Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! In honor of this day, I thought I’d start us off with a photo of some clover, though it’s no lucky 4-leaf variety. Just ordinary clover. You know- that pesky weed that pops up all over our pretty lawn, ruining the infinite landscape of tall grass blades that most American homeowners try to maintain. But did you know that there was a time when the most desirable lawn seed mixtures were those that contained a high percentage of clover seed? When herbicides came onto the market they killed off clover along with the unwanted weeds and our monoculture lawn was born.
Let’s talk about lawns for a minute. By some estimates, there are over 40 million acres of lawn in America alone. Why do we have them? They’re nice to lay in and it’s good for kids to have a soft place to run around but daydreamers and kids survive in all parts of the world with our without a sea of green in the backyard. Did you know that:
Lawns take a lot of water to stay green. According to U.S. Lawncare Facts between 30 and 60 percent of urban freshwater (depending on city) is used just to water lawns! And much of that is wasted by overwatering or setting sprinklers to “water” the sidewalks and streets.
Americans spend billions of dollars on fertilizers and herbicides just for their lawns. Think of all we could do if we redirected just part of that money elsewhere! All those chemicals amount to homeowners using 10 times more chemicals per acre than farmers do on crops. Many of those chemicals are wasted because they’re applied incorrectly or excessively and that can negatively affect water quality.
What about the positive effects of plants? Those 40 million acres of American lawns should help air quality by removing carbon dioxide from the air and giving us clean oxygen in return, right? Not necessarily. A 2010 study found that in southern California “mowing and other lawn maintenance emit almost as much or more greenhouse gases than the well-tended grass extracts from the air.”
What should we eco-minded people do?
- Consider having less grass. Replace all or part of your lawn with a vegetable garden, native plants, a patio or path (like I just did a few weeks ago!)
- Be smart about watering. Water during cooler times of the day to reduce water lost to evaporation. Don’t do what the photo below shows. Water just the plants, not the sidewalk. Consider getting a rain barrel and using water you collect to water the lawn.
- Mow less often. Besides using less energy, it’s good for your grass. Longer grass blades create more shade and your soil won’t dry out as quickly. Your grass will be healthier and you’ll be able to water less too.
- Make peace with weeds. Don’t use chemical herbicides and you can eat your dandelion greens! And that clover? Consider encouraging it to take over your whole lawn! It’ll stay green even if you don’t water often. It stores nitrogen in the soil, benefiting other plants, and it’s low growing so it doesn’t need mowing often. If you don’t want all clover, consider an eco-lawn like this one that mixes slow growing, drought tolerant grasses with low-growing herbs and flowers.
Now that spring is just around the corner here in the northern hemisphere and our lawns are coming out of winter dormancy, let’s talk. What do you do to “green” your lawn? Do you have any eco friendly lawn care tips? Do you love grass or hate it?
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