Even though this winter was unusually warm, the arrival of spring has brought people out of their houses and itching for some fresh air. Earth Day brought many outside for the March for Science, while last weekend brought out hundreds of thousands more for the People’s Climate March. While the world pressures governments and companies to act in the face of climate change, there are many immediate steps one can take at home, beginning with this season’s lawn care.
One of the most immediate and local ways homeowners can have a positive impact on
the environment is right outside the front door. Though I did not start out this way, I have come to take care of my lawn and gardens organically. Only after missteps with “conventional” methods did I research and find out how misguided conventional practices are. In seeing this, I developed a new plan; one that saves me both time and money. And now that I have kids and a dog am I even more grateful I made this change.
When we moved into our house nine years ago, the yard was overrun with invasive species and the lawn was in sad shape (about a third of the backyard was just dirt). I removed the troublesome plants and began rehabbing the lawn. In order to improve the grass, I made the mistake of adopting the Scott’s four step system to use throughout the year. This did work, for a while, but the grass plateaued in its growth and resiliency, and if I missed a step in the fertilizing the weeds began to take over and bald spots appeared. After a couple of years I was tired of repeating the same process over and over and I was convinced that I should not have to do so much work to maintain the yard if the fertilizer was effective.
Not only was I struggling with the grass, at the same time I was continually battling creeping charlie (ground ivy) and what I thought was clover. Then the most noticeable sign that the yard was mismanaged came when I was pulling out weeds. I stepped on a balding spot and the ground made a gurgling, sucking noise, causing me to realize the fertilizer was not even working and I needed to do something different.
Through my initial research, I came across the Great Healthy Yard Project. It is an excellent initial resource with a lot of information about the negative impacts of using conventional fertilizer and weedkiller found at most home improvement stores and how it affects us locally. It also led me to look into the impacts of these products globally (which begins with the Gulf of Mexico dead zone).
At the same time I found that what I thought was clover was really Black Medic, and it thrives in poor, compacted soil. Not only was I misidentifying the clover, but clover isn’t even a problem, it’s an asset, only deemed detrimental by marketing.
The problem wasn’t just weak grass, but an unhealthy lawn with poor soil. The Black Medic wasn’t a problem, it was a symptom. If I sprayed for weeds and kept fertilizing as usual I was never going to solve the problem – in fact it was only going to make it worse. Therefore I came up with a simple plan to change my lawn.
In the end I decided on a few principles:
- Clover was good
- Use only organic products (except when necessary to remove invasive species)
- Use electric lawn tools
- Reduce the size of the lawn whenever possible in favor of low maintenance landscaping
Not only did this make my landscaping much more sustainable and an asset to the environment instead of a detriment, but it continues to save me time and money.