Growing a eco friendly lawn is not only possible, it can often be done with less work than a traditional yard. Most people want a green yard with healthy grass, but many people are concerned with the amount of pesticides, fertilizers, water and more that need to be added to keep the yard growing. A yard can be a wonderful part of your home where kids can play, and people can gather. With a few tricks you can create an environmentally friendly lawn at your house.
Why Make Your Yard Into an Eco Friendly Lawn?
American lawns make up a huge amount of land – over 40 million acres are covered in grass. This huge amount of land has a dramatic impact on our ecosystems. According to the website Eco Watch, “3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas (for mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides are used for lawn maintenance every year.” This has consequences for native animals and ecosystems, food production and even human health.
Do You Need Such a Big Eco Friendly Lawn?
Before I get into the details of growing a healthy, green, organic yard, you should consider if you even need a lawn, or at least a big yard. The American phenomenon of growing (and mowing) grass all around your home is simply not always necessary (and you can’t eat it)!
Before you think about how to care for your yard, think about how you can decrease the size of your yard. Large expanses of short grass can increase runoff, cause all sort of problems with fertilizers, take lots of your time in mowing and caring, uses water, and are rarely the most attractive use of space. Look and think carefully about your yard space and decide:
- How do you plan to use your yard? What size yard do you need?
- Does your yard increase your enjoyment? Or does it just take time to mow and maintain.
- How much time do you spend maintaining your lawn? Is there a way to decrease your maintenance time?
- Where does the water from your yard go? Can you create systems to capture runoff?
If you find that some of the yard space around your home is not in line with your answers to the question above, consider changing the grass over to something else: create a garden, let it go natural, plant ground cover, or come up with another creative use for the space. Environmentally friendly landscaping starts with an eco friendly lawn.
Grow a Green ‘Green’ Yard
You’ve assessed your yard size, now it’s time to decide how to grow a healthy, green yard without dumping tons of fertilizers, herbicides, and water onto them every year. Here are some ways to grow a healthy green, AND organic yard this year:
1. Start With Great Soil
Many yards are grown right on top of the fill used when a house was built, which is why so many of them are weak and need lots of tending. Just like a garden, grass will grow better when the soil is rich in nutrients (and you will also need less fertilizer). The deeper your layer of good soil and compost the better. You can build your soil up by bringing in or adding compost.
Even if you already have an existing yard space you can add a small amount of compost to improve soil quality and your grass will grow up into it and the rain will help nutrients from the compost filter into the existing soil.
2. Buy the Right Grass Seed
It’s important to choose the grass that is appropriate for your area and the amount of sun your yard receives. Make sure to carefully read the outside of the grass seed. The better the grass seed is suited to your yard, the easier it will be to maintain. Although not as popular recently, clover is drought tolerant and will actually fix nitrogen in the soil (which is something grass likes). Consider adding clover to your grass seed mix.
3. Keep Your Mower Blade Sharp and High
By keeping your blade sharp you cause less damage to the grass (and thus decrease grass death by disease). The lower you mow your grass, the faster it actually grows in an attempt to ‘win’ over the other plants in the yard. That means that the shorter your grass, the more fertilizer and water you need. Longer grass can also shade out the weeds and means you actually will have a nicer looking yard.
4. Don’t Mow When it’s Wet
In fact, try to avoid walking on the yard when it is wet since this compacts the soil and kills the grass.
5. Leave the Grass Clippings as Mulch
Grass clippings get worked back into the soil and help feed the grass. Set your mower to leave the grass clipping on the yard. In a day or two these will dry out and help put nutrients back into the soil.
6. Water Only When Needed
Water when needed and water deeply. If you water only when necessary, the grass will naturally grow deeper roots and will be able to withstand dry spell better. When you water often, your yard develops shallow, crazy roots known as thatch.
7. Weed By Hand or Use Herbicide Alternatives
With just a few weeds, you can pull these by hand, or consider putting down corn gluten meal in the early part of the year to control broad leaf plants. Weeds tend to be the biggest problem when a lawn is young or when you aren’t mowing correctly. Consistent lawn care will help decrease weeds over the long term as the healthy grass out competes the weeds. Also consider whether the weeds are a problem in your yard!
8. Add Nutrients
Fertilizers are one way to add nutrients to the soil, but these products often over-fertilize your yard and much of these nutrients simply run off into nearby bodies of water causing all kinds of problems. Instead of fertilizers applied in bulk, you can test your soil and apply only what’s needed, or better yet, top dress your yard with compost or compost tea to add nutrients to your grass each year.
Your yard does not have to be a time, money, water, and fertilizer black hole. With a little preparation and know-how you can decrease your reliance on these methods and still maintain an eco friendly lawn that is green and lush.
For a great resource – check out the Cornell Cooperative Lawn Care Almanac