Halve your lawn

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2015

By Biff and Susan Andrews

We need to talk about your lawn.

Some statistics:

  • There are 30 million acres of lawn in the USA.
  • 50-70 percent of all residential water use goes to landscape watering.
  • $30 billion a year is spent on fertilizers, insecticides and mowing.
  • 70 million pounds of insecticides are applied to lawns each year, making polluted runoff our No. 1 environmental problem.
  • The average suburban lawn costs the homeowner $3,000 a year to plant, fertilize, water and mow.
  • A gas mower emits 11 times as much pollution as a new car.
  • Mowing the average lawn produces as much air pollution as driving 350 miles in a car.

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So let’s sum up: we’re hurting the environment, we’re costing ourselves billions, we’re wasting water and chemicals — all because we want a prettier front lawn than our neighbors.

But that’s the least of it. Worse is the fact that 30 million acres of wildlife habitat is missing. Lawns are monocultures — one species only, no diversity — and most lawns are fescue and Bermuda grass, which are non-native, invasive plants. In a controlled experiment, a wild grassy “meadow” attracted 102 species of flying insects, and a lawn attracted one species. Biodiversity is good, and monoculture is bad.

The remedy: Cut your lawn area in half. Keep the attractive approach to the front door and maintain the play space for the kids out back, but create islands of flowers, shrubs and small trees, add a little water feature, and leave a brush pile, a rock pile and a leaf bin in forgotten corners of the yard.

Plant berries and seed-producers, especially native species. Beautyberry, rhododendron and dogwood do well in shade, while hundreds of flowers and shrubs and small trees love sunny locales and bloom attractively. Consult your local garden center.

Add a water feature — maybe just a large saucer set into the ground or even a birdbath. Just hose them out once a week to prevent mosquitoes. Add a fish pond. They require little to no care, and you can plant many varieties of flowers in them to keep the fish happy. Our 69-cent fish are now 4 years old and six inches long, 10 of them.

Add shelter — a brush pile, a bunch of jumbled rocks, a store-bought nesting box. Eventually, these will all be inhabited.

Feed the birds. And the squirrels. Seed feeders and suet cakes are the easiest way to attract wildlife within viewing range.

Leave your leaves, even if it upsets the neighbors. All those nutrients you spent big bucks on went into the flowers and leaves, so don’t send them to the city landfill: Let them re-enter the soil. At the very least, create a leaf bin or mulch/compost pile.

If you have a sterile, lawn-dominated yard, you won’t see much wildlife. If you add food, water, shelter and flowering vegetation, all of God’s creatures will be happy — including you, when you consider what you’re saving, as well as what you’re seeing. Tall trees, small trees, shrubs and flowers. Tall trees, small trees, shrubs and flowers. All native species.

The state of Virginia is even willing to help you with seeds and bare-root trees.

To order seedlings, contact: Augusta Forestry Center (504) 363-7000 P.O. Box 160, Crimora, VA 24431, or visit www.dof.virginia.gov.

To certify your yard as a backyard habitat, go to www.dgif.virginia.gov/habitat for an application.

For publications about native plants, go to www.nativeplantcenter.net.

Remember, “A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.”

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.