To many homeowners, a house without a lawn is like a summer without sunshine: It just doesn’t make sense.
However, to those living off the grid — or else trying to live as sustainably as possible — there are perceived downsides to lawn maintenance.
For one, grass doesn’t produce any useful crop, like vegetables; for another, it requires not only ample resources like water but also a considerable amount of time and attention to grow beautifully and healthily.
Still, a lawn isn’t without its merits. While you might be tempted to rip out your current lawn and replace it with a bunch of garden boxes or artificial turf, you might want to hold off until you read the real benefits of grass around your home.
Why Grass Is Important
While a healthy, thick, deep-green lawn is certainly eye-catching, its attractiveness isn’t its only benefit.
In fact, grass can be an important element of a sustainable ecosystem, especially in heavily developed areas like the suburbs.
Wherever you live, here’s what a patch of lawn can do for your ecosystem:
Clean the air. Grass is a plant. Like most other plants, grass photosynthesizes (i.e. creates energy for itself) by consuming sunlight and carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen. So, having a lawn helps clean the air, which is especially important in developed areas, where vehicle emissions produce excess CO2.
Soak up excess water. While you might bemoan your water bill every month, grass’ ability to soak up water is actually incredibly critical in urban environments.
The 2017 flooding in Houston is an example of what can happen when there isn’t enough space for water to seep into the soil. Having an absorbent space around your home could save you from flooding in the future.
Filter water. In addition to soaking up water, lawns also help filter out toxic chemicals that would otherwise seep into the groundwater and poison the environment. Even humans rely on groundwater, so the filtration that grass provides is key.
Lower the temperature. Thanks in large part to all the water required to keep your lawn alive, grass tends to maintain a more moderate, mild temperature in the air around it. For homeowners in hot climates, that means grass can be a godsend for lowering A/C bills in the summertime.
Reduce noise pollution. Soft landscape features absorb sounds better than hardscaping, which causes sound to bounce around and even amplify around your home. So, if you live in a noisy neighborhood, you can insulate your home against the din with a lawn.
How to Maintain a Sustainable Lawn
It is easy to be wasteful with lawn care; overwatering is a much more rampant problem than most homeowners realize, as is over- and under-mowing and neglecting to aerate, fertilize and overseed.
To maintain a sustainable lawn, you need to plan your lawn care — and perhaps hire a professional.
However, you can start with these tips:
• Choose the right grass variety. Not all grasses grow well everywhere. For instance, if you are trying to make a New Jersey lawn out of Zoysia grass or St. Augustine, you’re destined to fail. You can talk to grass experts in your area or do online research to find the variety that is ideal for your climate.
Learn the basics of mowing, watering, aerating, fertilizing and seeding.
• The height of your grass will depend on its variety; cold-season grasses should be about 3 inches tall, while warm-season grasses are best kept at about a half-inch.
• Your lawn needs at least one inch of water per week, which should include both artificial watering (such as using a hose, sprinklers, etc.) and precipitation.
• Aeration is punching holes in the lawn to loosen the soil, and it is best performed in the first few weeks of spring.
• Fertilizer should be applied at least once per year in the last few weeks of winter, but if your lawn is struggling in the spring, it might be wise to fertilize then, too.
Some homeowners also find it beneficial to fertilize in the summer. Different times of year call for different mixtures, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the components of fertilizer.
• Overseeding helps fill in bare patches in your lawn, and it is a chore typically performed in spring.
• Find non-toxic weed and pest control. This isn’t necessary; chemical herbicides and pesticides work extremely well.
However, if you want to ensure you aren’t putting more toxins into your environment than necessary — or if you have small children or outdoor pets — it’s a good idea to opt for organic weed and pest control.
You can find ready-made organic products at most big-box home and garden stores, but you can also make your own from household products.
Grass isn’t for every homeowner, but it certainly isn’t the resource-hogging devil plant as some homeowners may see it.
With proper care, you can reap the benefits of a lawn and reduce your impact on the environment.
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