“A spray as indiscriminate as DDT can upset the economy of nature as much as a revolution upsets social economy. “ Edwin Way Teal

I don’t usually use my blogs as a pulpit to preach from, but anyone who knows me or listens to my monthly organic gardening radio program that I do with Vicky Bartish on AM 950 KAHI (the show airs on the last Sat. of each month at 9:00 am) will attest to my strong feelings about the Monsanto Corporation and Roundup in particular. Although the above quote refers to DDT, RoundUp is being spayed just as indiscriminately on our fields and landscapes and has proven to be extremely harmful to aquatic life and, I believe, ultimately to humans as well.

Since I want this article to be a useful source of information for all of us in the landscape industry I feel that this is a good time for us to learn or become reacquainted with Roundup herbicide and the dangers of its use. Through a mass marketing campaign by the Monsanto Corp. directed at agriculture (RoundUp Ready crops), landscape architects, designerscontractors, maintenance companies and homeowners, glyphosate has become the most widely applied herbicide in the world. Although the directions do state that it should not be sprayed onto any standing or flowing water source, I have personally seen our County road maintenance personnel spraying roadside ditches that are still flowing with rain water, contaminating this water which flows into greater streams and finally the American River watershed.

Spring is fast approaching, and with Spring come weeds. Wild and native grasses will show up in garden beds and roadside ditches and for many the first thought is to break out the RoundUp and start spraying – regardless of the weather or conditions. And of course there is now a newer version of RoundUp that makes it effective at lower temperatures (in the past 70 degrees or higher was needed for optimum kill). So for right now I’m putting my hand on your forehead. Whoa! Slow down! Put down that sprayer buddy and back away slowly. I’d like to tell everyone to simply never use Roundup, but of course things are never that simple. So what I can tell you is to do your research. At the end of this article I will provide you with a list of reputable websites where you can go to learn more about Roundup and its many toxicity issues. I will also list some websites that offer safer alternatives to commercial herbicides. What is now known about Roundup is that it actually lingers in the soil and in the water supply much longer than Monsanto has always said it does. Rather than breaking down in a matter of days, it can linger in the soil for a month or more. Studies have shown that Roundup is absolutely lethal to frogs and tadpoles, and is very likely a primary reason for the rapid decline of frogs in the environment.

Last year I observed this for myself – my neighbor across the street had a small run-off seasonal pond on his property that was full of frogs. Every afternoon and evening they would croak away, sounding like there were about a hundred going at the same time. One day my neighbor went out and sprayed Roundup all around the perimeter of the pond to kill the grasses that were just coming out – soon the tell-tale yellowing of the vegetation was evidence that RoundUp was doing its’ job, but it did more than kill the weeds – the pond went silent. And stayed that way.

There are also other toxicity concerns involving Roundup, notably the active ingredient Glyphosate. Much research has been done on problems associated with glyphosate, and it is linked to birth defects, cancer, liver and kidney damage, and many other unpleasant things. Children and pets playing on lawns sprayed with Roundup are absorbing it into their skin. People who regularly apply Roundup without wearing protective clothing are particularly at risk, and over time have been shown to develop serious health problems. Insect life, both beneficial and otherwise, have been adversely affected by feeding on plants that have been sprayed with Roundup, including the beleaguered honeybee.

  There are safer, more natural alternatives, but of course these alternatives often involve a little more effort, time and money.    On our own property, for example, we ended up hand-pulling star thistle every year for several years after one initial spraying of Roundup to kill what was, in fact, and entire field of the evil stuff. Every evening my wife and I would course over the field, looking out for the young thistle plants before they flowered and went to seed. Each year, there were fewer thistle plants, and then none at all. In addition to pulling the undesirable plants, we also allowed the field to grow in a natural state, allowing wild grasses and wildflowers to mature and go to seed before finally mowing down the field. The natural cultivation of a thick carpet of native grasses and thatch eventually helped to crowd out the star thistle, giving it no opportunity to grow. I expect our neighbors thought the field full of knee high grasses was quite unsightly and I was just too lazy to cut it down, but to me it was a natural form of star thistle elimination. And it worked.   

Encourage the homeowners you design for or provide yard maintenance for to try mulching around their plants and trees for natural weed control. Use a weedwhacker for larger areas, and a hula hoe for the low-lying weeds that often come up on the paths between vegetable beds. Other products include clove oil and vinegar based controls that are organic and really do break down in the soil. And of course there is plain old hand pulling. It behooves us all to take some responsibility here, so I sincerely hope you will take a few minutes to investigate some of the websites I include below and learn for yourself. We as landscape professionals should also make an effort to educate our clients in safer alternatives to using RoundUp. It’s time to stand up to Monsanto, and just say no to RoundUp.

www.mindfully.org/…/Roundup-Kills-Amphibians23jul05.htm

 http://www.mindfully.org/Pesticide/Roundup-Glyphosate-Factsheet-Cox.htm

www.gardensalive.com

www.safelawns.org

http://www.ecolandscape.org

www.GrowOrganic.com

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