Monday, March 26, 2012

How "Green" Is Your Lawn?

It’s true: A green lawn is often not a green lawn.

Many of you already know this, but neighborhood peer pressure keeps you reaching for weed spray, fertilizer and a lawnmower.

When you step through your front door, do you feel like you’ve landed on the set of American Beauty?

Do you worry that your attempts at eco-friendly landscaping will draw more overzealous homeowner’s association enforcers than butterflies?

Fear not, cool green suburbanite, because creating a more wildlife-friendly yard is easier than you think. You too can become a refuge for the local critters, win the approval of your neighbors and lower your carbon footprint.

Several years ago, my wife and I replaced our very green (in color) front yard with native and drought-tolerant plants. Living in the arid West, we wanted to reduce our use of water—and lessen our mowing time.

As we tore up all that grass, we met with the predictable looks, scowls and disapproving remarks from our neighbors.

But a funny thing happened on our way to native flora.

Goldfinches, hummingbirds and swallowtails became regular visitors. So did neighborhood kids, drawn by the more visually interesting mix of rocks, wavy grasses and wildflowers. Random people started stopping by to learn more about particularly pretty plants.

Why? Because, in reality, few people really love all that green grass. There are more interesting things to do with your yard—and your time. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Get Reel. As anyone trying to sleep in on a summer Saturday can attest, gas lawnmowers should be cited for disturbing the peace. They’re loud, smelly and often unreliable. Use your own power instead, with a reel mower. There’s no pollution, and you may find that lawn mowing is a lot more pleasant.
  1. Plant for Wildlife. There are a number of ways to make your yard a safe haven for the wild things. The National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat can get you pointed in the right direction.
  1. Plant Natives. You don’t have to tear out your whole lawn; just a corner of native plants will draw butterflies and birds. As ecologist Michael Rosenzweig notes, if everyone did this in a neighborhood, it would create a sizeable wildlife refuge. Just think of the possibilities if every neighborhood incorporated native vegetation.
  1. Grow Your Food. Concerned about how far your food is traveling? The ultimate local food is from your back (or front) yard. Even a very small space can produce enough veggies to help reduce your grocery bill while reducing your carbon footprint.
  1. Lay off the Spray. Herbicides and other pesticides don’t just stay in your yard. They run off into the water, impacting amphibians, fish and other wildlife. The fact is, you don’t need these toxic chemicals around. Organizations like the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides offer free tips on how to solve your weed, insect and pest problems without resorting to nasty chemicals.

--Matt Miller

Image courtesy of Jennifer Miller

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