on a whim. It’s truly science based, and as a result it’s affordable, doable and effective.

That’s why this year we launched Pesticide Free Rowayton to encourage residents of Rowayton, the hometown of FoA President Priscilla Feral, to go pesticide free one lawn at a time. While state legislation we support has been introduced that would ban chlorpyrifos, we feel it isn’t broad enough and that we can’t wait for any bureaucratic government entity to do something.

“Our lives have more meaning when we rescue ourselves, and model the leadership and initiatives we hope to see across the state, nation and globe, which is why I started the effort in my own community, to show how it’s done for gardeners, environmentalists and other activists,” Feral said. “If one cherishes birds, pollinators and healthy water, food and landscapes, we’re mindful of using organics, and avoiding toxic chemicals that used to be unquestioned.”

FoA sent out a mailing to residents to help them transition to non-toxic, beautiful lawns to provide greater benefit to their families and nature. And we’ve launched a Facebook page for people to share tips, articles and information about their own experiences. When it’s safe to for people to gather again, we plan to host activities that will continue to educate the community.

Back in 2012, Feral led the charge to get the three elected commissioners who run Rowayton to stop using pesticides on public land areas. She encourages FOA members to start a pesticide-free movement in their own communities.

“By not using pesticides and by planting native flowering plants, shrubs and trees, you can keep insects on the ground, in the air and on your plants and protect wildlife. Now that’s something to be proud of,” Feral said.

Set an excellent example for your neighbors by taking these steps recommended by Beyond Pesticides (

Test soil to learn what needs to be added. You can do it through the Cooperative Extension Service of a state university or soil lab. Ask for organic fertilizer recommendations. Lawns should have between 5”-6” of topsoil, which is the darkest soil layer. If needed, add topdressings of organic matter, such as compost to the topsoil.

Learn to read signals. If clover is taking over, chances are the soil is lacking nitrogen. Watch for hints of pH imbalance such as too many dandelions (although do know that dandelions provide pollinators with nutrition). Dandelions love soil with a 7.5 pH, while most grass varieties prefer a pH of 6.7 – 7.0.

Plant well-adapted, pest-resistant grass varieties. You can find out which grass is most suitable to your climate from your local cooperative extension. Planting additional seeds in already established lawns can reduce weed problems.

Aerate the lawn twice a year to allow air, water and nutrients to reach the roots of the grass. You can rent an aerator and share costs with neighbors.

Water properly. Over or under watering can induce pest outbreaks. Enough water should be applied each time to wet the soil to the depth of the grass root zone and be nearly dry before watered again.

Mow with sharp blades set to 3” and frequently enough to ensure that weeds are unable to build up energy reserves and become well established. Weeds can also be pulled by hand or sprayed with horticultural vinegar. Corn gluten meal is an excellent pre-emergent.