The Sustainable Garden: Lawn Thoughts



The View Over my Septic Tank

Lawn thoughts:

I am as guilty as many on lack of sustainability. In regards to the lawn it is guilt by association. My husband feels that his masculinity is at stake if there is not a perfect sweep of golfable, manicured lawn in front of our house. From a design standpoint, there are few things that set off flowering plants of any kind better than lawn. I think it goes back to England, where beautiful green turf is a natural component. The English have an abundance of rain and a more natural habitat for lawn. They even play tennis on it!

While I am clearly a WASP American mutt; most of my DNA originated in the British Isles. Perhaps I have a genetic predisposition to turf grass? My suspicion is this is more nurture than nature. Neither of my parents cared what the lawn was as long as it was cut. Clover, Bermuda,  fine.. whatever. I would be surprised if my father knew what type of grass grew in our area. My mother referred to it as Southern Groundcover; which is really clipped Red Clover with a little rabbit tobacco. I attended a Landscape Architecture program 30 years ago when a sweeping lawn was a requirement. To my knowledge over use of chemicals and pesticides was a small concern. Silent Spring had been published but the lawn as a design element was more important.

It became clear over the years that Americans still love their lawns (myself included). Lawns are the biggest user of water and chemicals in our landscapes. Perhaps it is time to moderate our usage of lawn by using the most drought tolerant turf in your area. There are many types of drought tolerant, warm season grasses that thrive throughout our country.

In the desert, I do agree that lawns should not be used. However, substituting Bermuda for Fescue in many areas is the right thing to do. Yes, it turns brown in the winter, but it requires less mowing, less water and less chemicals. And you can have a smaller lawn and select a type that can go dormant with drought and still survive. For example, Bahia grass versus St. Augustine. The Bahia can turn brown in times of drought and come back with rain. Once St. Augustine is brown, it is history.

Lawn Chemicals:

Atrazine is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world. Banned by the European Union about 10 years ago. It is in groundwater almost everywhere. We have got to stop using this stuff. The only more common herbicide is RoundUp. And nobody really knows how long that stays around in the environment.

Non toxic weedkillers and pesticides work, use these instead. I have used nothing toxic on my husbands golf hole in the front yard and it is the only lawn in our neighborhood without Dollar Weed in it. I have a Dollar Weed phobia, if I see one leaf I mix a batch of vinegar weedkiller and apply with a paintbrush. The Dollar Weed is satisfyingly dead.

So, use the lawn, just cut back on the size and chemical

The damn thing is it looks great. And it lives over the septic tank. Nothing toxic has been applied.


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