In an article at NRDC.org, Mary Talbot (September 30, 2016) makes the case for putting away the lawnmower:
In a case of taking “the grass is always greener” a bit too literally, American homeowners have long strived to make their lawns brighter, lusher, and more velvety than their neighbors’. But all that competition has a devastating environmental impact. Every year across the country, lawns consume nearly 3 trillion gallons of water a year, 200 million gallons of gas (for all that mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides.
You may also know that turf grass, however welcoming it looks for our bare feet, provides virtually no habitat for pollinators and other animals and plants that make up a healthy, diverse ecosystem. In fact, these lawns can do substantial harm to the environment and to both vertebrates and insects. Birds, for instance, may ingest berries and seeds that have absorbed pesticides from the ground. Likewise, rainwater runoff from lawns can carry pesticides and fertilizers into rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans via the sewer system. This can poison fish and other aquatic animals and harm humans who swim, surf, and eat seafood that may be contaminated. And then, of course, lawn mowers can pollute the air.
Luckily, today more Americans are ready for a change. “We’re on the cusp of a transition that will likely take place over the next 10 to 15 years, away from the conformity of mowed turf,” says Ed Osann, senior policy analyst and water efficiency project director with NRDC’s Water program. He adds that eradication of all grass isn’t the goal. “We’re not declaring war on turf or suggesting that we remove every square foot of it. But we want to encourage people to think about whether there are places in their yards that can be converted to allow for a more diverse and sustainable landscape.”
The No-Mow Movement
A growing number of homeowners are converting part or all of their lawns to a less thirsty form of landscape. These no-mow yards fall into four categories: 1) naturalized or unmowed turf grass that is left to grow wild; 2) low-growing turf grasses that require little grooming (most are a blend of fescues); 3) native or naturalized landscapes where turf is replaced with native plants as well as noninvasive, climate-friendly ones that can thrive in local conditions; and 4) yards where edible plants—vegetables and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs—replace a portion of turf. (According to the National Gardening Association, one in three families now grows some portion of the food they consume.)
Photo by Susan O'Donnell