A new movement in environmental awareness is one that really takes us back to nature. To mow or not to mow? Environmentalists are taking a look at the staid suburban lawn and asking us to consider a new alternative that is friendlier to Mother Nature--a landscape that may look a bit wilder to the eye, but is much easier on the Earth.
How Did We Get Here?
American-lawns.com tells us the wide expanse of unbroken green wasn't always the norm for the American homeowner. "Lawns were seen as a luxury expense for only the wealthy who could afford grounds keepers to maintain the fine bladed plants using scythes.
"Green, weed-free lawns so common today didn't exist in America until the late 18th century. Instead, the area just outside the front door of a typical rural home was typically packed dirt or perhaps a cottage garden that contained a mix of flowers, herbs, and vegetables.
"In England, however, many of the wealthy had sweeping green lawns across their estates. Americans with enough money to travel overseas returned to the U.S. with images of the English lawn firmly planted in their imaginations. Try as we might, it wasn't as easy to reproduce a beautiful English lawn. After all, they couldn't just run down to their local hardware store and pick up a bag of grass seed. Grasses native to America proved unsuitable for a tidy and well-controlled lawn, and our extreme climate was less than hospitable to the English grass seeds."
Today we struggle with mowing, weeding, fertilizing and everything in between to maintain that green expanse of our yards. But maintenance on these lawns uses precious resources such as energy (lawn mowers and tractors, leaf blowers, etc. which can also pollute the air) and water, not to mention the array of chemical weed killers and fertilizers with which we assault our grasses and our environment to maintain the golf course-quality landscape.
The Grass Isn't Always Greener
Believe it or not, grass is poor absorber of water. The idea to greening your lawn involves less grass and more native plants. Planting native species of plants is a smart move as plants native to your region are more drought- and bug-resistant than imported or exotic plants. The natural balance keeps each species in check, allowing it to thrive in conditions where it is suited, but preventing it from running amok. Find out here what plants are native to your region of the country and more about planting and maintaining native species on these sites:
EPA: Green Acres
Do It Yourself
Wildflower gardens are a beautiful and colorful way to cut down on grass and increase water absorption. You'll also attract birds (including hummingbirds), bees and butterflies, providing food and refuge while helping Mother Nature.
Kick the Chemical Habit!
Industrial farming brought chemical pesticides into our world, and today we thoughtlessly douse our lawn with these potentially harmful substances. There are many ways to combat bugs and weeds with natural formulas that have been used for years. Here are some great sites to help you get started in your eco-friendly war on weeds:
Living With Bugs
Tipnut: Natural Pesticide Recipes and Tips
And speaking of chemicals, did you know that many of today's mulches are treated with dyes and other undesirable elements that leach into the soil and can harm pets and plants? Black mulch is often made from hardwood bark plus charcoal (or coal) ash from industrial sites. Red wood mulch made of recycled wood from industrial and construction sites may contain Chrominated Copper Arsenate (CCA). CCA, a chemical treatment banned from use in consumer products, has been found in recycled wood mulch due to improper testing and illegal recycling. CCA leaches arsenic, which is poisonous and potentially deadly to animals and humans, into soil and groundwater.
Compost is a much safer and more organic way to mulch and fertilize plants. Start your own composting bin and cut down on what you add to your local landfill at the same time (here are some sites to get you started):
EPA - Composting
eHow: How to Make Your Own Compost
Or use organic fertilizers such as manure. Plant or animal manures contribute to the fertility of the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients, such as nitrogen, that are trapped by bacteria in the soil. Higher organisms then feed on the fungi and bacteria in a chain of life that comprises the soil food web.
Save the Water!
Watering those endless green lawns uses up a resource that many people think is renewable, but it isn't unless we conserve it carefully--water. Collecting your own rainwater is a smart way to conserve water, provide hydration for your plants and save money! The Rain Barrel Guide gives you tips on how to do this as well as how to collect water during dry months.
The Rainwater Harvesting Community is an online community with lots of information and assistance on how to harvest rainwater.
Not Ready for a Lawn on the Wild Side?
If you just can't bring yourself to go totally wild (in terms of your lawn, that is) or fear you may incur the displeasure of your neighbors, then try growing your grass a little longer than you are used to doing, which cuts down on the number of mowings you will need to do. Find some great tips on how to do this here.
If we start thinking outside the box (or better yet, outside the green lawn!), we can make a positive difference for the environment and create a beautiful and enjoyable space right in our own backyards!