Sustainable Missoula: A Guide to Organic Lawn Care

Allison Reintjes

Turf is our nation’s largest irrigated “crop,” with up to 10 times more pesticides per acre used on urban lawns than in agriculture. However, a change is afoot in Missoula.

The City of Missoula and its residents are increasingly embracing non-toxic grounds care by eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in our yards and other outdoor spaces.

Grow Safe: Non-Toxic Missoula was established as a non-profit organization in July 2021. Through community outreach, partnerships, and education, we advocate for a reduction in toxic pesticides to protect public health and the environment.

More recently, this advocacy has taken shape as A Guide to Organic Lawn Care, a step-by-step seasonal guide to growing a beautiful lawn while maintaining healthy soil. The free guide is available through the Grow Safe website, Missoula County Extension, and other community partners.

Grow Safe has worked with Missoula Parks & Recreation, Missoula County Extension, All Nations Health Center, Climate Smart Missoula, Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Clark Fork Coalition to share the rationale, process, and local resources for enabling anyone to approach lawn care in a way that is safe for people, animals and the environment.

Our community can move away from fossil fuel-based products while supporting healthy soils that sequester carbon. The All Nations Health Center points out that this approach “restores our relationship with the land and ensures that good management practices are passed on to future generations”.

The people of Missoul love the valley, the rivers and the mountains we call home. Organic land care gives us the opportunity to express our love in meaningful ways – by protecting the native pollinators, insects, wildlife and biodiversity around us. By removing synthetic pesticides and fertilizers from our yards, the Clark Fork Coalition states that we are “protecting the Clark Fork River and its vast network of tributaries from polluted runoff.”

We also protect ourselves, our families and our pets from the health problems associated with traditional lawn chemicals. Babies and children are most at risk from lawn chemicals because they often play on the ground, putting their hands and toys in their mouths when their brains and nervous systems are still developing. Not only that, but children’s bodies don’t detoxify chemicals as well as adults’ bodies. Pesticides are linked to cancers, decreased cognitive functioning, birth defects, asthma and many more serious health problems.

Are you ready to champion organic land care in your own backyard? Our guide will walk you through four steps to a beautiful lawn with a seasonal schedule to achieve your goals:

 Start by establishing healthy soil. Healthy soil is full of living organisms that have a beneficial relationship with plants. Aeration allows for dynamic root growth, while compost and liquid soil nutrients nourish microorganisms that support plant growth.

 Water less often and more efficiently to promote deeper and stronger root growth.

 Use organic or natural products, always avoiding pesticides and synthetic fertilizers (be careful with “urea” fertilizers and avoid).

 Leave your lawn a little longer to retain moisture and shade out weeds. Mow to a height of 3 inches, let the clippings rot into the soil, and sow bare spots seasonally.

The advertisers in the guide each offer a product or service that will help you implement organic lawn care in your garden.

Most of us have at least a rudimentary understanding of organic, based on agriculture. We know it’s based on standards that govern how organic food is grown, handled and processed, enforced through a government certification process. In contrast, biological land (or lawn) maintenance is less common. Organic Landcare was developed in 2001 as a set of standards reflecting the application of organic farming principles to landscaping. There are no regulations or certification process.

Individuals or institutions that engage in organic land care commit to meeting goals set by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) to “maintain soil health; eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers; increasing the diversity of landscapes; and improve the health and well-being of the people and the web of life we ​​care for.

This spring, Grow Safe celebrates both our Organic Lawn Care Guide and the launch of an organic pilot park by Missoula Parks and Recreation at McCormick Park. The pilot project is part of a grant the city of Missoula received from Healthy Babies Bright Futures and a partnership with Beyond pesticides. More information on the pilot park in a future article.

Changing the culture of land care in Missoula will have positive ripple effects on the health and environment of our community. We can have an effect by eliminating our use of toxic products. How we take care of our lawns, yards and other outdoor spaces is very important to our health, our environment and our planet.

Alison Reintjes volunteers with Grow Safe: Non-Toxic Missoula. For more information and resources, visit https://www.growsafemissoula.org/

Sustainability Events

Here we offer ideas on sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. To learn more, consider signing up for the Climate Smart eNewsletter via their homepage here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews through their homepage here.

Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market continues at Southgate Mall, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Until April 23.

12th of March. (Sat)– Fixit Clinic Missoula at the University of Montana UC. Come and learn how to fix your beloved broken things and torn clothes! 12 p.m. – 3 p.m. Register here.

March 15. UMAA Community Speaker Series – It Affects Us All: Climate Change, Wildfires, and Human Health. 7-8 p.m. via Zoom. To learn learn more about the series and register here.

April 7. Electrify Series Part 2 – Turning Off the Gas: Why – and How – to Electrify Our Homes and Buildings. 5:15 p.m. – 6:15 p.m. via Zoom. Learn more about the climate and health dangers of methane gas; Montana’s current energy landscape; why everything needs to be electrified, especially buildings; common barriers to electrification; and what steps we can take to electrify, as individuals and communities. Electrify series details and zoom link here.

April 21 to 24. Annual Clark Fork Coalition River Cleanup Event. Details and register here.

April 22 – 23. Kyiyo’s 53rd powwow. At the Adam Center at the University of Montana. The details are here.

April 22. Project Earth. Save the date for a unique performance, a fusion of art, science and community engagement centered on the climate crisis. 7 p.m. at the Dennison Theater at the University of Montana.

April 23. MUD Earth Day Celebration. 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the MUD/HomeResource website. This community favorite annual event is back – The festival will feature an environmental exhibit, activities and workshops for children and adults, educational programs, and local food, drink and music. Details here: mudproject.org/events/earth-day/

Remember – Donating materials to Home Resource spins the wheels of reuse in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events on Missoulaevents.net and on the Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar.

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