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Organic lawns are taking over Ohio
And one of the biggest lawn-care businesses in Ohio is adapting

Organic lawns are going mainstream, as (left to right) Jack, Rachel, Mick and Mike Hannon can attest.
Courtesy of Sam Hendren
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In The Region:

Once used only by a few environmentally conscious homeowners, organic lawn care is becoming mainstream.Organic signs are popping up on people’s lawns all over Central Ohio. And for Ohio Public Radio, WOSU’s Sam Hendren reports that even name-brand fertilizer companies are embracing the trend.

LISTEN: Hendren on lawns going organic

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Jack and Mick Hannon, who are 8 and 10, play tag with their mother Rachel on the front lawn of their home in Dublin.  The boys enjoy all sorts of sports on the lush green carpet shaded by a giant 30-year-old maple.

“Football, baseball, soccer, sword fighting, just hanging out in the yard,” says Rachel Hannon.

The yard is chemical-free. About five years ago the Hannon's went organic. They switched from a service that treated their lawn with chemicals to one that uses organic products.

Gluten, kelp and molasses
“I was a little nervous at first because I did not know how it was going to kill the weeds. But we have had no problems because it works by improving the soil; improving the microbes; and makes the turf very strong and we are very happy with the results,” Hannon says.

Instead of chemicals, organic lawn services use things like corn gluten meal, molasses, sea weed, kelp and compost.

“I was a doubter at first and I am not a doubter anymore. It really does work and I feel really good about the decision we made,” Hannon says.

Post World War II
Treating turf to produce a luxurious lawn got into full swing in the years following World War II. Lawns require treatment says Ohio State University turf expert Joe Rimelspach because during a home’s construction the surrounding topsoil is usually stripped away.

“If we had topsoil we would have to do very little.  It’s this lack of a decent soil for the roots to grow to provide the nutrients for the plant to have a nice lawn,” Rimelspach says.

Scientists found ways to nourish turf and eliminate weeds decades ago using chemicals. But many hurt the environment.  They were later pulled from the market but their effects left lasting impressions. Mark Slavens is environmental affairs director for Scotts Miracle Gro in Marysville.

Slower than expected growth
“There’s a lot of people unsure or unclear about how things work. And they believe that if they do things in an organic or natural way that’s going to be better for their health or better for the environment. And there’s some validity to that thinking,” Slavens says.

So Scotts, a giant in the lawn and garden industry, and other fertilizer companies, have added organic products because of consumer demand.

Scotts says it’s seeing slower-than-expected growth in its organic line of products but sales are steadily moving upward.

Organic lawn care services are also seeing an increase in customers. Matt Cellura manages Good Nature Organic Lawn Care in Columbus.

“There’s not a lot of 100 percent certainty that, ‘Hey, this caused that.’ But I guess there’s the peace of mind part of it.  Why mess around with it when you can put something down on the property and not really have to worry about it if your kids run out there or your dog right after a treatment,” Cellura says.

There are tradeoffs taking the organic route. Organic pesticides don’t work as well as chemical ones.  And while organic fertilizers can provide excellent results, they usually take longer to work.  But they’re great, says OSU’s Rimelspach, at building up the soil.

Time and money
“The best defense against weeds is to have a thick, dense stand of turf.  If you have a dense stand of turf you don’t have room for the weeds. You don’t have a problem,” Rimelspach says.

Organic products are more expensive says Rimelspach. And because they’re less nutrient-dense it takes more of the organic product to cover the same area. But Rachel Hannon says her family is only paying a few dollars more for Good Nature’s organic lawn service.

“It costs us on average about $8 a month more than when we were using a chemical lawn service care,” Hannon says.

So as more and more organic signs are popping up on Ohio lawns, industry leader Scotts continues to research and develop more organic products.  Scotts vice president Mark Slavens.

“These products work and they deliver results that people want,” Slavens says.

Slavens says Scotts is close to developing organics that sell at the same price as their chemical counterparts.

Listener Comments:

Great trend! Here's to it continuing!

Might I suggest other areas that we need to look into for trying to keep the environments we live in clean of chemicals and toxins. When you have second, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Freshana Organic Solutions’ 100% natural, organic, safe and effective cleaning products and air purifiers. Awesome stuff.

Posted by: A. Mac (Ohio) on June 13, 2014 8:06AM
Thank you, Ohio!

Posted by: Madeline Loder (Massachusetts) on June 9, 2014 8:06AM
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