Summer means freedom. Why spend it in bondage to chemically dependent grass? Pesticides can hurt people and beneficial plants, insects and wildlife as well as weeds. Studies have linked children's exposure to pesticides with a higher risk of cancer and learning problems. The herbicide atrazine, used widely on farms and in some commercial weed-killers, is connected to sexual abnormalities in amphibians and fish and was found, this year, to affect human cells in ways that may impact fertility and birth weight.

Ready to say goodbye to pesticides? Better safe than sorry! Here are five steps to a truly green and healthy lawn.

1) Aerate the soil with a garden tool or or spike-soled sandals. This gives oxygen to the beneficial insects and microorganisms that are essential to healthy soil but are killed by pesticides. There's a great video on aeration at the Safe Lawns  website. Find aerators at Gardeners Supply . Make sure your soil ph is around 6.5. For tests and info, click here.

2) Let grass grow tall (up to 3 inches) to starve weeds of sun. When mowing, never take off more than a third of grass height.

Clean air and carbon footprint bonus points:  Use an electric (with rechargeable battery) or man (or woman) power mower. Operating a gasoline lawnmower for one hour produces the same amount of smog as driving an average car almost 200 miles, and, exchanging 1,000 gasoline lawnmowers for electric ones is the equivalent of removing 230 cars from the highways, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Top ratings across the board go to the Black & Decker CMM 1200 cordless electric mower. Best manual lawn mowers include the Scotts Green Classic Reel Mower, about $139 at Home Depot.

3) Leave cuttings on the lawn. The aforementioned microorganisms will decompose this into nutrients for your grass. Help them by raking and turning over the clippings.

4) Dig it. Uproot weeds by hand or with clever weeding tools. Small children are good at this, sporadically (and who's in a rush?). Get lots of play from the Dragon Headed Weeding Tool, $24.99 at Clean Air Gardening.

5) Yes, we're entitled to use organic weed killers as a last resort. Greenest are plant-based vinegars or corn gluten (great for preventing crabgrass sprouting). Shop at Planet Natural.

For more helpful  tips on pesticide-free lawncare and  taking action to remove pesticides from your community's playing fields and public parks, see Beyond Pesticides.

Adapt your lawn:  Plan to fold in native grasses and plants adapted to your soil and climate. Check with your nearest university cooperative agricultural extension service. Think Freedom Lawn, a meadow of tiny wildflowers and clovers.

Read The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Turkey (Storey Books, 2007).

Let your lawn go!

This story originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008. The story was added to in July 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2008