Something Wild
3:00 am
Thu June 28, 2012

The All-American Lawn

Come the weekend, it's time to tend the All-American Lawn; time to fire up the  mowers and weed whackers. Lawns need a lot of tending because they go against a basic law of nature: biodiversity, the ever-changing, dynamic system of plants and animals, flora and fauna.

To maintain lawn, a single crop, requires a lot of work as it goes against this natural mix of species. There's fertilizer to trick grass into an extended growing period; herbicides and insecticides to kill anything that's not grass; water, at least an inch a week, to keep grass green—often using high quality drinking water.  Fertilized and watered lawns grow vigorously and need a lot of mowing—and emissions from gas-powered mowers. Nationwide, lawns add up to equal an area the size of New York State. That's a lot of chemicals, water, and fossil fuels burned. And money: 30 to 40 billion dollars spent each year on lawn care. 

Fortunately, we've seen some scaling back on lawns and lawn care—for several reasons including health and environment, and landscapers that specialize in a more natural lawn are getting easier to find. Health concerns led Connecticut and New York to ban pesticides on school grounds, and many towns in the northeast have done the same. North of the border, most provinces in Canada ban the sale and use of pesticides and herbicides on all lawns.

As for biodiversity and how it works? Well, one example, clover is what's called a nitrogen fixer. It's one of many plants that take nitrogen from the atmosphere and deliver it to soil. Lawns without herbicides have a lot of clover working to create natural fertilizer.