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6 reasons to avoid using “weed ‘n feed” on your lawn

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For the health of our families, neighbors and our environment, pesticide use should be a measure of last resort. Especially when there are safe alternatives.

By Eartheasy Posted Jun 29, 2010

weed-n-feed“Weed ‘n feed” is a combination herbicide and fertilizer product which is designed to kill weeds and fertilize the grass in a single application. Marketed under many different brand names, these chemically-based herbicides are some of the most toxic substances which are still legal to buy. (In Canada, all weed ‘n feed pesticide and fertilizer combination products have recently been banned.)

Each year Americans apply an estimated 27 million pounds of weed ‘n feed to parks, cemeteries, home lawns and anywhere else mown grass is found. A mix of three “phenoxy herbicides” called 2,4-D, dicamba and mecoprop typically blended together into weed killers and weed ‘n feed products, they kill broadleaf plants such as dandelions while sparing grass.

The lure of convenience, and effective marketing, have made weed ‘n feed among the most frequently used lawn care products. Short-term effectiveness is gained at the expense of long-term lawn and soil health. The overpowered chemical fertilizers these products contain actually weaken turf—causing the kind of fast, weak, unnatural growth that’s susceptible to pests and disease.

Giving up the weed ‘n feed does not mean you’ll have to live with a weed strewn lawn. Organic lawn care practices, combined with nontoxic pre-emergent herbicides, will restore your weed patch to a healthy lawn, over time.

Here are six reasons to avoid using synthetic weed ‘n feed products on your lawn:

1. Uneven, excessive application of herbicides.

Granular “weed and feed” products are applied to the entire lawn, not merely to areas of weeds, which results in herbicides being applied where they are not needed. The mixture of fertilizer and herbicide is incompatible because one ingredient should be applied to the entire lawn, and one is intended for problem spots. In most lawns, broadleaf weeds like dandelions usually occupy less than five or 10 per cent of the area.

Gary Fish, an environmental specialist at the Maine Board of Pesticide Control, who used to work with Chemlawn before it merged with Tru Green, believes the combined weed ‘n feed products, whether for pre-emergent fertilizer or for weeds, are unnecessary and harmful to the environment. Fish said weed ‘n feed products use 20 to 30 times more pesticide than is needed.

When we give lawns more food than they need, the excess fertilizers end up in the water because plants simply can’t absorb as much as we think they want.

2. Granular “weed ‘n feed” chemicals harm the environment.

Quick-release fertilizers, commonly used in most weed ‘n feed products, apply a quick and heavy dose of nutrients to the lawn, and are more likely to wash off when watered or after it rains. Even if you don’t live near the water, pesticides from your yard could travel through storm drains untreated to the nearest stream or lake, or seep into the water table. Nitrogen and other plant nutrients create algae blooms that smother aquatic life forms in streams, ponds, rivers and even the ocean. In addition, a main ingredient in “weed and feed,” 2,4-D or 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, has recently been cited as a contributor to contaminating salmon habitat.

Birds eat weed ‘n feed granules as grit. Studies have linked weed-and-feed and crane fly pesticides to massive bird deaths, and this has caused the removal of some of the most toxic ingredients from the market.

3. Weed ‘n feed chemicals are easily tracked indoors.

Granular weed ‘n feed products cling to shoes and children’s clothing if they have playing on the lawn, and are easily carried indoors where they persist in the home environment. Dust is carried by the wind to neighbor’s yards, where the particles can also tracked indoors. Studies show that children and pets who play on toxically treated lawns absorb pesticide residues into their bodies. In recent governmental studies, researchers found that all study participants had residual toxins in their blood, including pesticides. Children in similar studies show pesticide residue markers in their urine.

4. There are health risks associated with synthetic herbicides.

The weedkillers (phenoxy herbicides) used in weed ‘n feed products are persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances linked to cancers and to reproductive, immunological and neurological problems. Some of the herbicides in chemical weed ‘n feeds—especially 2, 4-D—have been linked to increased rates of cancer in people and dogs.

