Thursday, July 24, 2008

The HSUS Offers Tips for Rethinking Lawns and the Environmental, Economic and Social Benefits

Lawns. The icon of the American suburb. We spend an extraordinary amount of time and money on them, despite what they do to our environment and particularly to wildlife. Americans spend billions of dollars annually to just fertilize and water lawns, not to mention the labor to mow and the gallons of gasoline to run those mowers.

According to John Hadidian, director, urban wildlife for The Humane Society of the United States, "The costs far outweigh the benefits when you consider the lawn from a wildlife perspective. Not to mention that lawns in some cases actually exacerbate conflicts between animals such as Canada geese and humans."

Having some lawn is not necessarily a bad thing. Lawns are visually appealing and provide a springy, open surface for recreational activities and entertaining for kids, adults, and pets. The benefits make some lawn space worth keeping, but only some – not the vast areas we currently maintain.

"Mid-summer is a great time for a yard makeover. Reducing the size of your lawn and introducing wildlife habitat will save big bucks on care and maintenance, since the new landscape should require only minimal work over the long term," Hadidian explains.

Tips for wildlife-friendly alternatives:

Planting beds of native nectar, berry and seed-producing plants favored by wildlife
Creating a meadow on a portion of your property
Installing a water feature, such as a small pond
Building shelter for wildlife, such as brush or rock piles in a corner of your yard
Replacing your lawn with drought-tolerant plants (xeriscaping) in dry parts of the country
Let it grow:

The easiest way to create a natural landscape from a lawn is to stop mowing it and let native plants gradually take it over. Start with limiting your no-mow zones to the corners or less-trafficked areas of your property. Continue to mow around them to create a neat "island" look. This lends the visual appeal that tends be more acceptable to the lawn-loving public.

Clearing the turf:

To install new wildlife-friendly features, start stripping lawn away. One easy approach is simply to extend the size of existing beds when edging them – even an inch or two a year is a contribution.

If you are patient and prefer a low-cost, low-sweat method, sheet mulching is a good option. This involves covering the lawn with several layers of organic material, akin to a forest floor. Over time, the combination of smothering layers and heat will break down your lawn. By next spring, your lawn will be a distant memory, replaced with rich organic material and ready for new garden plantings that will welcome wildlife.

No comments: