The Gardener and the Law

The Gardener and the Law: changes to Manitoba legislation purchasing and using cosmetic pesticides on lawns.

By:  Gosia Barrette, Master Gardener

Recently, the Manitoba government made changes to relevant legislation allowing for the expansion of the application and purchasing of cosmetic pesticides for homeowners and commercial use on lawns. Introduced in the House as Bill 22, The Environment Amendment Act (Pesticide Restrictions), reversed the 2015 amendments that saw a restriction of sale and use of cosmetic pesticides for lawn care.

Bill 22 removed the restrictions of using certain pesticides on lawns and the sale of pesticides no longer subject to provincial but federal regulations. It was felt that once a product was registered with the federal government, it had gone through “a rigorous review process that assesses the risks of pesticides”. Other key changes made to the legislation expanded the list of premises where pesticides were prohibited from being used. This included municipal playgrounds, picnic areas, dog parks and provincial parks.

Back in 2016, the government launched public consultations via its “Engage MB” portal to seek feedback on the proposed changes to The Environment Act and specifically on the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides. The full report can be found in the link listed in the credits. Feedback from municipalities and industry associations (e.g. landscaping companies) was sought separately from the 2016 public consultations.

All pesticides used in Canada are registered with Health Canada and scientific evaluations are conducted by the agency before it is determined that a pesticide will be available to the public. According to Health Canada’s Pesticides and Pest Management website pesticides must “meet our strict health and safety standards and dictate the use instructions and safety precautions on every product label.”

Why should home gardeners care about these recent changes to provincial legislation? For some this means flexibility in purchasing options for cosmetic pesticides with quick solutions for lawn pest control. For others, these changes may compete with views of promoting sustainable methods for lawn care that do not necessarily result in pesticide use as the first line of defense. The changes in provincial laws are juxtaposition to ever-growing attention paid to protecting the biodiversity of so many beneficial pollinators that visit our gardens each year.

Health Canada defines “cosmetic pesticides” as essentially those products that make lawns look good and while having a nice lawn may complement a backyard, patio or colourful flower border, there are many ways to care for lawns that do not require the application of cosmetic pesticides. We will not get into the history of lawns and why they are regarded as the home’s external aesthetic appeal and undisrupted perfection but from the perspective that while options to purchase cosmetic pesticides (to achieve this undisrupted perfection) have expanded, there are ways to achieve this without their application.

I write this article from the view that like many other gardeners, I too have a lawn in the front and back of my home. I am not too bothered to pay much attention to it, as my focus was always on perfecting my flower border and keeping my alpine currant hedge in perfect form. The lawn unfortunately takes a back seat and only gets the odd trim when needed during the summer months. Any creeping weeds or early Spring dandelion get a shoulder shrug as I walk back and forth to tend to the border. I pull the odd weed out by hand in the front yard but have never considered it much of a priority. Researching for this article has definitely made me reconsider this and I vow to apply some of these alternative techniques once the season changes.

How can we practice without the use of cosmetic pesticides to get results that even the most dedicated lawn enthusiasts would admire? Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner in their book “Gardening Naturally” (2011) write that achieving an organic lawn is first and foremost about preparation. This starts with healthy soil that includes a mix of compost and manure, which introduce organisms to control diseases and pests. Healthy soils also support vigorous growth of the lawn, which eventually will overtake weeds (Williams and Skinner, 2011).

Another alternative that the authors suggest is to consider not using certain spots as lawn. Are there areas around the home that would not sustain a lawn? I am currently considering this with the front of my home. We tried numerous times to put down a lawn and each year had no success as the front of the house faces south and the afternoon sun beams down. Williams and Skinner (2011) suggest that if this is the case, homeowners consider planting shrubs or trees to create focal points and interest. Others such as Marjorie Harris (1996) consider lawns as one small element rather than the main feature of a garden. This year, we are planting a border near the front windows as a way to add interest, curb appeal and forego the stretch of lawn.

One of the other sustainable ways to keep lawns healthy is by controlling weeds in the first place. Weeds compete with other plants for space and nutrients. One way to outcompete weeds according to experts at Gardening at USask is to over seed bare patches of lawn, which will discourage weeds from germinating. The process of over-seeding requires selecting high quality Canada no. 1 grass and as an added benefit, adding white Dutch clover seed to the mix (Gardening at USask recommend five-percent).

Annual weeds can easily be controlled by regular mowing (Williams and Skinner, 2011) but ensure that the mowing height is not too short. Experts at USask recommend setting the lawnmower blade to 8 cm (3”) or higher and always use a sharp blade. Effective lawn maintenance also includes watering practices. A well-established lawn should be watered deeply but infrequently so that water can reach deep rooted areas and help the lawn do well during periods of drought (Williams and Skinner, 2011; Gardening at USask). Skip the use of automatic watering-systems as they can cause oversaturation and lead to lawn damage (Williams and Skinner, 2011).

A common occurrence in lawns is “thatch”, which is sometimes why lawns are prone to problems. Thatch is characterized by layers of dead materials and roots that build up between the layer of healthy grass and the soil. Areas like this can be a host for many pests such as chinch bugs and sod webworms (Williams and Skinner, 2011). Sustainable ways to remove this layer is to de-thatch by raking with special tools or attaching a blade to a lawnmower to do the work. According to Gardening at USask, thick thatch can prevent water flow and fertilizer to properly absorb into the lawn.

Organic fertilizing is also a good option to maintaining a healthy lawn. Many gardeners know that unhealthy plants are prone to pests and the same goes for lawns. One of the easiest ways to fertilize the lawn is to return the grass clippings to the lawn (Williams and Skinner, 2011) and according to the authors, this method returns nutrients by providing half of the required nitrogen for the lawn.

While researching for this article, I have concluded that the best results to achieving a healthy lawn is to start with methods that promote a healthy lawn. So, what will I be doing this year? Definitely de-thatching, adding compost from my own bin and over-seeding certain areas. Likewise, rethinking my need for more lawn. I have yet to research the pros and cons of ground covers such as clover and others. In the meantime, I remain pragmatic by the recent changes in legislation and take a moment to pull the odd weed out. Just because my purchasing options for controlling pests have expanded, I remain devoted to studying and practicing sustainable ways to maintain my lawn. I promise to follow up with readers on what I decide to do with the front yard this season.

Book References:
S. Williams and H. Skinner (2011) Gardening Naturally, Coteau Books
M. Harris (1996) Ecological Gardening: Your Path to a Healthy Garden, Random House of Canada

Websites:
University of Saskatchewan:
Gardening at USask: https://gardening.usask.ca/gardening-advice/sorted-by-plant/lawns.php

Government of Manitoba:
Bill 22 explanatory Note and amendments: https://web2.gov.mb.ca/laws/statutes/2022/c04022e.php

Manitoba Government news release, November 4, 2022: https://news.gov.mb.ca/news/index.html?item=56800&posted=2022-11-04

Engage MB Public Consultation: Cosmetic Pesticides
https://www.gov.mb.ca/asset_library/en/proactive/20222023/whatweheard-cosmeticpesticides.pdf

Health Canada:
Pesticides and Pest Management:
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/consumer-product-safety/pesticides-pest-management.html

Cosmetic Pesticides bans:
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/about-pesticides/cosmetic-pesticide-bans.html

Photo by:  Gosia Barrette
Published: May 2023