Unwelcome signs of late spring


IMG_1321The first one is a common sight along just about any American street. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to these. As a kid, I knew enough to think, “poison, stay away.” As an adult and a longtime gardener, I look at the signs with annoyance and some disgust, but often just dismiss them from my mind.   But in recent years, as environmentally mindful policies prevail in places like Ontario to the north and homeowners struggle with the idea of giving up turfgrass entirely to the far west, it seems more ridiculous than ever that people would prize their velvet lawns enough to endanger living creatures and pollute groundwater. The water question is very real here in Buffalo, where runoff overflow from overly abundant rainy seasons threatens waterways, local swimming, and drinking water.

This particular sign was planted in the grass of a nearby pre-k/daycare center. Although it says “pesticide” I feel fairly certain it’s for weeds, and it’s probably also likely that a landscaping company did this automatically, as part of their “service,” and that the people who run this center are barely aware of what’s being done. We were asked if we wanted to have regular “treatments” when we moved into our house, but declined. As long as lawn services exist, the culture of regular treating and spraying is unlikely to go away.

Photo by Cheryl Jackson
Photo by Cheryl Jackson

This sign is a more recent phenomenon. At least it’s there. But it’s far too early to be implying neonicotinoids are safe because they’ve been “approved by the EPA.”  In fact, risk to pollinators seems likely, and they are still under assessment by the agency. (Lots of studies going on and lots of  reports—google away.) So, yeah, on the surface this sign is a public service, but it’s a bit misleading. And the link given no longer exists.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Yes, Elizabeth, I just recently saw the neonicotinoid sign at a local nursery here as well, so I think it’s a growing (and unfortunate) phenomenon. I was definitely worried about the suspected honeybee effects as well.

    As to the lawn sign, though, I wonder how much it warns us of real danger and how much is just a legal protection response to pesticide hysteria. I hope and trust that the pesticides applied to our lawns today are much safer for humans than in the 40 years since I played Little League baseball twice weekly in clouds of DDT emanating from the truck that circled the baseball diamond every night. I survived those applications, albeit probably with intense DDT residues in my bones and precancerous liver nodules, and I hope that the modern exposures would be less harmful.

    Come to think of it though, some of my childhood coaches, who were probably exposed nightly, were a little bit nuts, and most have passed on.

  2. Golf courses are routinely sprayed with herbicides and it is an occupational hazard for those who work there, according to epidemiological studies. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, a common reason for spraying pesticides in our parks and open spaces is the futile attempt to eradicate non-native species. Some of these species are called “invasive,” although that word is used indiscriminately. When sweet peas and scabiosa are sprayed, we should assume that “invasive” is a word that has little meaning. Fruiting shrubs such as blackberries are sometimes sprayed. We hope that children will read the signs and avoid the hazard, but we know the birds can’t read the signs.

    The California Invasive Plant Council conducted a survey of land managers about the methods they use to eradicate plants they consider invasive. Ninety-four percent report using herbicides, 62% use them “frequently” and 10% use them “always.” Ninety-six percent report use glyphosate, now categorized by the World Health Organization of the UC as a “probable human carcinogen.” The second most frequently used herbicide, Garlon (triclopyr), is far more toxic to acquatic life, to birds, and to bees. The California Invasive Plant Council risk assessment of herbicides reports that Garlon poses “reproductive and developmental risks” to female applicators.

    We are poisoning ourselves. Unfortunately, the economic interests that promote these poisons are too powerful and our laws too weak to prevent these assaults on our health and our wildlife.

  3. I get so annoyed with people this time of year – my neighbor across the street does this every bloody week. The idiot service even sprays this crap on very windy days! The runoff is a huge problem, both on Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes. Every summer without fail, the lakes (big and little) have regular algae blooms – and now, on some of the Finger Lakes, aquatic weeds are becoming a big problem because they get fertilized regularly. I just don’t understand this insane quest for the perfect lawn…..

  4. I think I’ve mentioned the insane landowner who spent $2K on sod in the front, near the beginning of this current drought. I am reminded on Shylock’s lament, My ducats, my daughter, sometimes when I get his distress passed along that “his $2K lawn is dying/is dead”, because he wants an emerald green lawn in a Stage 3 drought. I’ve said I won’t go against regs/laws regarding outside watering, and I won’t pay any fines for too green a lawn. I’ve given the PM several ways to have an attractive front yard which do not involve inordinate amounts of water nor even mowing, but no.

    However, the PM has given me permission to buy some of the Pearl’s Premium Deep roots grass seed to over-sow the front yard, and sow it myself. I told him the best time to do it is in the fall, and I am sincerely hoping we get plenty of what the Navajo call female rain (great irrigation) and not male rain (floods and landslides) this fall and winter.

    I’ll see if I can get a sign from Pearl’s to state why the yard is so green, and my water bill so low. As it is, I’m told by our water company that we have conserved over 40% based on 2013 use.

    It bothers me greatly when known toxins are sprayed where children are active. It also makes me angry that the farms that spray synthetic and toxic chemicals, harmful-to-humans and to bees & butterflies & other pollinators, are making those who earn the least, and likely have no real insurance (well, at least before the ACA) to cover illness from being poisoned by what they spray. Do they even get protective gear?

    It’s some of the reasons many folk are switching to organic produce. I cannot support the use of synthetic and toxic pesticides in homes and in places where children play.

    Also, has St. Gabriel Organics gone out of business? I was using their BurnOut II weed-killer (lovely smell of cloves), and suddenly I can’t find any, nor am I sure what Oregon Tilth/CCOF organic regs allow. I’d like to find a replacement that doesn’t involve intense labor…Any advice welcomed. I have a backyard of weeds.

  5. My next door neighbor’s grass has died off. He decided it’s grubs (based on the fact that it turned brown). Last year he spent over $1000 on lawn care products to try and “save” the lawn his young children play on.

    I told him what I do to keep my lawn looking good – composting leaves in place, no chemicals, no fertilizers and I added clover. He didn’t even know what lawn clover looked like.

    Of course he’s going to a Big Box Store for advice. I’ll try to talk to him about improving his soil but I won’t hold my breath.

    Except when he’s spraying chemicals.

  6. Margaret A. Condon is a published garden writer who is particularly interested in bringing wildlife into our gardens. The Crozet Gazette (Crozet, Albemarle County, VA) has just published a very interesting article by Ms. Condon about the value of non-native plants and the herbicides pointlessly being used to eradicate them. It’s a well-written article by a knowledgeable gardener: http://www.crozetgazette.com/2015/06/blue-ridge-naturalist-invasive-plants-invaluable-to-degraded-environment/

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