"Greener" lawns isn't just referring to color. While a well kept green lawn is very pleasant on the eye and feels great under bare feet, given the scarcity of availabile fresh water on this planet and the increasing amounts of toxic chemicals in the environment, it can be a rather unfriendly feature of your home if special care isn't taken.
We have lawn front and back and I'm constantly cursing it; not just because mowing can be a pain. If it weren't for our dogs needing a place to run and for the kangaroos who use it as a food source, I'd consider turning it all into a drought resistant garden bed containing native vegetation.
Maintaining a lawn can have a negative impact on the environment in variety of ways:
- water consumption over summer especially
- non-native grasses spreading into natural areas
- chemical fertilizers and potent weed killers entering waterways
- mowing creates air and noise pollution
Here's some things you can do to help make your lawn a little more earth friendly.
While it mightn't be viable to use a native grass, select a grass variety that is drought resistant. In Australia, we use Kikuyu extensively, which originates in Africa. It's extraordinarily hardy, but one of its problems is it does tend to invade native bush environments. If you're just in the planning stages of your lawn, consult a professional and explain your desire for a "green" grass species.
While we provide water to our lawn via our blackwater recycling system, I was curious as to what we'd consume if we used direct mains water. I ran a test and the figure was astounding; with the tap fully on, it worked out to conservatively around 8 gallons (36 litres) per minute. So if we used the mains sprinkler system installed here, we could chew through 480 gallons (1800+ litres) in a single hour.
To calculate your external tap flow; take a bucket that has a measure and stick it under your tap with it turned fully on for 10 seconds. Take note of how much is collected and then multiply that by 6 to give you a flow rate.
To cut down on the amount of water you use on your lawn:
- Use a low pressure sprinkler and when in use, check the lawn regularly to ensure it's not becoming sodden; i.e, getting more than it really needs.
- Water before the sun is fully up or just as it sets; this cuts down on evaporation.
- Don't water on days where there is a heavy dew in the mornings as the dew will be enough.
- Resist watering until such time that the grass is displaying initial signs of stress.
- Keep your lawn free of weeds as weeds can consume even more water than the equivalent area in grass.
- Use enough water so it sinks into the grass bed. This encourages deeper root growth, where more moisture is usually available. Using an aerator on your lawn can help with this. An aerator basically pulls small plugs of soil out of the lawn, which not only allows air in (which is beneficial in itself), but also allows water to penetrate more deeply.
- Over summer, set your lawnmower to cut at least an inch higher than usual. Longer grass retains moisture better as it shields the soil from the sun's rays. I made the mistake of cutting too low this year and the result is certainly noticeable as summer wears on.
- Use a mulching mower if possible rather than removing cuttings; this will also help with water retention and fertilizing.
- Apply a natural wetting agent to draw water in to the soil to feed the grass roots.
- Consider implementing a greywater or blackwater recycling system and route some of that water onto your lawn.
Fertilizer and weed killer
- Only use organic fertilizers such as manure or seaweed. Some synthetic fertilizers are made from natural gas and other fossil fuels!
- If you must use a fertilizer, apply per manufacturers directions; putting more on won't help, in fact it can damage your grass. Excess fertilizer also runs the risk of winding up in waterways and consequently feeding algae blooms that can poison aquatic environments.
- Consider starting a worm farm (castings) or a implementing a blackwater recycling system. Recycled waste water is high in useful nutrients.
- Use weed killer sparingly an apply per instructions. Weeds can build up a resistance to chemicals if applied in an incorrect manner, using more won't kill the weeds faster and excessive weed killer can run off and damage your grass.
- Try to use chemicals that break down quickly, such as glyphosate
- Hand pull weeds wherever possible and get to them before they have a chance to seed.
Something else you may wish to consider is using an electric mower, although this isn't practical in some settings. If you offset your electricity with green tags, or your electricity supply is from renewable resources, it's a much greener way of cutting your grass - less noise, no fossil fuel consumption and no emissions!
Caring for a lawn is a big environmental responsibility, but with a little care and implementing some of the tips above, you can certainly minimize the amount of resources required to maintain it.
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