Less Yardwork, More Family Time, Much Better for the Environment
We have beautiful yards to enjoy, yet they can consume large amounts of time and money while damaging what we care about! In general, we over-fertilize, spread pesticides, mow our lawns too short and too often, and water excessively. Here are some mind-boggling statistics and a lot of good ideas to follow:
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that a typical homeowner applies 10x more pesticides per square foot to their lawns than farmers do to their crops. Much of this ends up in nearby rivers and streams.
- In an emissions test run by Edmunds, they found that in just one hour, a gas-powered leaf blower spews out about the same amount of noxious air pollutants as a pickup truck driven from here to California and back.
- Gardeners use millions of gallons of water each week during the summer watering lawns.
- If more of us switched to electric lawn mowers and leaf blowers, we could avoid hundreds if not thousands of tons of CO2 Berkshire-wide and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in gasoline costs every year.
Most of the environmental impact in yard care, however, comes from excessive mowing and fertilizing. The 5-step chemical fertilizer programs promoted by Scotts and other companies generate huge amounts of greenhouse gases and are destructive to the eco-systems that exist in our yards.
The good news is that by adopting a low-maintenance yard care strategy, you can save money and time, reduce your environmental impact, and still have an attractive and authentic yard. You will have more time to enjoy your yard and your yard will be safer for your children and pets. Here are some characteristics of a low-maintenance, healthy yard:
- Small areas (“area rugs”) of healthy deep-rooted grass are interspersed with planting beds filled with drought-resistant shrubs and perennials, and natural areas.
- The lawn is mowed infrequently using an electric mulching mower set at a height of 3.5” or more.
- Dandelions flourish, aerating the soil, and are mowed over as the grass is mowed. White clover also flourishes as a natural fertilizer for the soil.
- The lawn is aerated, over-seeded, and fertilized with either organic fertilizer or organic compost once a year in the fall. Lime is added as needed to create the right pH for healthy grass. Pesticides and weed control chemicals are not used.
- Grass is watered only by rain and allowed to go dormant when conditions are dry.
- Small amounts of leaves are mowed into the lawn and leaves are left on planting beds over the winter as mulch to protect and nurture plants.
You will be able to tell the difference when your yard is filled with wildlife – bees, birds, butterflies, bunnies and more – as all creatures embrace the natural landscape that you’ve nurtured for them.
- Get smaller. Figure out if a smaller lawn would be just as good or better for you. Look around to see if there are parts of your yard that can “go natural” or be replaced with simple planting beds that attract nature. Moss is a great ground cover and never has to be mowed!
- Grow the right grass. Overseed and seed bare spots in the fall with a deep-rooted grass seeds that contain less chemicals and require less watering.
- Mow less frequently. Grass is healthier if it grows to 3.5” or more.
- Join the electric lawn-care revolution. Electric mowers and blowers emit less than 20% the CO2 of gas-powered equipment, do not emit other pollutants, and are MUCH quieter. Replace your gas-powered tools (lawn mowers, blowers, clippers) with electric or manual tools, and enjoy the quiet. Your neighbors will appreciate it too.
- Fertilize less and go organic. Move immediately away from chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weed control. Fertilize only in the fall with organic fertilizer or compost. Consult an organic lawn care expert if needed to talk about the health of your soil and how to wean your lawn from chemicals. Embrace weeds as “diversity”. Notice that many critters need them. Mow leaves and leave them in place.
- Water less, or not at all. As your yard gets healthier, it will need less fertilizer and water. If grass goes brown, it is dormant, not dead.
Q: Why keep my grass at 3.5 or 4 inches? A: Longer grass helps to shade the soil, helping it absorb water and preventing it from drying out as quickly. Longer grass means a deeper root system which helps the grass need less water to thrive.
Q: Where can I get more information about electric-powered tools? A: Have a look online. Local hardware stores and the big box stores have a wide choice. Look for battery-powered tools – they have come a long way in the last five years. Even better, use push mowers, rakes, hand clippers etc. and think of it as cross-training!
Q: Isn’t leaving leaves on the lawn bad for the grass? A: UMass Extension offers recommendations for yard waste management through their Landscape, Nursery, and Urban Forestry Program. They actually say that the less “clean-up” you do in the fall, the better for your plants and yard.
Q: Isn’t replanting my whole yard with the right grass going to be expensive? A: No. You can cut your lawn very short in the fall then aerate and overseed with a drought-resistant variety such as Pearl’s Premium. Over time this grass will replace the original grass.
Q: Weeds are good for my yard? Really? A: Weeds like dandelions and white clover are great for restoring the health of your yard. White clover fixes nitrogen in the soil. Those hard-to-extract dandelion roots not only loosen the soil thus allowing better absorption of water, but they pull calcium up closer to the surface reducing the need to add lime to the soil. Plus they are tasty. Check out dandelion green recipes online and enjoy some from your yard!
Q: But I have a lawn service, what should I do? A: Insist that your lawn service follows these practices as well, or find an organic lawn service that already does. You will find that it also saves you money.
- NOFA organic land care program: www.organiclandcare.net
- “The Low-Impact (but still Lush) Landscape”, Consumer Reports, May 2015: www.consumerreports.org
- Article on leaf blower pollution l www.fix.com/blog/lawn-mowers-and-greener-lawn-care/
- Gas mower pollution facts
- Carbon footprint of lawn mowing
- National Geographic lawn mower buying guide
- 5 low-water lawns
- Today’s Homeowner article on the cost of lawn irrigation
- Massachusetts Horticultural Society
- Article on Electric vs. Gas lawn mowing that explains which type of mower may be best for you financially