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Organic lawns: it's easy being green

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• San Antonio's water department is working with builders to encourage the use of more drought-tolerant grasses in subdivisions. In Milford, Conn., residents hold "freedom lawn" competitions, giving awards to the best-looking lawns that eschew the standard chemical approach.

• Across the border in Canada, Quebec will restrict the cosmetic use of lawn and garden pesticides beginning next year. Dozens of other Canadian municipalities have also restricted pesticide use.

• The National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society are among several groups now campaigning to convince Americans to plant more gardens and plants and less lawn. If attendance at organic lawn-care classes is any indication, consumers are beginning to listen.

Two years ago, Leticia Safran told her husband she was dropping their traditional lawn-care service to go the natural route. "What made me switch was my three kids and our dog," says the Natick, Mass., homemaker. "On the days when the chemical company came to spray the lawn, I just didn't have a good feeling about the little sign they put on lawn - telling us to stay off for two days."

Instead, she hired an organic specialist who treated her lawn with a combination of gypsum, compost, humate shale - and a combination fish-emulsion and seaweed spray. This spring her lawn received those ingredients plus a "compost tea" that also included yucca extracts and sugar.

The Safrans could be on to the next big thing. About 4 out of 5 US households have private lawns, according to a 1998 academic study. They are typically about a third of an acre, and in 2003, Americans spent $38.4 billion tending those yards and gardens, about $457 per household, says the National Gardening Association. A growing portion of that money appears to be going organic, observers say.

"Hybrid mowers, water conserving sprinklers, and organic fertilizers are all potential gold mines for industry players," wrote Don Montuori, acquisitions editor for Packaged Facts, in a market-research report last spring. "Consumers who want to tend their yard in an ecologically sound manner will pay big money for the right tools, and as the industry stands right now, the big players are missing out on all of that revenue."

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