"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Lawn Chronicles

Back when I lived in the city, I never paid much attention to my lawn. Most of it was enclosed behind a tall wooden fence, and the small part that was visible from the street I mostly ignored. About three times a year I cajoled some man into running the mower over it, weeds and all. I'm sure some of my neighbors wished I would do a little more, but as a single mom in nursing school, the lawn was low on my list of priorities.

When we bought this place, the house had stood vacant for a couple of years, and was sadly neglected - but not the lawn! Someone had clearly been taking careful care of it, and it was a thing of beauty. Smooth, velvety, plush, devoid of dandelion or moss, shorn to an even two inches, gentle on the feet and easy on the eyes.

I appreciate the work that goes into a lawn like that, and as much as the next person, I enjoy being able to play barefoot frisbee or lolling about on a summer's day in grass more welcoming than any carpet. There's something uniquely charming about little children turning somersaults on a well-kept lawn.

But I will never have a lawn like that. I haven't the vaguest idea what it takes to maintain such a lawn but I know it involves a heck of a lot of work, and also most likely a plethora of nasty chemicals. I prefer to cultivate an appreciation for wildflowers (aka weeds). Also it hasn't helped that our riding lawnmower turned out to be the most unreliable hunk of junk that anyone ever spent $400 on. Over the course of four years, it hasn't ever worked for more than three consecutive mowings. Murray's the brand; stay away.

Besides avoiding frustration, there are many reasons NOT to keep a lawn, which is basically a chemically maintained monoculture. If you love bugs, butterflies, and bees, be kind to them and let your lawn revert to natural tangle of wildflowers (aka weeds) that can support a thriving insect population. Avoid applying fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides that run off into waterways and poison all the little critters therein.

Learn to enjoy the sight of a three year old lost in grass taller than she is. It's an easy sight to enjoy.

If you absolutely MUST have a lawn, here's some information on how to have a non-toxic one:

American lawns generate massive amounts of "green waste", waste water, require tons of herbicides, and cost the average homeowner much money and time.

According to the Audubon Society, the average American lawn generates almost 2 tons of clippings a year, and requires 2½-4 times more water than shrubs or trees. Homeowners use 50% more herbicides than they did 20 years ago, spend 40 hours per week mowing the lawn each year, and spend over $8 billion annually on lawn care products and equipment. Read on for more eco-friendly ways to maintain a lawn!

1) Use an electric or manual push mower to cut your grass. Don’t use conventional gas-powered lawn mowers – they pollute air and contribute to global warming. According to Sylvan Garden, "a typical 3.5 horsepower gas mower...can emit the same amount of VOCs—key precursors to smog—in an hour as a new car driven 340 miles. To top it off, lawn and garden equipment users inadvertently add to the problem by spilling 17 million gallons of fuel each year while refilling their outdoor power equipment. That’s more petroleum than spilled by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska."

You can get a push mower from companies such as SunLawn Imports, Inc. (970/493-5284, or Real Goods (800/919-2400 http://www.realgoods.com/shop/shop6.cfm/dp/601/ts/1063505). Mowing with a push mower has an extra benefit--it's a good form of exercise!

2) Use hand tools or electric-powered tools such as hedge trimmer or lawn edger to maintain your yard. Don't use gas-powered tools. Use good old fashioned push broom and rakes for yard clean up, instead of noise and air polluting leaf blowers. Don't use the hose to wash down your driveway or sidewalk, as this is just a waste of water. On the coasts, the leaf and grass clippings end up in the gutter and go down the storm drains, out to the ocean.

3) Diversify your lawn by planting a mix of different grasses--that way, if one variety doesn't do well or dies, you still have grass that can "take over" for the dead variety. If your lawn is hardy enough, you won't need to use fertilizer. If you decide to use fertilizer, use an organic one such as Neptune's Harvest Organic Fertilizer (1-800-259-4769, or go to "Products" at http://www.neptunesharvest.com/.) Read more about organic fertilizers at Sylvan Gardens.

