Your Lawn Or Your Life

It’s Time To Unfriend Fertilizer,” writes John Moran in the Gainesville (Florida, USA) Sun. Fertilizer runoff is causing a horrific eco crisis in waterways and harming wildlife everywhere (not just in Florida). And if that isn’t enough to get us to reexamine our mainstream practices, fertilizer runoff is poisoning the fish that we eat, and is wrecking tourism too. People like to point the finger at agriculture, but lawns are a huge culprit as well.

The article is focused on the downside of fertilizer, but the same can be said for herbicides. They are causing far-reaching damage, and lawns are a major contributor.

But what if you love having a soft patch of grass to sit on or look at? No problem. Choose a variety that’s naturally adapted to your region. Or, tolerate diversity: redefine “lawn” as a clipped patch containing multiple varieties of soft ground cover, as opposed to the monoculture that takes so much labor and chemical intervention to maintain.

But even if you love your lawn, you might really love the savings of water, labor, money, and aggravation from adding hardy native flowers and shrubs to your yard, at least around the borders or in attractive “island” formations. One couple mentioned in the article reduced their water consumption by 80 percent by switching their lawn over to native plants. (The photo of their yard is gorgeous.)

But, some might ask, how would we get along without fertilizers and herbicides?

An excellent alternative to industrial fertilizer is compost.

Here are my three favorite alternatives to herbicides:

– Learn about the plant life of your bioregion. Notice, “This isn’t a weed — it’s a wildflower; it is actually breathtakingly beautiful; and the bees and butterflies love it!” And let that wildflower be.

– Find out about your local wild edible and medicinal plants. Notice, “This isn’t a weed — it’s a highly nutritious vegetable! Or a free herbal medicine!” And harvest it.

– Learn the basics of soil, mulch, and compost. Notice, “This isn’t a weed! It’s a bundle of nutrients and organic matter, and I can ‘chop and drop’ it to build soil and nourish other plants!”

Are you familiar with that great book by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, Your Money Or Your Life? (The book, in addition to its own awesomeness, has a preface by Mr. Money Mustache, one of my “financial footprint” heroes; he is mentioned in my book.) Well, I think someone needs to write a sequel, Your Lawn Or Your Life!

If money were sprouting up all over our yards, no one in their right mind would rake it up, cram it into garbage bags, and put it by the curbside for the trash pickup. Well, the “weeds” that sprout up in our yards are as valuable as money. More so, in fact, because ultimately we’d be able to survive a whole lot longer without money than we could if all the soil and plant life disappeared!

Further Reading

Save Bees by Holding Back on the Mowing: “Gardeners should leave at least a strip of their lawn un-mowed … to help halt the decline in bees, experts have said. Perfectly manicured grass is depriving the crucial pollinating insects of the wildflowers they need to feed on …”

Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (book by Evelyn Hadden): “What has your perfect green lawn done for you lately? Is it really worth the time, effort, and resources you lavish on it? … Hadden showcases dozens of inspiring, eco-friendly alternatives to that demanding (and dare we say boring?) green turf. Trade your lawn for a lively prairie or replace it with a runoff-reducing rain garden. Swap it for an interactive adventure garden or convert it to a low-maintenance living carpet.”

Ms. Hadden is a founder or founding member of two organizations I never knew existed until now: and the Lawn Reform Coalition (“We are a loose coalition of writers and activists (including lawn-haters and lawn-improvers) from across the country spreading up-to-date solutions to the many problems caused by a lawn culture that demands perfection, conformity, and way too many inputs — especially water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Not to mention millions of acres of lawn that could be something else.”)