|Naturally Lovely Lawns|
“A lawn is Nature under totalitarian rule.” –Michael Pollan, Second Nature
Ah, the robust gleam of an emerald lawn. Isn’t it truly the crowning jewel of a homeowner’s eye?
Many people beg to differ. The natural landscaping movement follows the mindset that having an eye-poppingly bright, manicured lawn isn’t always the most desirable or healthiest landscaping option. It promotes environmentally friendly landscaping practices that preserve, restore, and support native plants, and encourages the reduction of tamed spaces, such as groomed lawns, overly pruned shrubs, ornamental hybrid plants, and bug-free yards.
Why consider natural landscaping on your property?
It helps the environment. The truth is, no lawn is an island. The way yards and gardens are maintained can have a surprisingly detrimental effect on nearby streams, ponds, and wildlife. Lawns may suffer as well, because commercial fertilizers can remove soil nutrients and cultivate lawn diseases. Natural landscapes eliminate the need for chemical fertilizer and insecticide.
Standard lawn maintenance equipment releases high levels of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides—all of which add to the formation of smog and toxins. Natural landscaping can lower air pollution by reducing the need for fossil-fueled equipment. The native plants themselves can improve air quality by lowering pollutants and carbon dioxide.
Your patch of paradise will enrich the soil; reduce erosion; filter and clean storm runoff; reduce flooding; and provide healthy food and habitat for countless birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.
It saves time and money. Although chemicals create seemingly perfect lawns fairly quickly, they must be reapplied yearly. Achieving the results you want through natural landscaping can take time, but in the end you’ll enjoy years of beauty with little maintenance and watering. Native plants conserve energy because they require no irrigation or fertilization, they are resistant to most pests and diseases, and they rarely become invasive.
It feeds wildlife. Many popular ornamental plants are hybrids that have been bred to look pretty—not produce seeds. Native varieties, however, produce seeds, nuts, berries, pollen, and nectar that nourish wildlife. Using these types of plants and flowers helps your landscape become even more natural by attracting insects and birds.
Detoxing and Everything After
After you’ve kicked your yard chemicals to the curb, substitute them with an ecological alternative such as organic fertilizer, which is produced from plant or animal sources such as fish emulsion, bonemeal, and manure. Natural fertilizer, which contains organic elements and may include minerals like sulfur and phosphorus, is another healthy option. Other alternatives include natural compost; cow, sheep, or chicken manure; leaf mold; or liquid seaweed. All of these substitutes are cost-effective because they promote better growing conditions and reduce the need for pest controls.
Eliminating Pests and Weeds
Setting your mower cutting height at 2.5 to 3 inches discourages weeds and strengthens your lawn by keeping grass roots shaded and moist. For further weed control, place undiluted household vinegar in a sprayer bottle and saturate the weeds.
Eliminating pests can be as easy as encouraging natural pest predators—such as ladybugs, birds, and frogs—to live in your garden. To do this, install a birdfeeder and birdbath and plant flowers that attract beneficial insects. Daisy, mint, carrot, sweet alyssum, and dill all do the trick.
If you’d prefer to discourage insects altogether, spray plants with a mixture of three to six tablespoons of organic dishwashing soap per gallon of water or add nematodes—simple roundworms who are lethal to many soil insect pests, yet are safe for plants and animals—to your garden. Entomopathogenic or insecticidal nematodes in the genera Steinernema and Heterorhabditis work best. Another option is Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria applied to plants to ward off leaf-eaters. Horticultural oils, garlic, and hot pepper sprays also combat pests.
One Person’s Weed is Another Person's Wonder
You may encounter opponents who believe that natural landscapes are fire hazards that generate rats, mosquitoes, and pollen. In reality:
• Most natural landscapes are comprised of green, leafy material that does not burn readily or sustain fire.
• Natural vegetation does not provide the type of food in the quantities needed to feed rats.
• Mosquitoes are lured by standing water, and most natural landscapes absorb more water than conventional lawns and also increase populations of mosquito-eating birds.
• All flowering plants produce pollen, but the most troublesome sources are ragweeds, which aren’t common natural landscaping choices.
You may also come head-to-head with weed ordinances. When properly applied, these laws are a valuable way of fighting plants that pose ecological and health hazards. Some community weed laws even actively promote natural landscaping. Talk to your local government to find out what weed ordinances exist in your area and how you can submit a modified weed law draft that is friendly to natural landscaping yet still controls invasive vegetation. For example, some communities have modified weed laws that provide exceptions for environmentally beneficial landscapes and plantings designated for educational purposes, consumption, business reasons, or the control of troublesome plant species. As a starting point, the Environmental Protection Agency offers a model modified weed ordinance (www.epa.gov/greenacres/weedlaws/) and Wild Ones—Natural Landscapers, Ltd. provides model municipal and sample amending weed ordinances (www.for-wild.org/weedlaws/weedlaw.htm).
Enjoy your foray into untaming Mother Nature!
• Wild Ones—Natural Landscapers, Ltd. (www.for-wild.org) promotes natural landscaping, lists which plants and flowers are native to your area, and more.
• You can also access the Native Plant Information Network through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at www.wildflower.org.
• The Natural Habitat Garden by Ken Druse. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2004
• Natural Landscaping: Designing with Native Plant Communities by John Diekelmann, Robert M. Schuster, Renee Graef. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003
• Natural Landscaping: Gardening with Nature to Create a Backyard Paradise by Sally Roth. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books, 2002