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

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

Stan Kotala has provided a sustainable lawn alternative in Pennsylvania.

This article was originally published on June 20, 2019, Although the leaves may be changing, it is still a great idea to share this timeless piece with everyone.

I made my fortune as a child by growing dandelions. My father saw them inflicting havoc on his beautiful green lawn. He paid two cents per pulled dandellion, provided that the roots were also up. I was guaranteed employment because my neighbors let their dandelions grow to seed. This meant that there were always more for us to pull.

I can still remember the annual lawn care ritual: The spreader delivering different powdery compounds to the grass, the mowing and the watering. I mowed the lawn when I was old enough for the starter cord to be pulled. Even though the lawn was completely flat, we had a loud, gasoline-engine powered lawn mower.

The lawn was used as a play area by the children. Mothers complained about their children’s grass-stained clothes. But everyone wanted a large yard for their children to play in. It was a time for innocence. It’s now a time when there are consequences.

Greenand terrible for the planet. Image by Sarah Barker, licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s time to re-think using chemicalsand lawn altogether

Many of us didn’t realize the harm that lawns bring to our natural world. The fertilizers wash off lawns and into storm sewers. They eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay where they cause algal blooms. These blooms choke out sunlight and kill submerged aquatic grasses.

Many fertilizers are petroleum-based, with negative environmental impacts. The herbicides can leach into our waterways and contaminate the water we drink as well as the fish we eat. Pesticide applications should be flagged with yellow triangles. Pets and children should not play on lawns sprayed with pesticides. Is a weed-free yard more important than your health and the health of your children?

Removing some or even most of a lawn has a lot of benefitsbesides the environmental and health reasons, there’s less time spent on mowing and less money spent on lawn care. We all benefit from less lawnmower noise. We would also save significant amounts of natural resources by using less gasoline and water.

DC has front yards that are weed-freeCaroline Angelo, used with permission

The Environmental Protection AgencyEstimates are that approximately A thirdAll public water is used for grass watering. The US lawns use nearly 9 billion gallons per day of water, while our mowers use 200 million gallons. If you care about the preservation and protection of our native wildlife and pollinators, you should consider that turf grass provides very little habitat for pollinators or other animals or plants that make up a healthy, diverse ecosystem.

How much lawn do you really require? Are you a parent? Are they yard-playing ages? You can keep some turf for them. You don’t have to worry about the weeds your kids might trample the lawn. Do your children really need a quarter of an acre of grassy terrain?

How to kill your lawn

If you don’t need as much lawn, you might consider cutting it down or replacing it with native flowers. However, it is much more difficult to kill a lawn than you might imagine.

Non-toxic products are not always cheap and often kill the above-ground vegetation. Horticultural vinegar (20% acetic acid), will burn the above ground vegetation, but the roots will laugh and grow new blades. Concentrated acid can cause severe eye irritation, permanent corneal injury, and skin burns.

Native flowers like echinacea make a great lawn alternative. Nicholas ClementsUse with permission

Vinegars containing more than 11% acetic acids can also cause severe eye injury and burns, leading to blindness. Only systemic products-those that kill the entire plants-work. While glyphosate is safe, the EPA says that it can be used safely if followed the directions and other precautions are taken. However, this may not be an option for anyone who is alarmed by recent events. Jury decisions linking non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to glyphosate use.

What then? For a few weeks, cover the lawn with black plastic of heavy gauge. It is non-toxic, cost-effective, and economical. It can be weighed down using bricks, rocks, or plastic landscaping stakes. Be prepared to replace your lawn when you take it out.

You can replace your lawn with something more.

Shrubs (think native!) They are a great option to lawns. Mulch is needed for small areas. As they grow larger, you can rake leaves among the shrubs to create a safe haven for insects like lightning bugs and butterflies.

Clovers can be a good choice for groundcovers, but the last thing we want is a yard filled with deer candy. Other native groundcovers include lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), Wild stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), Common blue violet (Viola sororia). Try these for areas that are not so sunny. Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) or Baltimore sedge (Carex senta). Some people choose native meadow-like lawns. forbsFlowers.

Avoid English Ivy (Periwinkle), vinca (Vinca) and pachysandra as they are invasive plants that can crowd out native species.

Wildflower garden at Four Mile Run in Arlington. ImageUse of permission from Erinn Shirley

Montgomery County residents have a lucky escape. The county has changed its nuisance laws to allow naturalized lawns. This was after realizing that wild gardens can improve air quality, soil quality, and reduce stormwater runoff. Fairfax County’s regulatory code prohibits wildflowers from lawns.

The District encourages the planting of pollinators in residential yards. However, it also requires that weeds greater than 4 inches in height be removed (it doesn’t define what a “weed”). DC’s Green Yards Recognition Act of 2016 covers pesticide practices and the use of certain types of leaf blowers and lawn mowers, but doesn’t mention replacing lawn with native vegetation. The Department of Energy and the Environment will create a new webpage that will provide all of the information required by law about Green Yards. DC’s RiverSmartProgram includes Bayscaping, or landscaping that replaces the grass with plants native in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

I hope this guide helps you get rid of the hassles and costs associated with lawn care and makes your yard a sanctuary for wildlife.

Ellen Paul is a birder and a lifelong learner. But, along the way she also observes the insects, mammals and plants around her. She is committed to protecting the habitat of all our native fauna and flora. She is also on a mission eliminate all English ivy, vinca, lesser celandine and other non-natives in a five-mile radius from her home.

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