Could our national fascination with lush green lawns be fading?
“I’ve seen a huge trend away from green lawns over the past eight years,” said Debra Reynolds, of Nature Scapes by Debra in Sequim. “People are choosing shrubs and gardens that aren’t such heavy water users.”
Planting beds of shrubs and small trees can create a haven for birds and wildlife as well as an oasis of seasonal change. Adding natives like currants and huckleberries will feed you as well. Shrubs that bloom and plants with varied sizes, shapes and leaves make the most of your yard, adding beauty and variety.
Drip irrigation directs a tiny amount of water at the roots of each plant, unlike sprinklers that scatter precious moisture to the four winds.
Leave a little patch of grass if you like, but reducing the area devoted to lawn will free up your time and save the energy and expense of fertilizing, watering and watching the grass grow, only to mow it down and repeat the same cycle for the whole growing season.
More and more people are recognizing that not only are lawns expensive and time-consuming, but they add up to an environmental catastrophe.
Each year, a typical lush suburban lawn drinks around 10,000 gallons of water in addition to rainfall. Lawns account for a third of all residential water use, the EPA estimates. Lawns cover more acreage than any irrigated crop — around 32 million acres in the U.S. More often than not, it’s drinking water that people use to irrigate their lawns.
Then there’s the energy-intensive mowing and upkeep. Come weekends, 54 million Americans fire up their mowers, trimmers and edgers, adding at least 5 percent to the nation’s summertime air pollution. Burning up 800 million gallons of gas a year, lawn mowers replace bird songs with the roar of unmuffled, fuel-guzzling engines.
“I get distressed when I see so many lawn lovers out with their little spreaders, broadcasting chemical fertilizers,” Reynolds said.
While chemicals may offer a cheap and easy way to green a lawn temporarily, the problem often is poor soils. It’s hard for any plant to keep on growing when it’s in a skiff of topsoil over clay or rocky glacial remnants. What’s needed is organic matter like mulch, compost and aged manure.
Chemical quick-fix results don’t last and “we all pay in the long run,” in terms of additional toxins in our environment.
Between 40-60 percent of all the fertilizers and pesticides applied to lawns runs off almost immediately — into our rivers and streams, to the detriment of fish and the insects and plants in their diets, while the massive chemical influx feeds toxic algae blooms.
Americans apply 10 times more pesticides per acre to lawns than is applied to agricultural crops — an estimated 70 million pounds each year.
Although it won’t go into effect until 2013, Washington just passed a law that discourages homeowners from putting fertilizers with phosphorus on healthy lawns. Stores will be required to label them.
Ready to kick the habit and get rid of at least some of that lawn? Now’s the perfect time, while the grass is in its spring growth spurt.
How do you get rid of that tenacious grass?
Smother it, Reynolds says. Burying grass with six inches of compost will halt its growth while improving the soil in your yard. Covering it with cardboard or black plastic will work, too.
“If you’re tilling the soil for a veggie garden, give it time,” Reynolds said. Till it, let it sit for a while, then till it again before planting.
“I’m a lazy gardener at home. I like to let the animals do the work, not me,” Reynolds said. Chickens do a great job of getting rid of seeds and bugs once the soil has been tilled, fertilizing as they go.
If you really want to get rid of the grass, pigs dig up all the roots — then bring on the chickens in portable pens to give the soil a “final fluffing.”
Whether you use pigs or plastic, getting rid of your lawn will save you time, energy and money — and give Earth a break, too.
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