In recent years, the lawn has been associated with poor ecosystems, accused of having little value to nature and homeowners, considered a drain on resources, being bad for the environment, and even named “ecological deserts”. While there is some truth to lawn environmental concerns, much of the environmental damages end up being caused by poor cultural practices and negligence.
In this post, we will dive deeper into the environmental benefits of having a lawn and how you can tend to your lawn responsibly, while also creating an ecosystem for birds and bees.
The Environmental Concerns of a Lawn
Over the years there have been several environmental concerns of having a lawn. While there is no doubt that in certain situations there can be environmental factors of concern, there is a solution to these environmental concerns without compromising your neatly manicured, dark green lawn.
- Lawns have no value to homeowners and use more resources than provide benefits.
- Lawns hurt the environment through their use of gas powered equipment, fertilizers, and chemicals.
- Lawns are a drain on water supplies.
- Lawns do not provide an environment for a variety of species to live, grow, and thrive.
The Environmental Benefits of a Lawn
Grasses, like many plants, can provide a considerable benefit to the environment. Grasses not only look nice, but they have a functional purpose in developed areas.
- Air Quality: Grass, like all plants, takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen into the atmosphere.
- Erosion Control: The network of roots and a dense turf provides soil and erosion control which is crucial to developed areas with large structures.
- Reduces Water Runoff: Grass can reduce water runoff by slowing the flow of water, facilitating the absorption of water into the soil contributing to groundwater reserves.
- Improvement of Soil: Grass roots grow, die and decompose. Decomposed plant matter adds organic matter to soil over time. Clippings and mulched leaves from mowing are also a great source of organic matter for soil.
- Soil is Home to Many Organisms: The soil under turfgrass is teaming with life such as earthworms and nematodes. There are also microorganisms present such as bacteria, protozoa, fungi, yeasts, actinomycetes, and algae.
Eco-Friendly Lawn Care
You can care for your lawn and still do your part for the environment. The following are ways you can improve your lawn care habits for a happy, healthy, sustainable lawn and environment.
- Do not over-fertilize. If used as recommended, certain fertilizers are necessary for your plants and lawn. To prevent over-fertilization, get a soil test to see where your nutrient levels are at. Some nutrients, like Phosphorus are immobile in soils and some can be easily leached out from soil.
- Add organic matter to your sandy soil. Adding organic matter such as topsoil, compost, and peat moss to your sandy soil will aid in your soil’s ability to retain nutrients. This helps to prevent nutrient leaching and over-fertilization as a result of lost nutrients.
- Use liquid nutrients for your lawn and garden. Using our liquid fertilizers with readily available nutrients and lower NPK rates can provide your plants with comparable results to higher NPK fertilizers.
- Check your local county/state agriculture extension for local guidance. Depending on your state or county, you may have regulations on how much fertilizer you can apply per square foot, or even Phosphorus regulations. Some states only permit Phosphorus applications if a soil test shows a deficiency or to establish a new lawn.
- Handle weeds before they get out of control. Some homeowners don’t mind having a few weeds in their lawn. No matter what, your lawn is always going to have at least some weeds, and that is normal. However, when the weeds get out of control they often kill the grass, and then extreme measures need to be taken to eradicate them, such as the use of herbicides. Instead of letting your lawn weeds get out of control, monitor your lawn every few days for weeds and pull any out by hand making sure to get the root up as well. A little effort from time to time will help you prevent weeds and avoid using herbicides in your lawn.
- Cut down on your gas emissions. You can cut down on your gas powered emissions by mowing less frequently. You can also purchase and use electric equipment to tend to your lawn.
The Right Way to Water Your Lawn
It’s true, many new homeowners that own a sprinkler system tend to over-water their lawns. Over-watering your lawn can have detrimental results such as providing a breeding ground for lawn diseases and pests that thrive in moist environments. Over-watering your lawn can also make your lawn more dependent on higher amounts of water than it actually needs. Here are some ways you can conserve water and still care for your lawn.
- Plant a drought tolerant grass type. Grass breeders are constantly working to improve grass varieties for better tolerance to heat, drought and for lower maintenance requirements. Certain grass types are lower maintenance than others such as tall fescue and bahiagrasses.
- Only water your lawn every 3-4 days. Many homeowners assume that their lawn needs to be watered everyday. However, watering everyday can promote shallow root growth, which can make grass even more susceptible to drought. Certain grass types need more water than others, but generally your lawn only needs 1.5-2 inches of water per week.
- Add organic matter to your soil. Adding organic matter to your soil, especially if you have sandy soil can really improve water holding capacity. A soil that holds water for longer, will need to be watered less than a lawn that has sandy soil.
- Do not water if rain is in the forecast. If rain is in the forecast, hold off on watering. Watering on the same day there is rain is not necessary and wasteful. There are some sprinkler systems that are connected to your smartphone that can help you remember to turn off your water if there is rain in the forecast.
- Put out rain barrels to conserve rainwater. If your city/state allows for it, you can put out rain barrels under your gutters to capture any rain that comes off of your roof. Conserving water by using a rain barrel can help you divert that water to areas of your lawn when there is a drought, and conserve water in the long run.
How to Attract Native Birds, Bees, and Other Species to Your Yard
Having only a green lawn may attract less birds, insects, and other species. Using too many chemicals in your lawn can also have a detrimental impact. The following are ways you can create a diverse environment while still maintaining a lush lawn.
- Plant native flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees in your garden. Planting native wildflowers, flowering herbs, and trees in your yard will provide an environment for birds, bees, and other creatures to live and thrive. There are several websites you can use to determine what are the best flowers to plant to attract butterflies, bees and birds.
- You can also introduce natural predators to your lawn and garden such as ladybugs and lacewings to combat garden pests such as aphids. If you are having a pest problem, you may be able to find a solution by introducing a natural predator to your lawn.
There are many other benefits to having a lawn that include:
- Caring for your lawn is a great way to spend time outdoors.
- Yard work is excellent exercise.
- Having a lawn provides children with a safe area to play in.
- Working outside on the lawn can help improve your mood.
- Having a nice lawn can help the curb appeal of your house, thus influencing your home’s value.
The lawn care industry employs millions of workers and is a 99 billion dollar industry, with an average of $503 spent on lawn/garden activities per household. Having a lawn is not for everyone, but like anything else, there are some disadvantages to having a lawn. If you are applying products to your lawn it is your responsibility to follow state guidelines and regulations. There are many other options for a lawn other than grass, but there is nothing like seeing a well cared for, dark green lawn.
"The Fundamentals of Turfgrass Management" by Nick E. Christians, Aaron J. Patton, & Quincy D. Law (5th Edition)