5. Long-term lawn health is compromised.

Once you begin a program of using synthetic fertilizers, your lawn becomes dependent on these chemicals to ensure a healthy weed-free look year after year. However, over-fertilizing with synthetic chemicals disinfects or kills most of the beneficial fungi and organisms in soil. This makes it more difficult to build naturally healthy turf which contains beneficial organisms.

6. There are safer, more effective alternatives.

The good news is that you can have a beautiful, healthy lawn without using blanket applications of synthetic lawn care chemicals. Building a healthy, organic lawn is the best way to choke out weeds. Lawns that are maintained properly through regular care (i.e. feeding, aeration, watering, and mowing), should only need ‘spot treating’ of limited problem areas. To learn about organic lawn care methods, see our page on Natural Lawn Care.

Consumers should also realize that weed ‘n feed products may kill existing weeds, but do not prevent new weeds from growing. You can prevent new weeds from germinating by applying a pre-emergent herbicide during that first warm spell in spring and in the early fall. One of the best pre-emergents is corn gluten meal, a completely natural substance that also provides the benefits of fertilizing. Corn gluten meal is an organic alternative to weed ‘n feed.

Another effective method of controlling dandelions is pulling them manually. This may seem to be too difficult, but newly designed dandelion forks, which have a curved plate welded to the shaft, are very easy to use for pulling even the most stubborn dandelions. If your lawn is modest in size, a small investment in a dandelion fork will yield good results.

For the health of our families, neighbors and our environment, herbicides use should be a measure of last resort.


Posted in Healthy Home Tags ,
  • Sarah Graham

    See these six reasons,I think that we should avoid using synthetic weed ‘n feed products on your lawn!

  • baric

    Synthetic is bad because it pollutes the land, short term grass is nice and green, but long term has bad consequences for the land.

  • Greg Seaman

    We recommend using corn gluten in place of weed n feed. Here is an article with more information:

    • Chirag Chaudhari

      Thnx Greg

    • joe poopsgood

      We recommend poop. Spread it all over the grass and your lawn will look great. Not smell great, but look great. I do love the smell of fresh laid weed and feed. Also, do not put urine on your lawn because it causes yellowing.

  • Greg Seaman

    Thanks for your comment Debby. I agree.

  • Greg Seaman

    Good catch! Thank you.

  • Al Day

    Weed and feed is not a problem. I’ve used it for years. Used it for years. Used it for years. Used it for years. Used if for years. Used it for years. Used it for years. And there’s nothing wrong with ME!! I especially like it on my cheerios to prevent weeds from growing in the bowl while I’m eatin’

    • Greg Seaman

      Ha, ha. Good one, Al.

    • Carolyn Traxel Laurin

      I just spent three days in the hospital after using weed and feed. I had transient global amnesia.

    • Richard Howse

      And there is what we normally all refer to as the “proof is in the puddin”

  • PatrickInBama

    The issue is organic products are extremely expensive. I have 4 acres of pasture and I can’t afford to drop $2,400 every 6 weeks into it. I am using a sprayer with an 80 inch reach with pasture herbicide that at $80 covers 5 to 9 acres. That $80 takes care of 2 feedings each year. I’d love to use organic herbicides, but the cost isn’t worth it. I’m not Warren Buffet.

    • me

      i am warren buffet and i spary 2-4-D just for fun. Darn tree huggers.

  • Acup

    Is it bad to flush an old bag of weed and feed down the toilet or pour it into the storm drain. I always thought this was better than a landfill?

    • Greg Seaman

      The landfill would be preferable.

    • Jonathan Boyd

      Take it to a landfill because most times they’re lined with a thick material so now harmful pollutants can seep into the groundwater. Plus why would you want to compromise your septic system. Also stormwater does go into the river and they’re polluted enough without freely adding pollutants that can be disposed of a better way. Remember fish can absorb it to….do you want to be eating it?

