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.