Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Canada! Oh, Canada...

...why is it that your government has so much more on the ball than your southern neighbors? Not only do you have universal health care to keep your citizens coming home every summer, but now you have taken the very pro-active step of ordering your nurseries and garden centers to remove an overused and minimally understood garden product from their shelves. As of the end of 2012, no longer will Mr. Joe Blow Homeowner be able to wheel cartloads of weed and feed lawn products out the door. Good for you!

Of course, Scotts and Monsantos of the world will not take this news lightly. Punitive lawsuits have already been filed against the Canadian activists and lawmakers responsible for banning the products in the provinces, but the move by the federal government to outlaw these products nationwide might indicate that Big Ag will not get any satisfaction in court.

In what might be a very shrewd move, the government bases its decision not on the health of its water supply, which very certainly is adversely affected by rainwater runoff carrying 2,4D, atrazine, dithiopyr, and the like, but on simple landscape "best practice" principles. They may well have avoided a long and costly court battle by using the common sense approach: a lawn does not have to be a strict monoculture of grass to be healthy and beautiful.

Having been in the business, I have given a lot more thought to the quest for the perfect lawn than most humans. It simply is not worth the cost to our water supply, to our own health, and the health of our children and our pets, not to mention the health of the entire ecosystem.

I can't tell you how many of my friends have announced to me -- quite proudly, I might add -- that they or their spouse had used a weed and feed product. One friend uses it on a lawn so small I could easily hand-weed the entire space inside of an hour. Another friend has an expansive lawn with weeds confined to one small corner, but of course he uses an atrazine-based product on the entire lawn. Did he read the label first, and apply according to the manufacturer's instructions? Doubt it. If so, does he have a clue how to calibrate a spreader, or even what that means? Doubt it. Seriously. By the time I am told, though, the damage is done. Preaching falls on deaf (and dumb) ears.

Last Spring I was standing in line at Lowe's and a nice looking fellow came up behind me pushing a cart loaded with faded-looking bags of a weed and feed product. He must have mistaken the look I gave him. "Look!" he said gleefully. "These are 75% off just because the bags are old!"
"Wow." I said. "You must have a big yard."
"Half an acre," he replied.

I did a little quick math in my head. Those bags treated 5,000 square feet, and there are roughtly 22,000 square feet on one half acre of yard. Subtracting 2,000 square feet for the house, not counting any additional landscape or driveway area, he had enough product to treat his lawn for four and a half years!

Here is my guess: he would either a) over apply the product to get rid of it b) throw it away c) no longer be able to read the label at all within two years, at which time he would forget what he even had. Either way, there is small chance that those bags of product will not ultimately end up contributing to the pollution of our water supply.

I just smiled, though, and said "What a deal." Coward.

Canada has opted to remove these products from their shelves, thus eliminating misuse by hundreds of thousands of people. Licensed lawn care professionals will still be allowed to use them, making the cynical me wonder whether they had anything to do with the homeowner ban. ChemLawn and TruGreen and other such companies will be the biggest winners here.

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