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February 24, 2011

Put a Little Life in Your Lawn

Americans are so obsessed with the idea of the perfect lawn that many neighborhoods have become little more than green deserts - huge expanses of a single type of grass that are regularly treated with so many chemical pesticides and herbicides that all other life forms have been destroyed.  No wonder our honeybees are disappearing!

Lawns don't have to be barren and lifeless.  They can be rich mixes of lush, low-growing plants, from beautiful white clover and bugleweed (ajuga) to beloved flowers like violets and scarlet pimpernels and herbs like thyme and prunella, with a mix of grasses forming the backdrop. 

A mixed lawn will attract all kinds of life to your yard, from insects like butterflies and bees feeding on the abundant nectar of flowering lawn plants to toads and ladybugs looking for an insect dinner.  You'll get bonuses like fireflies (also known as lightning bugs), too, lighting up your summer nights.  The life that's drawn to your lawn will bring birds flocking, looking for bugs, seeds, and nectar.  A lawn like this is not only beautiful, it's exciting! 

Every summer I am always amazed at the level of activity in my backyard compared to my neighbors on either side.  All three of us share identical acres of land.  However, every evening I sit on my back porch and watch birds flying around my trees and skittering on the ground, squirrels spastically zooming all over the place, butterflies fluttering near my head, ducks make their way up on a nearby slope from the river and head to my yard where they always stay to feed, occasionally a rabbit stops by (or I get surprised by deer), and at dusk, fireflies are everywhere!  It's a regular nature show, and I try to always tune in.  When I look out at my neighbor's yards - or I'm in their yards visiting - it's lifeless.  My yard is like a vortex into another world, a world full of life. 

Many people think of a mixed lawn as an overgrown, weedy mess.  But that is dead wrong: A lawn like this will thrive when it's kept mowed, just like an ordinary lawn.  You may have heard that lawns do best when you set the mower higher than you may have learned to do, since even conventional lawn grass is healthier and grows best when its roots are shaded.  The same is true of a mixed lawn: Raise the mower blade to 3 inches for the health of your lawn.  And as with a conventional, all-grass lawn, you should always leave the clippings to fertilize your mixed lawn.  I am always amazed when I see my neighbors bag and throw out their grass clippings, then dump chemical fertilizers on their lawns to replace the lost nutrients.  What are they thinking?!

Finally, I leave you with a thought: If all the pesticides people dump on their lawns are killing "pests," what are they doing to your pets, kids, friends and relatives, and you - not to mention birds, butterflies, and other wildlife?  If you encourage a mixed lawn of beautiful (and often useful) plants, nature will take care of any "pests" without additional help from you.  Your lawn will look lush and inviting.  You can watch your kids run barefoot across the lawn with the puppy without wondering, "How long has it been since the lawn service sprayed?"  And you'll be rewarded with a wealth of birdlife. 

Just think - you're actualy gaining all these benefits from not doing extra work or going to extra expense.  How great is that?


  1. Wonderful,Amanda, could not put it better about the beauty of a natural lawn.

    I was once asked why an ornamental apple tree in a lawn looked as if it was dying. Immediately I asked if he had put lawn weed killer on. He had, it was a classic case of weed killer leaching past the lawn roots.

    Can you believe he tried it again just to be sure it was the weed killer! Then told me I was right about it damaging the tree.

    Lawn chemicals are very dangerous to both ourselves, wildlife and the environment.

  2. Thanks Neil. And I know, it's amazing how much trouble people go through to make our world toxic. Even more amazing is that they think they're doing the right thing!



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