In a 10-year anniversary celebration, the Town of Scarborough accepts a plaque of appreciation for its efforts in banning synthetic pesticides and herbicides on municipal properties. Pictured from left are: Marla Zando (PMAC co-chair), Rita Breton (PMAC co-chair), Todd Souza (Community Services Director), Tom Hall (Town Manager), Eddie Woodin (Citizens for a Green Scarborough). Courtesy photo

This September marks the 10-year anniversary of Scarborough limiting pesticides and herbicides on municipal properties.

Since transitioning to Organic Pest Management, the Town has reduced children’s exposure to harmful chemicals and supported wildlife for sensitive species like birds and butterflies.

“I would like to thank all the original members of Citizens for a Green Scarborough, the Town Council, the town staff, and our PMAC [Pest Management Advisory Committee] members, past and present, for supporting our efforts,” said PMAC Co-chair Marla Zando. “A special thank you to Todd Souza, director of Community Services, who has steered this committee and his staff toward a more sustainable, organic approach to turf management, while remaining fiscally responsible and upholding the purpose of the Pest Management Policy.”

Scarborough was in the forefront of this initiative as the seventh municipality in Maine to pass a Pest Management Policy. There are now 31 Maine municipalities with municipal pesticide ordinances. Since the Pest Management Policy passed in September 2011, all those who use Scarborough parks, playgrounds and sports fields have greatly reduced exposure to pesticides.

Now is your chance to transition to organic lawn care on your own property; families, pets, wildlife and waterways will all benefit as more and more homeowners choose not to use weed and bug killers. Here are a few things you can do this summer to begin a transition to a healthy organic lawn that is safe for people, pets and pollinators:

• Mow Better — Mow high by setting mower blades between 3 and 4 inches. Taller grass develops stronger roots and shades out weeds. Make sure mower blades are shape to ensure a clean cut. Dull blades tear grass, making it more susceptible to disease. Cut only the top 1/3 of grass blades and leave the clippings, which is free, natural fertilizer for your lawn. Mow in the early evening, after the heat of the day and vary the mowing pattern every time you mow to prevent soil compaction.

• Water Wisely — Lawns need between 1 and 1.5 inches of water per week during the May to October growing season. Water deeply once or twice a week, depending on rainfall. Use a rain gauge to measure the amount of water from rainfall. Water between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. to allow the water to soak into the ground before it can be evaporated during the heat of the day, and avoid watering at night to prevent fungal disease.

• Over-seed — Generously spread a mix of endophyte-enhanced fescues and perennial ryegrass seeds (look for a shady grass seed mix) all season long to reduce weeds and pests, and be sure to add seed in thin or bare spots before weeds begin to grow.

• Grubs — In northern New England, the best way to treat grubs naturally is by using beneficial nematodes (microscopic critters that live in the soil). For nematodes to work, carefully follow package instructions when using these living creatures. Nematodes are best applied in late July/early August when grubs are small and near the surface of the soil. They are available for purchase online through North Country Organics.

• Lawn Alternatives — Identify shady or wet areas not suited for growing grass. Consider replanting these areas with native ground covers, moisture-loving shrubs or shade perennials. Native plants are best suited to Maine’s climate, growing season and soils. And because they have natural defenses against insects and disease, they require very little, if any, fertilizer or bug killers. They also attract beneficial pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Learn more by visiting the websites for Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District, Wild Seed Project, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and Audubon Native Plant Database.

Information for this article was drawn from the following sources: Cumberland County Soil & Water District, Friends of Casco Bay, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and Northeast Organic Farmers Association. Visit their websites for more information.

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