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Landscape Sustainability and Lawns: Less is More

November 6, 2013 Green Blog No Comments



Toni Bailey

Toni Bailey






November 5, 2013

Rockville, Md

By: Toni Bailey

I’m a landscape designer by training, a naturalist by affinity. My specialty is sustainable landscape design. Someone asked me once:  “Does ‘sustainable landscaping’ mean that the plants live?”  Well, I hope so, but maybe it’s more about how they live.

In sustainable landscaping, the idea is to live within your means, to embrace a landscape that uses the resources that Nature provides, and to avoid importing additional resources. Another way to look at it is working within a resource budget.  Sustainable landscape practices include soils and water management. For now, let’s concentrate on plants. To stay within our resource budget, we should choose plants that are already adapted to historical conditions in terms of climate, rainfall, and soils. Best bets for plant choices are therefore plants native to the region.

But many of us have lawns, which are composed of turf grasses not native to the region. As traditionally managed, lawns are the poster children for lacking sustainability:  to thrive, they require extra resources in water and nutrients, as well as maintenance practices such as cutting which are typically performed with pollution-emitting machinery. In our zeal to have a beautiful lawn, we routinely apply pesticides to kill the weeds, insects, and diseases that attack. With all these controls and inputs, we stray far from sustainability and even cause harm, to ourselves, to wildlife, and to our water supply.

Is it worth it? It’s pretty hard to argue that it is. And yet I’ll admit I would not eliminate them in every case. Lawns have their benefits:  they provide a walkable, playable surface outdoors, and the grasses do deliver some cooling. For landscape design purposes, they offer a calming contrast to showier plants. So, is it possible to have a lawn and live sustainably?

My answer is, just try to get as close as you can. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do much. Reduce your lawn area; chances are good that you don’t need as much as you have. Opt for seed blends that are designed for less mowing and watering (they do exist!). Let go of the notion that you must apply fertilizers and pesticides. If you must water, do it strategically; don’t use a sprinkler during the hottest part of the day, when more of the water will evaporate. In a drought, abandon watering the grass and keep the trees watered instead, because they need it the most. Create your own version of lawn “offsets” by making sure that you have plenty of native trees and shrubs in addition to lawn.

Not only will you have a healthier landscape; you’ll save money too. Finally, if having the lawn is what gets you and your family outdoors, to connect with the environment, then have a lawn – just have less of it.


www. gracefullygreen.com


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