A couple of years ago, my first spring in Boulder, I found myself doing something I abhor—mowing the lawn. It wasn’t the workout I minded, though I could have done a lot more fun things to get some exercise. And I didn’t mind the smell of newly mown grass—that earthy whiff announcing summer. Ahhhh! I breathed it in and loved it all over again.
What I abhorred was the awful noise; I had to wear earplugs. And the fumes. And the use of gasoline. And the fact that if we watered this lawn, as our landlady wanted us to, we’d just have to mow it all over again in a few days or a couple of weeks. What a waste!
I’m surprised that in this progressive-in-every-other-possible-way town of Boulder, grassy lawns rule.
There are a lot of “greener” alternatives, and the easiest one is native plants.
(BTW, I like grass. My toes love it. So does my dog. Grass is better than concrete. Public parks need grass. Kids need grass. But maybe we don’t need as much of it as we’ve got.)
So here, in no particular order, are 8 reasons why native plants in your yard, instead of grass, will help the earth. Not to mention help you–no more mowing the lawn, woo-hoo!
- Reduce air pollution. According to the EPA, the typical gas-powered lawn mower pumps out as much air pollution per hour as 11 cars.
- Reduce noise pollution. See #1. No mowing means no nasty roaring machines in your yard.
- Improve water quality. Native plants don’t need chemical encouragement, so there are no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides to wash into storm drains, and into creeks. One report shows that 2/3 of all chemicals applied to lawns flow into waterways. ([link no longer available])
- Use less water. At least 1/2 and in some cities 2/3 of the freshwater supply goes into lawns. Native plants evolved to live with the amount of precipitation in your area. You might need to water them the first year, but not after they’re established.
- Reduce global warming. No chemical fertilizers means you contribute less to global warming. Each 40-pound bag of fertilizer contains fossil fuels equivalent to almost 3 gallons of gas. Synthetic fertilizers spread on American lawns use 2.2 billion gallons of fossil fuels each year. ([link no longer available])
- Save earthworms. RoundUp, the popular pesticide used on lawns, is toxic to beneficial animals and insects, such as earthworms. (Update: Awareness of the toxicity of RoundUp just keeps increasing. See this study from 2017.)
- Give food and shelter to butterflies and birds. Native shrubs, grasses, flowers, and trees provide habitat for native critters of your area, such as caterpillars, butterflies, bees, and birds.
- Contribute to biodiversity. Lawns are suburban monoculture, eating up enough land in the U.S. to equal the state of Pennsylvania. That’s a lot of land devoted to a single crop. Planting natives increases biodiversity, which strengthens all the coexisting plant species.
For more on native plants, see:
I’ve never been a fan of living rooms that are just for when company comes or front yards that consist of big lawns, etc., that no one ever uses. When I lived in Mexico, I loved the mystery of the front courtyard–you couldn’t see it from the street, but you knew that behind those walls there was often some surprising beauty. Paved courtyards with trees, flowers, and all sorts of shrubs blooming lushly, most in pots, providing shade and a wonderful environment for those who lived there to enjoy. It saves water as you suggest, doesn’t require that chore that’s never done–mowing.And it’s personal and private–
We have a push-mower that runs on our pwn muscle. Even my 6-year-old can use it safely. We don’t use any chemicals on the lawn, and once a year we spread horse-manure to help the soil. All this because I hate the noise, air pollution, chemicals, etc. of a lawn, but because we rent we have to maintain the structure of the lawn and the under-ground sprinker system that maintains it. If it were my house, I’d rip out all but a small, sweet patch of grass (for kids, dogs, and cats) and put in the native plants that call to me. I wish, I wish, I wish…
Rosemary, I’m with you except for the paving part. I do love interior courtyards, and I remember seeing some in Spain that were full of pots and lush to the human senses as well as for habitat for insects and birds. Paving can be offset by a large number of potted plants and flowers. Still, leaving the ground to breathe–and a place for feet to meet the earth–seems better to me.
Lara, here’s to wishes coming true!
You make a lot of good points about lawns. I’m optimistic, though, that people are slowly changing. When I walk around Boulder, I see a lot of yards planted with native bushes and groundcover, which is a lot more interesting visually than a lawn.