Ditch grass for an eco-friendly yard

By Jacob Grismer

The perfect lawn looks different to everyone. To Zachary Bent, a freshman at Bellbrook High School, a perfect lawn would have “two garden gnomes and yellow flowers,” he said. “The yard would be pretty small and I’d put the flowers around it.” When asked if he’d have a lot of grass he said, “What kind of question is that? Of course.” Bent, like many others in Bellbrook, have yards full of mowed swaths of grass and most either don’t question a grass-filled yard or don’t see enough value in removing the grass. 

I didn’t either until I visited a church and began questioning the need for turf grass. The church was large but the unused plains of grass were about 10 times larger and needed constant mowing, a detriment to the environment as lawnmowers often use gas which releases carbon into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas.

I thought surely there has to be a better use for this healthy land. Many experts recommend at least partly ditching turf-grass lawns. Lawns take up almost as much land as all national parks combined (40-50 million acres) and have been called “ecological dead zones.”

But it’s not just the land use that is harming habitats, it’s also the 3 trillion gallons of water, 59 million pounds of pesticides, and the amount of gasoline (equivalent to running 6 million cars for a year) used for mowing that’s as big of an issue. For more information about the harmful effects of managing grass lawns, read about the lack of biodiversity here and the importance of sustainable living here.

However, how we manage lawns is secondary to the simple act of having one. Ecologically lawns are a “dead space” and add little back to nature. Removing some of this grass and replacing it with native plants can bring back the foundation of our wildlife’s interdependent relationships and help them flourish. This is because many beneficial insects only feed on a select few plants.

An important note is a plant doesn’t need to be native to have a positive environmental impact, which should be the goal. For example, plants of the same genus generally feed the same bugs. To find local native plants use this link. I’d recommend the plants goldenrod, sunflower (Helianthus Asterales), and strawberry (Fragaria Rosales) since they attract the most insects. 

Brayden Westbeld, another Bellbrook High school freshman, represents many people’s desires and concerns when changing a yard. “I’d consider changing my yard but I probably wouldn’t,” he said. “I wouldn’t tear it up. My yard is my yard. I’d get flowers that look good.”

Many worry that planting native plants would mean sacrificing beauty, and while many ornamentals in gardens aren’t native, native plants can still look good. When I showed Westbeld some plants from Ohio, he changed his mind and said, “Yeah, I’d plant those.” 

Another concern is the time investment. Luckily most native plants need little watering more than normal rainfall which means less watering or sprinklers. Plus less mowing. 

But what about managing weeds? A coat of mulch to begin planting could help, even if it’s just under a couple trees. If your desire is to never see weeds, some dandelions and clovers are a good thing for yards. The only work needed on your plants is work you give yourself; nature usually works best when it takes its own course.

Experts also recommend a couple other things for healthy yards. One is building bat houses because bats can act as a natural defense against insects most would consider pests. 

Another recommendation if your garden needs fertilizers could be composting or shredding leaves. Leaf composts add important nutrients to the soil without harming it the way fertilizers and pesticides can down the line. Testing soil could also help monitor its condition for growing plants.

Some last small recommendations are planting other types of grass and letting grass grow longer. The first adds biodiversity and the second keeps healthier grass that allows for less weeds.

Overall, when thinking about changing our yards for the better there’s no need to limit our possibilities. Connor Flanagan, a senior from Bellbrook gets this. His ideal yard would be “a nice yard with some trees, some nice looking plants, not just grass but some diversity. Also a big mushroom I can bounce on.”

Ideal and eco-friendly yards don’t have to be conventionally beautiful, but they can be less work, still have a recreational area and most importantly, they can be much more enriching. Just imagine the beauty and intrigue your yard could have once it begins to refill with rabbits, butterflies, and snakes.

We wouldn’t have to preserve or search out nature anymore: we’d be building it for ourselves.


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