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Sunday, May 31, 2020
Our View

The time of year where we start to do battle with weeds

Real spring weather, whose arrival remains tentative, has brought with it a new concern about housebound residents itching to remove the shackles of stay-at-home orders. There’s also the long-established problem of returning pests, particularly the ubiquitous dandelion.

We’re already seeing occurrences of what will be a widespread spectacle of the yellow-topped annoyances in wide swathes.

It’s been more than a decade since the province instituted a sweeping ban on pesticides and herbicides. Prior to that, Waterloo Region weighed into the debate, restricting the use of chemicals to control weeds. That may have been good for the environment and our health, but it was also a boon to dandelions and other unwanted plant species.

Since the province banned the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes, weeds have become increasingly pestilent. That’s caused problems beyond unsightly lawns and public lands, as weeds more freely migrate to farmland and other commercial sites.

For those of us annoyed by the proliferation of dandelions, for instance, the aesthetics are cause enough to curse the spread of weeds.

Yes, we use far too many chemicals, doing all kinds of harm to the environment. But we have to do something about the weeds.

There is, however, no magic bullet to replace the chemicals we once used.

Of course, there’s always the tried-and-true, environmentally-friendly method of weed control: plucking them from the ground, root and all. With a small urban property, that’s manageable, but that’s not the case with larger lots such as those found in the townships

While homeowners may choose to tackle the weed problem – even resorting to a hands-and-knees approach – those who look after government and institutional properties have chosen to do precisely nothing.

Unable to spray weeds with chemicals, there’s no practical alternative. The new environmentally-benign methods are just too costly, especially with taxpayers footing the bill, and plucking is beyond the pale. Because of that, schoolyards, boulevards and parks are now routinely a sea of yellow, before turning into the cotton balls that herald the coming of yet more dandelions.

An assault on the eye for the most part, the weeds become a larger issue in the case of sports fields such as soccer pitches. As weeds crowd out the grass, the playing surface has less of a cushioning effect, becoming packed down and hard. That could ultimately become a safety concern.

Under the same law that restricts us from spraying our lawns, municipalities can no longer use pesticides, except in rare cases of noxious weeds. The impact is visible. But there are still property standards rules that may no longer be suitable given this new reality.

We can’t control weeds with general spraying, so they’re more prevalent. One of the best defences against weeds is letting your lawn grow, which can earn you the wrath of neighbours and municipal authorities. That begs the question, should we scrap those kinds of rules and just let our lawns naturalize? Should that apply to government land, other than sports fields, that is?

Alternative plantings exist to the typical stretch of grass; bio-friendly treatments exist; some old-fashioned elbow grease will do the trick. Less likely is convincing people the scourge of dandelions is desirable, as anyone passing by public parks and along most roadways knows, the view is hardly pleasing. Still stuck at home, we have more time to take note, but also to carry out some hand-to-hand combat.

Weedy and overgrown municipal properties such as unkempt boulevards, roadsides and parks are a very visible reminder that the kind of work that used to be done is now being ignored.

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