By Guest Blogger Ruben Keogh:
For a considerable chunk of the home-owning population, maintaining a lawn can actually become a source of guilt and/or stress intense enough that it hardly seems worth it. Plus, increasingly publicized concerns regarding water shortages, greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental toll taken by herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals have amplified that sense of guilt and/or stress and inspired a backlash against the lawn altogether in many places.
And to some degree and in some places, there’s certainly something to be said for the maintenance of great swaths of non-native grasses if the water could be better used in another way. However, there’s also a good deal to be said in favor of lawns- environmentally as well as cosmetically. For instance, they combat soil erosion, collect storm runoff, filter both air and water pollution, serve a generally cooling function (heat itself contributes to climate change and lawns are often 30 degrees or more cooler than the blacktop around them), act as firebreaks, aid in the recycling of organic material, contribute those positive features of all plant life- taking in carbon dioxide and generation oxygen, and a good deal more.
So with that defense of lawns in place, what are the most environmentally-friendly ways to care for your yard? Consider a few of the following:
Beyond the consumption of water, mowing is probably the most commonly cited-as-harmful feature of lawn-care. By any standard, lawn mowers, particularly riding mowers, do indeed contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emission. According to a number of reports released by the EPA, running one mower for an hour is comparable to running eleven cars for the same amount of time. Furthermore, mower emissions account for as much as 5% of all US air pollution.
The key to reducing that great expenditure of greenhouse gas is fairly simple and straightforward: when mowing your lawn, do so with the smallest gasoline-powered mower and mower engine available and if possible, avoid using a gas mower altogether. If you do feel like a gas-run model is your only option, including the dreaded riding mower, be sure to keep its filters up to date, tuned, maintained and in the best running condition. One of the keys to keeping your lawnmower healthy, one that’s often overlooked, is properly winterizing it. Using an electric or battery-powered mower is a significantly lower-impact option.
Electric mowers are also significantly quieter than their gas counterparts. Battery mowers are great although roomier lawns may require an additional battery. However, despite the cut extension cord horror stories that inevitably accompany any discussion of plug-in electric mowers, I used one for years and managed to dice nary a cord- it’s really not too tough.
For the unfamiliar- if you’ve ever encountered a lawn covered in little dirt plugs with a grassy hat- that lawn has recently been aerated. That lawn has, in fact, been “core aerated”, but there are several other aeration methods. The method most people are generally least familiar with is liquid aeration- a chemical wash that loosens soil and breaks down sodium deposits in a yard. Liquid aeration can work well for lawns without thatch and fairly thin topsoil pack-down, although more traditional aeration is both used with more frequency and generally considered more reliable.
Aeration is also my favorite DIY lawn-care undertaking. Not because the punching of holes in the lawn breaks up the compacted topsoil, allowing improved access and distribution of water, nutrients and air to the roots of the grass. While yes, that is a beneficial and green facet of aeration, it’s my favorite lawn care endeavor because there are these spike-bottomed, aeration crampons that can be attached to shoes. With those things on, grownups have a perfectly acceptable excuse to stomp around the lawn in spike shoes.
After mowers and greenhouse gas emissions, water use is the most contentious issue associated with lawn care. However, considering the environmentally-benevolent role lawns can play, that water use isn’t necessarily just a loss for cosmetic vanity. Still, it’s best to use as little water as possible. It’s all better to use as little drinking water as possible. Research your water rights and whether or not you have access to non-potable irrigation water.
As for watering itself- be vigilant and efficient. Consider your horticultural plot and how to be most efficient when watering it. For instance, in flower or herb gardens, would a drip- or soaker-hose be more efficient that a spray or oscillating sprinkler? Regardless of sprinkler type, be vigilant about their use. Letting them run overlong both wastes water and can damage your garden or lawn.
If you have an automatic sprinkler system, the first step is confirming that it’s in good working order. Nothing wastes water or undermines large swaths of your property like an underground leak. Maintain it too, of course. A big part of that maintenance is sprinkler winterization. Nothing bursts pipes like leaving water sitting in them throughout the winter.
Once you’ve sorted that out, be sure that your sprinklers are programmed to do their thing after the sun goes down or before it comes up. Sprinkling when the sun’s shining is counterproductive and will, like an underground leak, undermine your irrigation efforts by evaporating away some of your water. The same goes for manual, hose-end sprinklers. Likewise, position the heads to eliminate spray-overlap as much as is possible. Otherwise, become familiar with your lawn and the steps necessary to keep it healthy and it will pay you back indefinitely.
Ruben Keogh is a retired plumber and sprinklerfitter, landscaper and lawn-saver who found his true calling after progressing from apprentice to journeyman blogger. When he acquires enough experience, wit and insight to become a master blogger, he'll let you know. Meanwhile, Ruben spends his time daydreaming about the fishing in Costa Rica, surf and turf grilling and his lovely wife Gina (not necessarily in that order, of course).