When I was in university, I stumbled upon a Facebook page called Food Not Lawns. It’s a group that helps people all over the world turn their lawns into edible gardens. Since then, I held the belief that when I bought my own home, I would do the same.
Fast forward to last fall when my family moved into our first home in Southwestern Ontario. Looking at all the lawns, I smugly told my partner we’d start the Food Not Lawns trend in our new neighbourhood. We’d share our fresh vegetables and wildflowers and maybe even have a seed library at the end of our driveway. Everyone would love us.
The Resistance to Getting Rid of Lawns
My partner looked at me like I was crazy and proceeded to list his reasons why we would not, in fact, be turning our front lawn into a food oasis. Among his reasons were: bugs, upkeep, unsightliness… I countered his concerns with the sentiment that starting a new trend is never easy.
“We already have a whole backyard for gardening, though,” he said. I couldn’t argue with that. We’d moved into a home with a sizeable lot and it would take time, money, work, and a ton of upkeep to transition it 100% from lawn to garden. I compromised, stating we’d start with the back and work our way to the front lawn in the following years.
“Let’s just stick with the back and leave the front lawn alone.” The resistance is real, but I’m not surprised. Lawns are part of our social status, our home ownership culture. They say more about us than we might realize. This is why we spend so much time and resources sowing, mowing, watering, and fertilizing them. A good lawn signals a good home owner. I get it. I agreed to focus on the backyard and leave the front lawn alone—for now.
But still, just because I compromised on keeping the front lawn, it doesn’t mean I’m compromising on the eco-friendliness of our lawn care routine. Luckily, my partner is on the same page. And so, in true character, I sat down and did some research. Turns out, lawns aren’t all that bad after all. The real problem is lawn care.
The Environmental and Personal Benefits of Having a Lawn
I still believe we’d all be better off if we got rid of our lawns and grew food instead. We’d increase our community’s food security and decrease our grocery bills. But, I’ll also readily admit this isn’t as easy (or acceptable) as it seems.
Plus, there are some very real benefits of having a lawn:
- Air filtering
- Temperature control
- Noise pollution reduction
- Soil runoff and erosion prevention
- Area for sports and family activities
- Space for increasing wellness through earthing
Simply put, lawns are amazing absorbers. They take in carbon dioxide from the air and trap both heat and noise. They also maintain soil structure and offer a natural space for connecting with the earth.
Keep It Green with These Natural Lawn Care Tips
The many advantages of having a lawn can be maximized with natural lawn care. You see, the lawns themselves are not really the problem—it’s how we care for them. So here’s how to grow a great lawn the eco-friendly way:
1. Grow eco-friendly grass species
If you thought all lawn grass was the same, yeah, me too. Turns out, there are a ton of different varieties and some are much better suited to your climate and weather conditions than others.
Growing eco-friendly grass simply means incorporating several species that will naturally thrive in your area and thus require less care including mowing, watering, and fertilizing.
For example, in Southwestern Ontario, a few good grass varieties include Kentucky Bluegrass, Creeping Red Fescue, and Perennial Ryegrass.
2. Stay away from synthetic fertilizers
Your lawn is a living thing and it needs food on a consistent basis. Over time, the store of nutrients in your underlying soil system will be naturally depleted and require fertilization.
Natural lawn care means staying away from synthetic fertilizers in favour of organic alternatives. Why? Well, synthetic fertilizers are typically derived from petroleum byproducts and work by saturating your soil with inorganic compounds. These chemicals don’t nourish your soil system; instead, they actually harm beneficial organisms and indirectly decrease your soil’s structure and health. They set homeowners on a cycle of ever-increasing needs for fertilizer. They have also been shown to pose human and pet health risks.
Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, are made from plant and animal residues. They include things like compost, blood or bone meal, and manure. They slow-release nutrients into your soil and foster longer-lasting fertility and increase your soil quality, naturally.
3. Water wisely or not at all
What does it mean to water wisely? Well, this will depend a bit on your climate and soil conditions, but there are a few general rules that apply to everyone.
First and foremost, collect rainwater and use that to water your lawn and gardens. If this isn’t possible because it’s illegal in your area or you don’t get nearly enough rain, there are other ways to water wisely.
For instance, you can water deeply, meaning soaking the soil several inches down, rather than sprinkling it on the surface where it quickly evaporates and promotes shallow and weak root growth. Deep watering encourages roots to reach and spread out, thereby improving your soil structure and increasing the benefits of having a healthy lawn.
If the sprinkling method is all you have, you’ll need to run it for a few hours to really soak your soil. Check the weather forecast to make sure you’re not turning on your sprinkler right before it rains and plan accordingly.
Lastly, make sure you keep a consistent schedule or forgo it altogether and let nature take its course. Infrequent watering can really stress your lawn and promote further problems.
4. Know how to properly mow
Yes, you can mow your lawn wrong—and doing so drastically decreases the environmental benefits of having a lawn in the first place. To keep things green and reduce the need for things like pesticides and weed pulling, know how to mow.
Proper lawn care and mowing requires you to consider the length of your grass. You should avoid letting it grow too long and cutting it too short. If it’s left to grow wild, you run the risk of increased pests and the desire to do a drastic cut. When you trim too much at once, you shock your lawn. You severe the nutrient reserves stored within the blades and force the roots to pull nutrients from the soil system at a rate that’s hard to replenish.
It’s best to do consistent cuts and trim less length at once rather than let it grow long and chop it all down in one session. If you’re away or have an unforeseen growth spurt, do your lawn a favour and trim it back over a few sessions. This helps keeps your root system strong and healthy.
My Final Words
Remember, a healthy lawn needs less maintenance and offers more environmental and personal benefits.
If you’re just starting out, have patience. In my case, I’m working with a lot of yellow grass that was left to grow too long before the first snow fall and several types of soil ranging from clay to sandy. It’ll take a while until I see a lush, healthy front lawn, but I’m excited to watch the transition and help it flourish, naturally.
If you need help with natural lawn care or your eco-friendly lawn makeover, talk to your local garden centre or green gardening service. They’ll be most happy to help.