Want to help wildlife at home? Lessen your lawn! Reducing the amount of grass in your home landscape can support wildlife while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Walk into any suburban neighborhood in the middle of summer in the U.S. and you’ll likely be met with a row of lawn care companies lining the street. Leaf blowers, lawn mowers, chainsaws, and hedge trimmers will fill the hot air with a cacophony of overlapping noise and the nauseating stench of gas emissions. Workers dressed in uniforms will be spraying mixtures of chemicals onto already pest- and weed-free lawns. Behold suburbia!
Our yards have come to represent something more than our historical dominance of a once wild landscape. Yards today adhere to an arbitrary hierarchy of human dominance over one another – and over every living thing that once lived on or passed through our land. Lawns represent an obsession with showing the outside world that we are superior as neighbors compete in a silent competition for greenest grass.
Why Lessen Your Lawn?
Our obsession over the perfect lawn has caused irreparable damage to the planet. Homeowners apply more pesticides to their home landscapes per hectare than farmers apply to crops. The average American spends 70 hours on lawn care each year and collectively, Americans pour 9 billion gallons of water on their lawns each day.
Lawn care equipment is not only obnoxious, breaking through the silence of every perfect summer morning and shattering the tranquility of every fall weekend, but it is also is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. One study found that gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment was responsible for 26.7 million tons of pollutants in 2011, which accounted for 24-45% of all non-road gasoline emissions that year. Gasoline-powered landscape maintenance equipment like leaf blowers, trimmers, and edgers accounted for 43% of volatile organic compounds and half (50%) of fine particulate matter. Among the worst offenders are lawn care tools that use two-stroke engines.
Recognize that your home landscape is not merely in nature. Your home landscape is nature. Embrace and celebrate the journey to sustainable and natural landscaping.
Getting Started: How to Lessen Your Lawn
We believe the first step to creating a sustainable and biodiverse home landscape is to lessen your lawn. Let go of the idea that grass should be the dominant species of flora in a community. We must let go of the idea that a turfgrass landscape is the only acceptable way to maintain our properties. Instead, adopt a mindset that supports and celebrates native plants, messy gardens, and the natural tendencies of the land.
Feel overwhelmed? Remember this: As you embark on your journey to sustainable landscape stewardship, be patient. There is no such thing as a one-size fits all approach to this work. Take time to learn about the history of the land you are responsible for stewarding. What plants grew on the land before your home took the place of the flora? Which species of wildlife did your land support? How does water naturally flow through your yard?
From here, begin to slowly replace areas of lawn with native plants. Also commit to making small changes that will support and celebrate local flora and fauna.
My family is stewarding our landscape as an eastern hardwood forest. We are planting native understory trees like eastern redbuds that sit under the shade of the pin oak trees that line our suburban street. Our house is flanked by eastern white pines that drop the most perfect cones and leave a bed of needles in our side yards each fall. Our leaves and pine needles lay where they fall to support insects and other wildlife. Red and gray squirrels feed on our abundance of acorns. We revel in wild visitors like skunks, raccoons, and white-tailed deer. We celebrate each call of the red-tailed hawk that has taken up residence in our neighborhood. Barred owls softly sing us to sleep. Our landscape was once a forest and we are stewarding it as such to the best of our ability today.
We invite you to check out our other pages to learn more about sustainable landscape stewardship practices that might suit your yard for the benefit of bugs.
What you can do
- Learn about the natural tendencies of your landscape and steward your yard in tune with the natural surroundings
- Commit to reducing the size of your lawn by incorporating more areas of native plants into your landscape
- Increase your tolerance for imperfection
- Learn about and apply sustainable pest management and fall cleanup practices
- Replace invasive plants with native plants suited for your ecoregion
- When possible, use manual lawn care equipment to reduce emissions
Additional Reading and Resources
Homegrown National Park (website)
Healthy Yards (website)
Bringing Nature Home (book)
Nature’s Best Hope (book)