Lyn Chimera is a Master Gardener, consultant and lecturer.
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By: Lyn Chimera
Whether you live in the city, suburbs or in a rural area, lawns are a big part of the landscape. People have treated lawns as a status symbol for centuries. The movement began in Europe where having a manicured lawn was only available to the wealthy who could afford the workforce to keep it looking good.
Unfortunately having that perfectly manicured lawn is still a status symbol for many people. They want their lawn to look like a golf course. Anyone who has tried to have that perfect lawn realizes what a lot of work it is to keep it that way. Not only is it time consuming but costly as well. There’s the lawn mower which needs gas and yearly maintenance, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides which are not only tough on the pocketbook but very hard on the environment
Let’s look at a few facts. Lawns across America use about 9 BILLION gallons of water a DAY! That’s the main reason during the drought out west watering lawns has been banned. The EPA reports that 50% of that water is wasted through evaporation and run off. According to 1971 NASA report lawns take up 3 times as much space as the next irrigated crop, corn. On top of that around 90 million pounds of fertilizers and about 75 million pounds of pesticides are used per year.
Just why do we have all this lawn? What do we actually use it for? Some turf is productive like athletic fields, golf courses and recreational areas. We have to ask ourselves if this is the best use of our landscape space.
There has been much written about habitat loss and the reduction of much needed pollinators, birds and other forms of life. Lawn doesn’t support any of that. Nature needs our help and that’s why so many people are reducing their lawn and developing more sustainable landscaping. This movement has been dubbed “unlawning”. There are many ways to reduce your lawn and have that space contribute to nature.
One of the fastest growing ways to reduce lawn is to grow vegetables, fruit trees and berries. Many people have vegetable gardens in their back yards, but front yard gardens are gaining in popularity. Often the front or side yard is the only place that has enough sun to support growing food crops. Growing some of your own food not only enables your garden to be productive for nature but provides your family with fresh pesticide free fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables need pollinators so you’re supporting nature.
There are many ways to incorporate food crops; raised beds, in ground garden, containers or interspersed among your perennials. Meanwhile you won’t have so much lawn to take care of.
Another option for unlawning is to transform some of the lawn space to meadow or pollinator gardens. This doesn’t mean you have to have an unkept field in your front yard. A section of lawn could be parceled out to be a pollinator garden/meadow. These sections could be shaped and mowed around to make it look more purposeful. The same effect can happen with wide mowed paths through the area. Organizing like species of plants rather than a general mixture also makes the meadow look more organized and like a garden if that is the look you prefer. Using native plants that support nature are the most effective plants to replace some lawn. They are beautiful and are the easiest way homeowners can help support nature and be sustainable. For ideas on how this might look check out: https://unlawningamerica.societyrne.net/unlawning-strategies.html
I’m not trying to suggest everyone eliminate their lawns. Rather rethink areas that you don’t use that might be more sustainable for your families and nature. If you don’t want to reduce the amount of lawn, at least consider not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Lawns will do just fine without them. Also you don’t have to water the lawn. Grasses naturally go dormant when it’s dry. They will green up with the first rain.