For a long time, the lawn has been much maligned by environmentalists and supporters of native plants. But the fact of the matter is that lawns are probably here to stay in the US. And if you want your suburban neighbors to like you, you’re probably growing some grass.
If you’re looking to make your lawn more environmentally friendly, try these three ideas.
One: reduce the size of your lawn
Chances are, you have more grass than you need. Sure, your kids want someplace to play soccer, and you want the front yard to look nice. But you can probably make your lawn smaller without sacrificing appearances or soccer games.
To downsize your lawn, consider widening your perennial beds and foundation plantings. If you plant native shrubs and perennials, you’ll be providing food and shelter for wildlife. For the most part, great open expanses of lawn provide little food and shelter to the animals that live in your neighborhood.
Keeping a smaller lawn means less to mow. This reduces your fuel usage for the lawn mower and saves you time. You might even be able to use a manual (push) mower on a small lawn.
Two: rethink Kentucky bluegrass
Growing only one type of grass in your yard (a mono-culture) makes your lawn more difficult to maintain. Furthermore, the most popular lawn grass, Kentucky bluegrass, is not well-suited to the growing conditions in many parts of the US. This means that it will require more TLC than other, easier to grow types of turf grass.
I once had a neighbor who fussed over his lawn. He installed in-ground sprinklers and re-sodded every few years, but his grass was never as thick and full as what we grew. Our secret: we were growing perennial ryegrass and fescue, not the Kentucky bluegrass that is usually sold as sod. The types of grasses we were going were better equipped to thrive in our shady front yards.
One of my friends raves about her zoysia grass, grown from plugs. If you hate to mow, you might try growing buffalo grass or Eco-Grass from seed. These grow slowly and require much more infrequent mowing than Kentucky bluegrass.
Choose turfgrass varieties that will grow well in the conditions you have in your yard. If you’re not growing Kentucky bluegrass, you will probably need to start with seed or sod. Starting a lawn from seed does require frequent watering in the first few weeks, but it is much less expensive than re-sodding. You can also renovate a lawn by overseeding with the desired variety on bare spots.
Three: don’t water your lawn so much
Especially if you plant drought-tolerant species such as buffalo grass, there’s no need to water your lawn every week. Instead water infrequently (only when it hasn’t rained for weeks) and deeply (at least an inch of water) or not at all.
My husband and I never water our lawn, even in the August heat. Sure, the grass turns brown sometimes, but it always turns green again after a rain storm or two. Brown grass in dry weather is almost always dormant, not dead. In fact, many of the grasses used in lawns are “cool-season” grasses, meaning that they grow most quickly in cool weather. They are supposed to go dormant in the hot summer months.
Watering infrequently or not at all trains the grass to become more drought-tolerant, and to grow deeper roots. It also causes the grass to grow more slowly, which means you’ll mow less often. Be sure to leave the fertilizing to fall and spring when growing conditions are typically perfect for grass growth.
To gauge how much water your lawn is getting, place empty cans outside. After each rainfall, check the amount of water that has collected inside each can. Many experts recommend about an inch of water per week, on average, to keep lawns green. If it’s rained recently, you probably don’t need to water your lawn.