We Americans love the green of our lawns even more than the green in our pockets. But that so-called perfect lawn is wreaking havoc on your wallet, the local wildlife, and the environment at large. Between 30 and 40 million acres of land in the U.S. are devoted to grass for lawns, golf courses, and more. and we Americans spend big — about $40 billion annually — for the seed, sod, and chemicals that keep those lawns growing green, Much of that money is spent on products like fertilizers that degrade the soil, pollute the water, and pose serious health threats to humans, our pets, and any wildlife that crawls or flies.
And don’t forget the water required– 4 to 5 liters of water per 10sqft, which puts a heavy strain on urban water infrastructure, especially considering the greater frequency and intensity of droughts.
And it’s not just the chemicals and pollutants. Department of Transportation statistics show that American lawn-care equipment alone consumes just less than 3 billion gallons of gas per year, and much of that is pure waste. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that homeowners spill about 17 million gallons of gas per year just refueling the lawn mower. It gets worse. One acre of lawn contributes 3,112 pounds of carbon emissions each year says the World Wildlife Federation. That carbon cost is equivalent to cutting down and decomposing a 40-year-old oak tree, It all adds up to more than 124 billion pounds of carbon emissions annually.
Stats such as these prompted California to enact a ban on the sale of gas-powered lawnmowers that becomes effective in 2024. Illinois and New York aren’t far behind. And. Brookline, Massachusetts, has a seasonal ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, as does Montclair, New Jersey, and Burlington, Vermont. Blowers aren’t any better. According to the California Air Resources Board, just one hour of gas leaf blower use is the equivalent of driving 1,100 miles. Running a gas lawn mower for the same period equates to a 300-mile drive. All gas-powered tools emit pollutants that could lead to lung cancer, heart disease, and other respiratory ills.
Fortunately, electric and lithium-battery-powered lawn-care equipment can do the same work as its gas-powered competitors, without carbon emissions, noxious fumes, or harmful particulates. They also create far less noise pollution. What’s not to love?
Besides the problems of growing and maintaining the grass, there are those annoying fall leaves! But they don’t have to be annoying. There are lots of good reasons to just let them be. Leaves can serve as natural fertilizer around the root zone of plants; where they suppress weeds or other plants from competing with the trees and shrubs. And as they slowly break down and compost above the roots they deposit nutrients that the plants/trees can recycle and reuse the following spring. Skipping raking also means no bags of leaves clogging up landfills. A win-win.
BETTER IDEAS FOR A BETTER LAWN
- Why not skip the gas and electric-powered machines and mow your grass manually, assuming it is of a manageable size? Let the kids help out. This saves on gas expended by contractors transporting heavy gas-guzzling lawn-care equipment. Or on you pushing around smaller versions of those polluters. It gets rid of carbon emissions, noxious fumes, and noise and eliminates the spread of harmful particulates. Just consider it backyard or front yard cardio.
- Is your lawn on drugs? Stop it and start to fertilize with care. Synthetic fertilizers contribute to global climate and environmental change. In a bad way. They pollute the water table, the rivers, the air, and the soil. The soil is damaged and kills the microbes, real allies of the gardens. Synthetic fertilizers account for 1-2 percent of worldwide energy consumption and 1.44 percent of carbon emissions. Synthetic fertilizers get their nitrogen from ammonia, which is typically produced by combining nitrogen from the air, and hydrogen from natural gas under high pressures and moderate temperatures. Switching to natural fertilizers such as blood meal and bone meal can help unburden the system
- Plant local. Planting a native grass species, suitable to the climate you are in, can reduce the amount of fertilizer and water your lawn needs. Talk to a local land-grant college to get the specifics of maintenance. Increasing your yard’s biodiversity is a boon. And don’t forget trees. Trees (and their leaves) can provide a yard’s much-needed shade that reduces water consumption. To find the best native plants for your area, use the National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder or contact your local extension service.
- Make the switch from turf to groundcover plants that are suited to your geographical region and climate. Creeping clover, for example, thrives with very belittle watering or attention. An added bonus is that a natural lawn attracts the right kind of insects, including bees, to take care of less welcome insects. Ground cover like thyme thrives in any climate, smells good, looks nice, and is even edible. Herbal ground covers like Corsican Mint will thrive in sunlight or shade. While moss is green year-round and needs no fertilizer, weeding, mowing, or pest control. Be sure the plants you choose are not an invasive species. Check with your sustainable gardening center for more ideas.
- Hankering for the wildflower lawn look? Check out red clover and yellow blossom varieties (which grow up to 36 inches) – they’re perfect for that “wild pasture” appearance if you’ve always wanted to look out on a Meadow of your own.
- Do good in drought-prone areas: If you live in regions like the Southwest, replacing grass with drought-tolerant plants can conserve natural resources and put money back in your wallet. Xeriscaping (landscaping to reduce the need for water) can even make you eligible for a governmental rebate.
- Transform your lawn into a Pollinator Pathway. Establishing a wildlife and pollinator habitat is low-maintenance and low-cost. They have a built-in resilience that helps them weather climate extremes, and they store far more carbon dioxide than any manicured lawn. Read the book Lawns into Meadows by Owen Wormer for detailed plans.
- Mow less and don’t rake the clippings. The clipped/mowed clover is a natural fertilizer. And setting the mower blade higher will save insect lives and means less water and less mowing which increases the butterfly and bee population says the Native Plant Trust.
- Next time a tree (or shrub, or flower bush) dies, replace it with a native plant.
Ecologists say planting natives in your yard is restorative because it encourages local bugs which haven’t evolved to eat exotic stuff. And bugs in turn feed the birds.
- Ask your local garden center, join a gardening co-op or club, or find a native plant society in your area for recommendations on which native flowers and shrubs will perform best for you. Go with plants that don’t need to be pruned or require staking as they grow. While the upside of perennials is that they reappear year after year, the downside is they do need to be divided periodically to maintain the best health and appearance. (Upside? You get free plant babies which you can spread throughout your garden/yard or give to friends to plant in their own backyards). Pay it forward, plant-wise.
Photo by Karol D (Pexels.com)