4) Avoid toxic chemical pesticides and herbicides. According to PANNA (http://www.panna.org/campaigns/pesticideFreeLawns.html ) "Every year U.S. homeowners apply at least 90 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns and gardens...pesticides are applied more intensively for lawn care than for farming! One recent survey reported that when informed about the risks posed by lawn chemicals, nearly 70% of homeowners indicate a preference for non-toxic alternatives." Pull weeds by hand, and get information about less-toxic weed control, lawn maintenance, and pest control from the NCAP website: http://www.pesticide.org/factsheets.html#alternatives

5) Conserve water. Water your lawn by hand with a hose instead of using timed sprinklers. This avoids water-wastage from runnoff and avoids watering your sidewalks and driveways. Water at night to avoid evaporation of water before it has a chance to soak into the ground. Avoid hoses made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). PVC creates dioxins during manufacture, the useful lifetime of the product, and upon disposal; dioxin is a known carcinogen and hormone disruptor. Use hoses made of rubber instead, such as Craftsman, by Sears, or Flexogen, by Gilmour.

If you do use sprinklers, reduce the time they are on to no more than 10 minutes. Turn off the automatic timer during the rainy season in your area--there is nothing more wasteful than having the sprinklers running during a rain! Or do what I do--don't water your lawn at all, and let Mother Nature water it only during the rainy season, and let the lawn go brown or die off-season.

6) Save your grass clippings and use them as mulch for your yard. Mulch is anything that is put on top of the soil around your trees and shrubs to give nutrients back to the soil--grass clippings, tree bark, leaves and other yard "green waste" as well as food waste from the kitchen and even shredded newspapers! The mulch breaks down over time and adds nutrients to the soil. Mulch also prevents soil erosion and hardpan (tough, dried-out topsoil). Make a compost pile and feed it your grass clippings. Read the Organic Trade Association's "Composting for Everyone"http://www.theorganicreport.com/pages/249_composting_for_everyone.cfm to find out how to start your own compost pile using kitchen scraps and green "waste" that would otherwise end up as landfill!

7) Research plants that are native to your area and resistant to pests and drought, and replace some or all of your grass with these low-maintenance alternatives. I've let the shrubs in front of the house, on one side of the yard, grow down to the front sidewalk, eliminating about 24 square feet of lawn. According to the Audubon society, "If each one of us that takes care of our own lawn (49 million U.S. households), replaced just ONE square yard (just 9 square feet) of our lawn with a non-turf alternative, we would eliminate 1.2 MILLION hours of mowing and stop 60,000 tons of grass clippings from ever finding their way to a landfill. In addition, millions of gallons of water would be saved and tons of fertilizers and pesticides never applied." For more ideas about planting native shrubs and trees, see: "Rethink Your Lawn" from the Audubon society at: http://www.audubon.org/bird/at_home/rethink_lawn.html

Try some of these ideas, and you’ll save money, reduce environmental impacts, and have more time to enjoy relaxing in your yard!


The Idiot said...

A lawn is just a potato bed that someone has been too lazy to dig over!

Dr24Hours said...

Whether Gas or Electric tools are better depends surely on how clean your electricity is? Here in the midwest, where the electricity is mostly produced by 50 year old coal plants, I bet a gas lawnmower is the better bet.

But I have a nice lawn, and except for about 4 oz. of dandelion spray I've used over the course of 7 years, chemical free. What many people don't realize is that the mower itself (of any type) is your best weed control. Because grass will grow and reproduce when mowed short, but most weeds won't.

Q said...

I love my clover and grasses and all manner of delights we call our lawn.....
the butterflies also love our clovers as do the honey bees.
Great post.
Hope you are staying cool.

Aimee said...

Bro you are quite right about the mowing. It is your best weed control, but it won't do much against moss, which is the number one lawn enemy around here. Me, I say moss is short, soft, and green, so what's the issue?

Hancey said...

If the Palmetto grasses can cope up with the stress, it will be healthy and dense and will be able to resist disease. Sometime the disease may spread and it becomes out of any control. However, the disease resistant cultivars can be implemented to avoid future problems.