Lawns may be green, but they’re terrible for the environment – Greater Greater Washington

A sustainable lawn alternative in Pennsylvania by Stan Kotala used with permission.

This article was first published on June 20, 2019. Even though the leaves may change, we thought it would be great to share this timeless piece with you again.

I made a fortune in my childhood shooting dandelions. My father considered them to be the bane of his beautiful green lawn. He paid two cents per dandelion plucked, provided the roots also grew. I had job security because the neighbors let their dandelions plant, so I always had more to shoot.

I remember the annual lawn care ritual: the arrival of the spreader delivering various powdery compounds to the grass, mowing, watering, edging. When I was old enough to pull the starter cord on the lawn mower, I supplemented my dandelion income by mowing the lawn. Although the lawn is totally flat, we had a noisy gasoline powered lawn mower.

The children were playing on the lawns. Mothers were screaming at the grass stained clothes, but everyone wanted a yard with a large expanse of grass for the children to play. It was a time of innocence. Now is the time for consequences.

Green and terrible for the environment. Image by Sarah Barker under license Creative Commons.

It’s time to rethink the use of chemicals and the lawn completely

Many of us didn’t realize the damage lawns cause to our natural world. Fertilizer leaks from lawns, drains into storm sewers and ends up spilling into Chesapeake Bay, where excess nutrients cause algae blooms that choke sunlight and kill submerged aquatic weeds including young fish and shellfish need shelter from predators.

Most fertilizers are petroleum-based bags with negative impacts on the environment. Herbicides enter our waterways, contaminating the water we drink and the fish we eat. These little yellow flags warning of pesticide applications are needed for a reason; pets and children should not play on lawns where pesticides have been sprayed. Is a weed-free lawn more important than the health of your pets and children?

Removing part or even most of a lawn has many advantages: besides environmental and health reasons, there is less time spent mowing and less money spent on lawn maintenance. We will all benefit from less lawn mower noise. In addition, we would save large amounts of natural resources by reducing our need for water and gasoline.



Lawnless Front Yard in DC by Caroline Angelo used with permission.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about a third of all public water is used to water the grass. Lawns in the United States consume nearly 9 billion gallons of water per day and our mowers use 200 million gallons of gasoline. If restoring and protecting our native pollinators and wildlife is important to you, please know that this turf provides virtually no habitat for pollinators or other animals and plants that make up a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

And how much lawn do you really need? Do you have children? Are they old enough to play in the yard? So of course keep some grass for them. Stop worrying about weeds – kids will trample the lawn anyway. But are your kids really using a quarter acre or more of grassy land?

How to kill your lawn

If you don’t need as much lawn, you can consider killing some or all of it and replacing it with native flowers and other plants. But killing a lawn is harder than you might think.

Many non-toxic products can be expensive and not work because they simply kill the vegetation above the ground. Horticultural vinegar (which contains 20% acetic acid) will burn aerial vegetation, but the roots will just laugh and send new blades. The use of such concentrated acid can be dangerous and can cause severe eye irritation, possible permanent corneal damage and skin burns.



Native flowers like Echinacea make a great lawn alternative. Nicolas Clement used with permission.

Vinegars with acetic acid concentrations of 11% or more can also burn the skin and cause serious eye damage, including blindness. Only systemic products, those that kill the whole plant, really work. While of course, according to the EPA, if used according to directions and extra precautions can be taken, glyphosate may not be an option for those alarmed by the recent jury decisions a link between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the use of glyphosate.

What then works? Cover the lawn with heavy black plastic for a few weeks. It is non-toxic, effective and inexpensive. Weigh it with bricks, stones, or use plastic landscaping stakes. When you remove it, be prepared with your lawn replacement plan in place.

Replace your lawn with something better

Shrubs (think native!) Are great alternatives to lawns. When small, mulch will be needed, but as they grow and fill the space, you can rake the leaves around and among the shrubs, providing refuge for butterflies and other invertebrates such as plant bugs. lightning.

Clovers are a good ground cover option, although the last thing most of us want is a garden full of deer candy. Other native ground covers include lyre leaf sage (Salvia lyrata), wild stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), common blue purple (Viola sororia). For shaded areas, try Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) Where Baltimore sedge (Carex senta). Some people opt for grassland-like lawns forb and flowers.

Avoid English ivy, vinca (periwinkle) and pachysandra, which are invasive and crowd out native species.



Wildflower garden at Four Mile Run in Arlington. Picture by Erinn Shirley used with permission.

Residents of Montgomery County are in luck as the county changed its nuisance laws to allow naturalization of lawns after realizing that wild gardens improve air and soil quality and reduce runoff storm water. Fairfax County’s regulatory code restricting the height of vegetation in lawns specifically exempts wildflowers.

The district encourages the planting of pollinators in residential yards, but also requires the removal of weeds over four inches in height (this does not define what a “weed” is.) Green Works Recognition Act, 2016 covers pesticide practices and the use of certain types of leaf blowers and lawn mowers, but does not mention the replacement of lawns with native vegetation. The Ministry of Energy and Environment is in the process of creating a new web page that will include all the information on green yards in one place, as required by law. DC RiverSmart the program includes “Bay landscapeOr a landscaping that replaces grass with plants native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Hope this guide helps you break free from the tyranny and expense of maintaining lawns and making your backyard a haven for wildlife!

Ellen Paul lives for birds and birds to live on, but along the way she also notices the insects, mammals and plants around us. She works to protect the habitat of all of our native flora and fauna. Her mission is also to eradicate all vinca, English ivy, small celandine and other non-natives within a five-mile radius of her home.

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