Grow a more sustainable lawn with these eco-friendly lawncare tips & lawn alternatives…
A beautiful, lush, green lawn has become almost a symbol of the American dream – but lawns aren’t actually a great thing for the planet. Not only are they huge water hogs (in some areas, lawns have become less popular in recent years due to water usage restrictions), they also contribute to water pollution due to the runoff of the lawn chemicals which are frequently applied by homeowners. And lawnmowers are a shockingly huge source of air pollution.
If you think about it, lawns are really the most prevalent type of “monoculture” in the U.S. Growing large swaths of plain grass diminishes plant diversity, reduces soil health, and eliminates habitat for wildlife and pollinators. And other than looking pretty, lawns don’t actually contribute very much to society. Sure, the added greenery can help to reduce heat sinks in urban areas, but most densely populated areas don’t have a lot of lawn space available, and trees and shrubs usually do a better job of this anyway.
If you really must have a lawn, however, there are a number of things you can do to grow a more sustainable lawn that still looks good (and complies with HOA standards), but has a smaller negative impact on the planet.
Here are 6 sustainable lawncare tips suggested by The Grow Network:
Use Fertilizer Sparingly (Or Not at All)
There’s no reason to rely on synthetic fertilizers for a healthy, sustainable lawn. For a natural alternative, leave the grass clippings on the lawn after mowing it so that they can decompose in place and restore fertility to the soil. In fact, research shows that if lawn clippings were left to decay on every lawn in the United States, 37 billion pounds of carbon would be stored each year.18),19)If you can’t bear to forgo commercial fertilizer for the entire season, then use it sparingly and only on newly planted grass. Also, be sure to watch the weather report carefully to ensure you aren’t applying fertilizers when heavy rain is in the forecast.
Get Comfortable With Taller Growth
Every hour spent running the lawnmower spits shocking amounts of greenhouse gases into the air, so mow less often—or not at all. Kids can still run and play in shin-high grasses, and letting native flowers have free reign in your yard is surprisingly beautiful. To allow these plants to go through their full life cycle, consider mowing only twice a year or mowing paths throughout your yard for easy transverse.
Keep It Small
Filling your entire yard with uniform grasses is boring compared to the visual benefits of a variety of flower beds. You can get creative with sustainable landscape design by cultivating a backyard that works both for you and for neighboring wild species.20)
Rely on Ground Cover
Turfgrass isn’t the only option for covering bare ground. Low-maintenance groundcovers like ferns, mosses, sedge, and native grasses all require less water and fertilizer than conventional lawns, and these sustainable lawn plants are beautiful to look at besides.21)
Limit the Use of Gas-Guzzling Equipment
It’s easier than you think to keep your motorized lawnmower permanently in the garage. Small yards can be easily maintained with a push mower, and careful planning will limit the amount of time that you need to use a gas-powered one. You can maximize efficiency by keeping the blades sharp and mowing only when the grass is completely dry.
Experiment With Organic Pest Control
There are plenty of non-toxic ways to control irritating weeds and insects without poisoning your entire yard. Many species can be controlled with a simple soap spray, and many organic options are less damaging to the environment. For more holistic care, consider managing your sustainable lawn through integrated pest management (IPM) instead.
In addition, here are a few more sustainable lawn care tips:
Water usage is also a huge problem with lawns, and while a green lawn will always require some water, choosing drought-hardy grasses and using smart watering practices can go a long way towards reducing water use. The best way to water your lawn is deeply and infrequently. Not only does this help to reduce water waste through surface evaporation, but it also encourages your grass to grow deeper roots, thereby becoming more resistant to dry conditions. Water only once or twice per week, either late in the evening or early in the morning to reduce evaporation. Align your sprinklers properly so water isn’t being wasted on sidewalks or the street. Use smart sensors to avoid running the sprinkler while it’s raining, and after a rain, turn off the sprinklers manually until your lawn actually needs water again. Or, even better, use a swale or rainwater capture system to catch rainwater and use it to water your lawn later. These simple tips can greatly reduce unnecessary water waste and make your lawn a lot more sustainable.
Grow the Right Grass
The type of grass that will grow well for you will vary depending on your region. If you live in a hot, dry area, Kentucky bluegrass and fescue are not good choices. Become familiar with your growing region and what types of grass will grow well there. Choosing a grass that is well-suited for your area will reduce the need for water and fertilizers and make it much easier to keep your lawn healthy and thriving with less maintenance.
Get Comfortable with Diversity
Americans have been conditioned to think that lawns should be uniform and homogenous. But nature doesn’t work that way. Coming to terms with the fact that a healthy lawn actually can contain “weeds” is part of growing a more sustainable lawn. Dandelions and clover can actually be very beneficial in a lawn, as long as your grass is healthy so these species don’t entirely take over. Clover helps to fix nitrogen in the soil and feed your grass, while dandelions’ deep roots can break up dense soil and help bring valuable minerals up to the surface where your grass can benefit from them. Both of these flowering plants also provide food for beneficial pollinators such as bees and other native species. And, if you’re not too fixated on your lawn containing ONLY grass, their flowers are actually quite lovely – as are my favorite lawn flowers, violets!
There are a number of other options for sustainable lawn care as well, from the no-mow movement to other low-maintenance alternatives such as rock gardens, ornamental grasses, groundcovers, edible landscaping, and more.
But, if you are able to, our favorite option, of course, is to replace your lawn with an organic vegetable garden! 🙂 Not only will you be supporting your local ecosystem, but you’ll also build healthier soil, recapture carbon, provide habitat for beneficial species and pollinators, and of course, provide healthy, fresh food for your family!