The allure of a lush, green lawn has long been a staple in the American dream. However, the traditional turf-grass lawn comes at a cost to the environment and wildlife. But what if there was a way to reduce your environmental footprint while still enjoying the look and feel of a well-maintained lawn? Enter the native plant lawn, a sustainable alternative that supports birds, butterflies, and other living creatures.
Saying Goodbye to Conventional Lawns
Native turf-grass alternatives offer a compelling solution for those seeking to minimize their impact on the environment. By replacing nonnative grasses with indigenous plant species, homeowners can create a habitat that benefits wildlife and reduces the need for pesticides, fertilizers, mowing, and excessive watering.
The Beauty of Indigenous Plants
In Denver, Colorado, a front yard once dominated by a traditional turf-grass lawn has been transformed into a garden bed bordered by native drought-tolerant buffalograss. This change not only benefits the environment but also provides a haven for caterpillars, spiders, salamanders, hummingbirds, and other small pollinators.
Jay Keck, habitat education manager for the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, took a similar approach by planting native flowering plants such as bushy bluestem and green-headed coneflowers. Within a few years, his yard became a thriving ecosystem filled with wildflowers and abundant pollinators, including monarch butterflies. Keck and his young sons now enjoy observing birds that frequent their property, including chipping sparrows and blue grosbeaks.
The environmental consequences of conventional lawns are staggering. Each year, lawns and gardens in the United States are sprayed with over 90 million pounds of insecticides and herbicides, contributing to pollution and harming beneficial insects. Additionally, the maintenance of these lawns through mowing and using gas-powered tools releases nearly 27 million tons of air pollutants annually. Furthermore, the excessive use of water for landscape irrigation amounts to a staggering 9 billion gallons per day.
To mitigate these issues, it is essential to explore alternatives to traditional grasses. Keenan Amundsen, a turf specialist and associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, emphasizes the importance of considering native, wildlife-friendly alternatives that can withstand foot traffic and offer a similar aesthetic appeal.
Exploring Native Turf Alternatives
Buffalograss, once the mainstay of bison herds across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, is a popular choice for homeowners seeking a tough and durable alternative to conventional cool-season grasses. This native grass is highly drought-tolerant and requires minimal irrigation. Many native bees and pest-controlling parasitic wasps find a home in buffalograss, making it an ecologically beneficial option.
Native grasslike plants, known as sedges, offer an array of choices for homeowners looking to replace traditional lawns. Pennsylvania sedge, for instance, with its creeping habit and 6-inch height, makes an ideal turf replacement. This variety also serves as a host for various caterpillar species. Other sedges, such as clustered field sedge, thrive in different regions and require less water than traditional grasses.
Mosses are an often-overlooked yet valuable landscape choice, especially for shaded areas. Contrary to popular belief, many mosses can tolerate a certain amount of sun, making them suitable for various conditions. Apart from adding a touch of natural beauty, mosses also control erosion, provide habitat for beneficial insects and salamanders, and require minimal maintenance.
Beyond buffalograss, other native grasses, such as blue grama, seashore bentgrass, curly mesquite grass, and red fescue, offer alternatives to consider based on your specific region. Nongrass ground covers like bearberry, lowbush blueberry, and creeping juniper also provide attractive and wildlife-friendly options.
Creating Your Native Plant Lawn
To ensure the success of your native plant lawn, it is crucial to choose plants that are indigenous to your region and suitable for your yard’s moisture, light, and soil conditions. Proper preparation of the area before planting is also key. Methods such as herbicide use, sod cutting, smothering the existing lawn, or tilling the soil can be employed to eradicate the original cover.
Although the transition requires effort, the benefits far outweigh the initial work. Not only will you be creating a sustainable habitat for wildlife, but you will also have more time to enjoy with your family, as maintenance requirements decrease.
In conclusion, embracing a native plant lawn is a powerful step towards reducing the environmental impact of conventional lawns. By incorporating indigenous plants, you can create a beautiful and sustainable landscape that supports wildlife and minimizes the need for chemicals and excessive water usage. So, bid farewell to traditional lawns and welcome the beauty and ecological benefits of a native plant lawn.