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Do you pull out the weed killer at the first sign of dandelions? If so, you could be putting your family at risk. All pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides are toxic on some level. Along with killing pests and weeds, they can also harm you, your children, your pets, and any wildlife on your lawn.

Young children are especially at risk from pesticides. Their bodies and immune systems are still developing. They are also more likely to spend time outside on the lawn, playing or crawling and coming in contact with any pesticides used there.

It is possible to keep your lawn healthy and looking good without using pesticides. And, if you must use pesticides, you can help keep your family safe by using them with care, and only when needed.

Lawn Care: Start With the Basics

When your lawn is healthy, there's less chance that weeds or pests will take it over. Pests often indicate that your lawn isn't getting the nutrients it needs.

The first step to a healthy lawn is healthy soil. Without healthy soil, grass and other plants have a harder time growing and staying healthy. A soil test will tell you what the pH level is and whether your soil needs extra nutrients. Most grasses do best in a soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. If you find that your soil needs help or a pH adjustment, you can add nutrients as needed.

Most lawns need fertilizer once a year. You can top-dress with a quarter- to a half-inch of compost. Or look for fertilizer that's labeled "slow release" or "natural organic" fertilizer.

Next, find out what types of grasses do best in your area. Each type of grass has different needs for water, sun, and temperature, and choosing one that matches your climate will improve your chances for a healthy lawn.

Know How to Mow

The way you mow your lawn can also make a difference. By leaving your grass a little longer -- usually between 2 ½ and 3 ½ inches -- you can usually improve your lawn's health. This is because the leaves of longer grass have more access to sunlight, which helps the grass grow thicker and create deeper roots.

Longer grass is better for your soil, since it provides more shade and helps the soil retain moisture. It also makes it more difficult for weeds to grow.

To mow your grass at a longer height, you may need to adjust the blades on your mower, since many are adjusted too low. And while you're looking at your blades, make sure they're sharp. Mowing with dull blades can tear and injure your grass.

It's also a good idea to mow often, cutting no more than one-third off of the grass at one time. And those short clippings? No need to bag them. You can save time and money by simply leaving them on the grass to recycle nitrogen.

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