Pledge to follow the golden rules of yard care and gardening

I am hopeful that gardeners will take time this week to contemplate who we are, how our actions affect others and what we can do to be better human beings. It is the most important gardening chore on the list this week.

In short, wouldn’t it be terrific if we all redoubled our efforts to follow the gardening golden rule? That is, to freely share information and plants with your neighbors and fellow gardeners, planting at least one row in your garden to feed the hungry and, never using “chemical” fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.

As Alaskans, most gardeners here already follow the rule. We share. After all, Alaska is the birthplace of Plant A Row For The Hungry. We help each other by supporting botanical gardens and a vast network of local nurseries. It is the chemicals that cause any problems.

Why can’t all gardeners, not just Alaskans, get that their individual use of a chemical pesticide is harmful or that they don’t need to add to polluted water systems and soil degradation by using synthetic lawn foods and fertilizers.?

Why do so many homeowners want to spray Sevin on their spruce tree when the label clearly warns that it affects wildlife and we know sprays drift miles off the property? Why am I getting so many questions about what chemical to use to eradicate dandelions or to deal with moss or aphid honey dew dripping on the family car?

In part, I know it is because many don’t read labels. There is always scary stuff there and it is in such little print. And some gardeners are still misguided in that they believe the government rigorously tests all products using the latest science, so if a product is approved, it must be safe and OK to use! No, we let for-profit companies do their own testing and reporting — worked well for Boeing, right? We let them use outdated science rather than up to date, DNA-based, cellular testing.

Worst of all, we let our policy makers keep approved chemicals on the market even after they start to show questionable, negative impacts on human health or the environment. It is too easy for new products to get into the market — despite the complaints about regulation — and once there, it is too easy to remove them. And, bluntly, we know all the process is heavily weighted to help industry and not end-users.


This is because we made a serious mistake in this country when the cosmetic lawn and landscape industry was born after World War II. The standard of review is: “It is safe until you are sorry.” There is a better way, and we all should follow it. “The precautionary principle” stands for the proposition that it is better to be safe now than sorry later.

Those we put into positions of responsibility must halt use of questionable gardening chemicals until the reasonable questions about health and environmental safety that have cropped up are finally answered.

Canada’s top court applied the precautionary principle when it allowed bans on weed and feed products. This was 2001 and the world didn’t end. The Canadian pediatricians who were behind the movement are still hailing these bans’ impact on children’s health. And, there are some damn fine lawns in Canada these days.

As the loyal reader knows, I have struggled for years to get everyone who reads this column to stop using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. I have written three books, given a zillion talks all over the planet and almost weekly risk further alienating my audience with harangues on the gardener’s role in protecting the environment.

I have cited evidence from scientific studies. I have relayed a million news articles and applied what minimum logic I have to make the case. Yet these products are still sold by local business. Our elected officials don’t care one whit and too many of us don’t either.

The world is re-examining how we treat each other. Gardening is not exempted. Before you buy any of these Earth- and fellow-human-harming chemicals, please ask yourself one question: “Do I love my lawn more than I do my family and my neighbors?”

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week

So many of us are looking inward this week. The garden is a good place to be while doing so. Take a moment. Be with your plants and quietly spend some time thinking about how you can be better. We can all improve. And, finally, remember: plants don’t care what color the person tending them happens to be. We are all equal. We are all gardeners.

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Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.