      • Greg Seaman

        Good comments Jonathan.

  • p474remo

    The bees in my area are disappearing. Einstein said that after all the bees die off mankind will follow in six months.

    • Greg Seaman

      We’ve also seen a drop in bee numbers in our location.

  • Terminator91

    Ridiculous. Residential application of weed n feed products wasn’t the culprit, it was commercial and professional operations who would use the chemicals by the thousands of gallons in large farms, forests, any place to control growth. Companies doing lawn work near highways, roads etc. People used it haphazardly. Residential owners would use one bottle, like once a year on their yards. Very little chance for any contamination.
    Now, you have the Ecosense junk which only covers major weeds like Dandelions but leaves many other broadleaf and smaller weeds. Plus, they are pre-emergent controls only. They are not strong enough to control weeds that are already there, only prevent their emergence before. Go and see for yourself. Buy any bag of bio weed control or ecosense and see just how the weeds barely go away.
    You can use more concentrated versions, but they require you to go weed after weed after weed by hand spraying. And even then they weren’t as good as the weed killers before. It’s why you’ve probably noticed entire lawns and neighborhoods inundated with weeds and dandelions and why so many have allergy problems.
    Not only are the weeds not going away and you’re having to pay 3 times as much money for inferior products, but large scale operators are still importing the more potent chemicals.

  • pstew96

    I found it works better to pull the darn weeds out by hand, the weed/feed does nothing but burn the grass if you happen to sprinkle a bit to much here and there…

  • pacoug

    Use both methods. When I bought this place in January it was clear the original contractor seeded with a high quality grass well suited to this climate. But no care was taken for the lawn in the ensuing seven years and when I moved in there were dozens of species of weeds in full control of this yard with the grass in decline. I used a heavy rotation of weed and feed and liquid broadleaf sprays this spring to jumpstart the comeback. Then over the warm dry Wisconsin summer I used only occasional watering and mowing to a long length. I still have some weeds in the lawn but this is a multi year process. The grass itself is coming along nicely and the weeds are dwindling in number. I will use granular weed and feed once more this week as a winter protectant, then in early spring use a pre-emergent preventer.

    I expect not to de-thatch next spring because this year’s lawn was so thin. But by late April it will be ready for the first aeration it has probably ever had. Then in May will be my last use of granulated weed and feed (probably) because the success of properly cared for grass, along with proper pre-emergent application, will mean I’ve gotten control of the weeds in this lawn. It looks very smart already but still needs some help. Once this grass is growing thick and strong on its own without extra watering or fertilizing on my part, my mulching mower will feed it enough and regular aeration and dethatching should keep it lush and thick without any chemical applications at all. I’m a big advocate of cutting your grass often and at the mower’s highest setting. Helps train your turf, develops a healthy soft layer, prevents moisture evaporation in summer, allows the deep root formation essential for healthy turf, and denies sunlight and seed purchase to weeds. Also looks fantastic and with proper use of a perpendicular blade edger along curbs, walkways and bed edges, you will have the most envied lawn in your neighborhood. Chemically dependent lawns do nothing to develop the strong, deep roots needed to thrive in the hot summer but tall, well-cut grass helps its own cause.

    So for me, I’m totally in favor of using chemicals on my lawn. But they are like drugs for the sick. Proper lawn care will end your turf’s chemical dependence while giving you a beautiful healthy lawn that is far stronger than the chemically dependent TruGreen lawn next door.

  • Lou Krieger

    I have been using weed and feed for years….sure, the chemicals get into the eco system, but it is a small amount compared to what farms and golf courses churn out! I have tried some of the natural products, they are expensive and don’t work as well….just follow the directions and you will be fine!

    • Greg Seaman

      Yours is the simple rationalization so many people use to excuse behavior which pollutes or compromises our environment. “Sure the chemicals get into the ecosystem, but…” is a sad comment. Who cares if you have weeds in your lawn – everyone cares when you dump chemicals into our shared ecosystem.

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