Chemical Herbicides

The county council is considering legislation to ban the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides in the county. We faced that discussion in the Kentlands HOA in 2013, and I’d like to share what we did.

We had a full house at a board meeting, with about 100 people evenly divided between those who wanted the chemical ban and those who felt that the chemicals were safe and were important to the neighborhood’s beauty. So we did what any good board does and we appointed a committee. We chose a balanced list of residents, some from either camp and some who were still undecided on the issue. The committee brought in experts from the University of Maryland and other organizations, and after a good six months of weekly meetings and field trips, made its recommendations.

The science is not entirely clear on how safe the chemicals are. The FDA says they are OK, but people are suspicious. I don’t know myself, but it was worth exploring our options.

The Kentlands HOA decided to go organic on its major common areas — the large green near the pool and on curb strips, and others. We agreed to a five year experimental program, and we hired consultants to work with our landscapers. We purchased compost “tea” and other materials. Our landscaping budget increased from $200,000 annually to about $250,000, but we also expect that the future budgets will be lower.

The project is designed to make our turf healthier. If the turf is healthier — if there is a thriving colony of microbes and beneficial creatures living in the soil — then the soil renews itself to a large degree, needing less fertilizing. The ultimate cost should be less.

There are issues with this. You need good turf, and good sunlight, and to water during the hot, dry midsummer. There are areas, like curb strips, that looked bad and may never look good, because they are shady and because the soil quality is poor.

The experiment is only in its second growing season in 2015, so the jury is out, but we’re trying. We may have to learn to live with a bit of clover.