How much work do you put into maintaining your lawn? You’re probably spending hours behind a push mower or riding around on a lawn mower each week, forking over gasoline money to constantly keep your mower running, and setting up sprinklers to keep your lawn damp when the rainy season slows. Keeping a lawn maintained can be both time consuming and expensive. It can also be harmful to the environment, depending on how you care for your lawn.
Herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and water supply are all being used to maintain green, luscious and insect-free lawns across the United States, despite their environmental impact. So exactly what kind of environmental and human health impact are caused by lawn maintenance? Let’s look at the numbers.
An estimated 67 million pounds of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides are applied around homes and gardens each year. In commercial areas, another 165 million pounds are applied. It’s also been estimated that about 30% of our nation’s water supply is used for watering lawns. In hotter, dryer areas such as Dallas, Texas, as much as 60% of the city’s water supply is used to water lawns in the summer.
Every week we see mowers out and about, keeping the lands that house our parks, playing fields, and much more neat and trimmed. And all weekend long we hear the sounds of our neighbors mowing. Gasoline is being used and the noise level increases. Some lawn clippings are thrown into plastic bags, estimated to compromise between 20-50% of America’s landfills.
When pesticides are used—including herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and rodenticides, they are tracked into homes and able to enter the body through the lungs, mouth and skin. A 1987 grant from the National Cancer Institute revealed that children were six times more likely to develop leukemia in households that use lawn pesticides. When sprayed, chemicals can drift off, killing birds, endangering water supplies and land in the yards of unsuspecting neighbors, putting them at risk as well.
So where’s the solution? If you stopped taking care of your lawn, you’d have more free time, but you’d also wind up with higher grass and perhaps more signs of nature. If you’re open to letting nature do it’s thing, taking a break from lawn maintenance might be a great idea, but some don’t have a choice.
For those who live in a neighborhood with lawn regulations, here are some environmental lawn ideas:
1. Use organic fertilizers such as manure, rock dust or wood ash. Do a soil test to find out what your land requires and choose the best natural fertilizer.
2. Choose plants that thrive in dry conditions to cut down on watering.
3. Use wild plants that grow easily in the area and don’t demand water to thrive. Try wildflowers that enjoy sunny, well-drained dry areas, such as buckwheat, Roman chamomile, chickweed, clover, English daises, pineapple weed, sheep’s sorrel, strawberries, thyme and yarrow. For a shaded area, try violet, Periwinkle or speedwell.
4. Mulch around your plants using grass clippings, shredded hardwood, dry leaves or woodchips to help retain moisture.
5. Group plants together that require similar amounts of water. Instead of sprinklers, try a drip system or a soaker hose that waters the plants’ roots. The best time to water is early in the morning before the sun is hot. Watering during a sunny day wastes water, as it dries quickly.
6. If you don’t water or fertilize, you may not need to mow. Wild things that may pop up, such as dandelions, violets and purslane, can be useful in the kitchen.
7. If you mow, keep the mower’s height around three inches or at the highest setting. The taller the lawn, the more resistant to drought it will be. Tall grass also helps to shade the soil and keep it moist.
8. Use a non-gasoline push mower for less noise and pollution, and leave the clippings on the ground as mulch and fertilizer.
9. Use an organic landscape service. Find out what products they are using and do your research to make sure they’re safe.
10. If you live in a condo or apartment, try to get your neighborhood on board with edible and organic landscaping.