Mowing your lawn may make it look great, but it sure isn't great for the planet.
The greener a lawn, the more it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Each time blades of Kentucky Blue Grass are mowed down, the dangerous impacts of climate change grow.
A NASA study found nearly 64,000 square miles of lawn sprawl across the United States. Turfgrass is the country’s largest agricultural crop resulting in more lawn acreage than the eight largest irrigated food crops combined. What else is amazing is that our lawns are fertilized with 10 times more fertilizer than what is used on the crops that grow our food. Compounding the issue, the greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane are all created during the fertilizer manufacturing process. When a ton of fertilizer is produced, two tons of carbon dioxide is produced.
Sprinkle these in with the fact that lawns need lots and lots of water and you have a significant climate issue growing in the front of your house. We need to do better.
Just where did the idea of a lawn come from?
Launde, a Middle English word, was first used to define a glade or empty spot in a forest. The word later meant the artificial areas that resembled these openings. Original laundes appeared around French and British medieval castles and provided a treeless view of advancing threats and enemies. Launde also became the word for commons, as in the village commons, a meadow where villagers grazed their sheep and cattle. The local animals served as both natural mowers and fertilizers.
Taking this laundes idea further, the wealthy French and English during the 16th century Renaissance saw intricatly manicured laws as a status symbols in fact, the more lawn, closely cut, the more powerful and impressive your house became leaving your neighbors green with envy.
By the 17th century, lawn prestige started to land on the shores of North America, a region that didn’t possess northern Europe’s perfect climate for growing lawn grass. In addition due to farming, the critical native grasses that did exist were chomped away by grazing livestock. With little native grasses left, early Americans were forced to import grass seeds from Europe and along with this came the belief that a lawn is a symbol of wealth and status. The lawns of the European wealthy actually inspired Thomas Jefferson’s emulation at Monticello, and George Washington’s bowling green, deer park and the army of landscape gardeners at Mt. Vernon.
Post-World War II everyone felt entitled to a lawn with a white picket fence, so thanks to federally funded, low-cost mortgages newly constructed suburbs and communities of all socioeconomic classes grew lawns and the American Dream. However, this high-status symbol comes with a steep cost.
So, what are natural solutions you can achieve to the climate crisis while growing your lawn without shaming and finger pointing?
People can continue to connect with and enjoy their lawn space. Native grasses, plantings conducive to specific environments, wildflowers, flowerbeds and vegetable gardens are all great alternatives to grass. There are also alternative ‘grasses’ such as low-maintenance clover, creeping thyme, mint and strawberry. These alternatives will also attract pollinators like birds and bees.
Shifting away from pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and instead aerating the soil is more Earth positive. Fortifying with leaf clippings instead of chemical fertilizers is better and composting will cut the need to water and help address drought and disease.
For those who want to be truly ‘green’ but don’t have the time or a green thumb, services will actually pay rent to transform yards into sustainable havens. Moreover If vegetables are grown in your sustainable haven, donations can be specified to local foodbanks and farmer’s markets.
What if there is still a need to mow? A single gas lawnmower pollutes as much as eleven new cars chugging on the highway. Americans pay $2 billion annually for gas just to mow their lawns. Of the 2.4 billion gallons of gas poured in lawn equipment, 17 million gallons are spilled – more than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The solution? Go electric. An electric mower produces zero emissions and is quiet – so no noise pollution. A simple push mower is also an option.
It is time for us to stop developing green wastelands dependent on gas, lots of water and artificial chemical fertilizers and to see just how planet-friendly your lawn and garden grows.