While having some lawn is great for playing, walking on, or sunbathing, there are serious problems associated with the overabundance of lawn in the United States. Consider these problems and learn 5 simple ways to reduce mowing, add beauty, and help the environment.
Problems with Lawns
- Lawns support minimal wildlife
- Lawns do not manage stormwater runoff
- Noise pollution from mowers and leaf blowers
- Air pollution and fossil fuel use from gas mowers
- Water pollution from fertilizers and pesticides used on lawns
- Lawns do not connect people with nature
Gasoline-powered landscape equipment, including mowers, trimmers, blowers, and chainsaws, accounts for 16 percent of hydrocarbon emissions and 21 percent of carbon monoxide emissions from mobile sources nationwide.” -US EPA, 2003
Below are 5 simple steps you can take to reduce mowing. Try one, or better yet, try a combination of all 5!
1. Add Gardens
Installing gardens is our favorite way to reduce mowing because of the color, texture, and habitat they provide. Shrub borders and bullet-proof perennials perform well year after year. If you don’t have a green thumb, hire a gardener or designer to help. Or ask a knowledgable landscaper or garden center for suggestions.
|Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowing||Requires maintenance and understanding of site|
|Lots of options for shape, color, texture, & fragrance||Can be expensive to install depending on source & size of initial plants|
|Supports wildlife & pollinators|
|Increases property value|
|Creates a more inviting or restful space for people and pets|
|Works for shady sites|
2. Use Groundcovers
Groundcovers are low-growing plants that spread and fill areas of the landscape. Like gardens, planting groundcovers such as English Ivy and Pachysandra are a tried and true way to reduce lawn. Unfortunately, these plants can be overly agressive and crowd out other plants. Consider native groundcovers such as Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), Golden Groundsel (Packera aurea), or Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) to crowd out weeds and add beauty as you reduce lawn.
|Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowing||May lack diversity and provide little habitat value|
|Can provide similar low evergreen attributes as lawn||Can be aggressive and spread outside of intended space|
|Stabilizes the soil|
|Once established, usually dense enough to prevent many weeds|
|Often considered traditional and “acceptable” to surrounding community|
3. Release Turf Grass
This option is the easiest and most affordable. Just stop mowing or reduce mowing to only 2-3 times per year. This look may not work for your front yard, but it can be quite attractive in other areas. The key to released turf grass is to provide “cues to care”. These are little indicators around the property that show it is being cared for. Strategically placed fences sections, a mow strip, or a curvy border are cues that let people know this is an intentional release.
|Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowing||Provides little habitat value|
|Inexpensive||Requires cues to care, depending on location of property|
|Low, upright habit||Can become weedy over time|
|Roots grow deeper- better for stormwater and soil|
|When flowering plants or weeds move in, looks more like a meadow|
4. Use a No-Mow Mix
Similar to released turf grass, a no-mow mix is a low stand turf grass, but here the grasses are specific fine fescues. Interestingly, many lawns contain fescues, but also other grasses which are more upright. When fine fescues are not mowed, they bend over and create a very soft effect.
|Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowing||Does not tolerate as much heavy foot traffic as lawn|
|Attractive, low habit and soft texture||Weeds are noticeable in fine fescues|
|Mow 1-3 times per year|
5. Install a Native Meadow
A native meadow consists of warm-season grasses and may have wildflowers. It is a complex habitat full of diversity and interest. Unlike low turfgrass, warm-season grass meadows are taller, reaching 3-5 feet tall. Because of this, medows ofen benefit from “cues to care”. A meadow may not be right for every property, but they look terrific in large areas. Meadows win double points for beauty in our opinions!
|Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowing||Can be expensive to install|
|Various colors and textures through the seasons||Takes 3 years to establish from seed|
|Provides habitat for wildlife and pollinators||Must scout regularly for invasive species|
On most properties, turf grass is necessary. It is great for playing and walking, but if the area is not used for foot traffic, there’s likely an alternative. Consider these alternatives and hopefully you can reduce mowing on your property.