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  • Apr
  • 10

Habitat for Nonhumans

Posted by at 4:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

This is the second installment of Rick’s posts on creating lawns that are animal and environmentally friendly. You can read the first post here.

Are there any practical alternatives to modern America’s environmentally destructive addiction to perfectly maintained, lush green lawns? You betcha!

Let’s explore two basic options: a more natural approach and the less-lawn strategy. Some combination of both probably makes the most sense for most folks.

To paraphrase Gilbert O’Sullivan, it’s time to have a lawn again—naturally! Eliminate or greatly reduce pesticides, fertilizing, and supplemental watering. Yes, there will be some weeds (heaven forbid!) and insects (thank goodness). Your lawn will not be as green (artificially so), and it will turn brown during prolonged dry spells (fear not, it’s only dormant, not dead). And you’ll save money!

One easy way to reduce gas-powered mower pollution is to cut the grass less often while still keeping it reasonably tidy and within compliance of any municipal regulations. Without adding all the steroid-like fertilizers and supplemental watering, the grass won’t grow as quickly.

For a natural lawn fertilizer, don’t bag those grass clippings; simply let the mower spread the clippings over the lawn as you mow. If your mower has a mulching setting, all the better. It’s amazing how quickly the clippings decompose and disappear into the lawn, returning valuable nutrients to the soil. Also, hauling all those clippings to landfills wastes both limited landfill space and the polluting fuel to transport them.

Another natural lawn possibility is to select one or more varieties of grasses native to your area. These will be more naturally durable and support more native insects and animals.

The other easy way to deal less with your lawn is to have less lawn—or even no lawn. The majority of Americans seldom actually use most of their lawns. If you have a larger lawn and a municipal regulations permit, consider converting larger and more remote areas into meadows. This would create an ideal habitat for both native plants (like wildflowers) and animals (like butterflies).

Another option is to replace portions of the lawn with landscaped planting areas composed of ground coverings, perennials, bulbs, shrubs, and trees. Instead of the typical isolated island of a lone tree surrounded by a vast sea of lawn, your lawn can become more of a meandering pathway among the interesting beds of plantings. While this may sound daunting, it can be tackled over a number of years by taking it as more manageable annual projects. For example, you could start with a planting area along one border of your property. Within a few years, your lawn could be reduced to the point where an old-fashioned, quiet, nonpolluting, reel push mower is all that you need—it’s all I use now!

A border of evergreen prague viburnum (V. pragense) and very little lawn

To make the most of your planting areas, use lots of native plants. They will be more adaptable and provide an ideal habitat for the local fauna. A great resource for researching native plants in your area is the 2009 edition of Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy. If you order it through the Barnes & Noble link at the PETA Mall, you will get you a great resource and a percentage of the purchase price will support PETA’s lifesaving work for animals!

A tea viburnum (V. setigerum)—its berries are a bird favorite.

There are many wonderful varieties of viburnum shrubs, including some that are evergreen, which produce seeds that birds love. Instead of having a boring lawn, you’ll have a vibrant and sustainable landscape that’s more interesting—and safer for both animals and humans—in every season. You’ll make Mother Nature proud!

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  • cynthia cook says:

    I have the honor of planting a garden at one of our metroparks here in Michigan. I opted to plant all native flowers in it. One question to anyone who knows….Can anyone suggest what I can put in the garden to keep out the deer from eating the ‘new residents’ I put in. I have opted plants with tough leaves,but othwer than that I do not know. Thank you in advance.

  • Joan says:

    We’ve been enjoying our pesticide free lawn for years. Our 3 adopted house bunnies appreciate their little bit of nature during the nice weather and their “bunny berries” are the fertilizer! They also keep the odd dandelion under control. Also, our planted flowers, bushes and tree are non-poisonous. We love spending time outside with them – it’s fun, pleasant and peaceful.

  • sandra says:

    I know my neighbors hate me, but, I mow my lawn as rarely as possible. I use a mulching mower and don’t even rake leaves. I appreciate the beauty of dandelions with the little wild violets. I don’t weed and I have a large section for a garden of Milkweed plants. I also have a large section of lily of the valley that never needs mowing. I don’t mow around trees and let the weeds like thistle grow around them and put leaves and small branches under a big evergreen for birds and bunnies to hide in.

  • Rick Thompson says:

    Ann asks a very good question: “How do you keep ahead of weeds and intrusive plants that try to overtake the thoughtfully placed plantings?” Since nature abhors a vacuum, the combination of planting plenty of plants and mulching is probably the best method to keep weeds and invasive plants to a minimum. Establishing groundcover plants will be the best long-term preventative measure, in effect, crowding out the undesirables. Will there be weeds and invasive plants? Yes, but by keeping up with them early on (and always before they go to seed), the task can be kept to a reasonable level.

  • Ann says:

    This article is motivating me to learn more! How do you keep ahead of weeds and intrusive plants that try to overtake the thoughtfully placed plantings? I would hate to weed so much bed space but I love the idea of providing more habitat if I could keep it from being overun.

  • Rob Tierney says:

    Really good points — and Douglas Tallamy’s book is superb. When had the good fortune to ear one of his community seminars a few years ago. it totally changed my approach to lawn care. Now we have plants that attract wonderful birds, beneficial insects, and that provide food for us too. And no more mowing.

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