Let Go of the Lawn

Green strategies for a healthier lawn... and a healthier planet!

This may seem like a silly topic, but lawns are one great example of how we collectively do something because it’s what we perceive as normal or as what we’re “supposed” to do... at the expense of our environment. This time of year it’s more apparent than ever how many chemicals and how much fossil fuel goes into keeping acres of lush, green lawn. Any nice day outside is abuzz with the sound of landscaping companies and weekend warriors out wielding string trimmers and holding zero-turn derbies.

But maybe it’s time to rethink the normalized lawn and all that effort that goes into “tidying up” our natural habitat. Lawns are becoming a much more critical issue in arid climates like California, where the value of maintaining a lawn with scarce water resources has deservedly come into question. There’s been a lot in the news lately about Californians struggling with letting go of their lawns for aesthetic or sentimental reasons, rather than strictly practical reasons.

For better or worse, it’s much easier to keep a lush lawn here in our climate. Water might not be an issue most years, but maintaining a lawn still imparts an environmental cost. Here are a few things you can do to lessen the environmental impact of your yard, from small steps to the more extreme...

Mow high
Set your mower up a few notches. You’ll have a healthier, greener lawn naturally, and if there is clover in the mix, you’ll be providing a nectar source for bees and other beneficial insects.

Get a reel mower
If you have a small lawn, consider a human-powered mower. A little resistance exercise is good for you, and modern versions properly maintained and sharpened are much easier to use than the older versions.

Learn to love dandelions
Brought to this country, probably intentionally and unintentionally, by Europeans, the dandelion has gotten a bad rap. But as an incredibly useful and medic
inal plant, perhaps you should give it a break.

Get the right tools
OK, so maybe you’re not going to learn to love dandelions. But you don’t need to to spray chemicals on them. You just need the right tool. Try the Diggit for getting out taprooted plants (like dandelions) or the Diggit Duck (the one that looks like a duck) for removing weeds from between bricks and cracks in your sidewalk.

Switch to organic herbicides
There is a scary array of agricultural chemicals available to the average homeowner. If you were a farmer or greenhouse owner, you would need to get an applicator’s license, keep detailed records and wear the appropriate “PPE” or personal protective equipment to use the same sorts of chemicals. You’d be trained to learn how to spray at the best time and in the safest way. But beyond your own personal safety, these chemicals end up in our collective water sources and affect crucial pollinators such as honeybees. If you need to spray, educate yourself about the organic options, such as corn gluten and herbicides made from vinegar and plant-based oils.

Switch to organic fertilizers

This could be as simple as leaving grass clippings in place, mowing over dry leaves in the fall, or switching to an organic fertilizer such as Ohio Earth Food’s Re-Vita line.

Plant a more diverse lawn
Include clover. A lawn of just grass is similar to an unhealthy monoculture of corn. In a healthy pasture, the diverse grasses and “broadleafs” such as clover have a symbiotic relationship and help to keep each other happy, and your lawn can be the same way. The opportunity to find a four leaf clover never hurts, either.

Food Not Lawns
Consider taking some of your lawn out of production... and putting it into food production. Not really a time-saving move, but you’ll get exercise and healthy food out of it!

Get a sheep. Or rent a sheep.
Seriously. It’s a thing. Besides, the origins of the lawn probably hearken back to estates where the lord of the manor had a nice tidy lawn because an army of sheep was taking care of it. The display of wealth and control had more to do with his livestock than the size of his zero-turn mower.

Plant a prairie
Be bold. Be the first on your block. It’ll take a few pioneers before we get used to the idea of seeing more wild habitats instead of manicured lawns. Simply adding a little sign “Wildflowers at work” or “Honeybee Habitat” might do the trick into getting neighbors and passersby on board. Wildflowers and native plants provide food sources and habitat for important wildlife and pollinators.