Highly manicured lawns are a relatively new phenomenon in landscaping. Until lawn mowers were invented, people let the goats and rabbits control the lawn. Meadows were more common in less travelled spaces. Herbicides and pesticides were not in common use until the 1950’s.
Lawns require constant maintenance, water, fertilizer/compost and chemicals to make them look good. Of course the most eco friendly thing to do about lawns is to get rid of them. In the short run, that’s probably not practical and we need some flat space to walk, romp and put snow. What are the options?
Low and No Mow Lawns (The Bridge)
Recently, I became aware blends of low growing fine fescue turf grasses that grow in sun to shade, requires less mowing (3-4 times a year for a manicured look), fertilizer and watering and is lovely to walk on. It is sold in seed form, so it would be great for new projects or projects where existing landscaping is being removed.
To establish this type of lawn on an existing site, you will need to have the existing lawn removed. Solariziing the soil to destroy remaining weed and grass seeds is recommended. Seed with one of the low growing fine fescue turf grass blends water regularly and restrict traffic on the lawn until the seed is established. Modify your lawn maintenance routine to eliminate applications of fertilizer and pesticides and reduce mowing to 4 times per season.
I’ve found two sources for this product. Eco-Lawn can be purchased from Wildflower Farm www.wildflowerfarm.com and No-Mow Lawn Mix can be purchased from Prairie Nursery, Inc. www.prairienursery.com. Lurvey Landscape & Stone Supply also carries products to achieve low maintenance lawns and ground covers.
Other Alternatives to Reduce Lawn Maintenance
Reduce the Size of Lawns
To reduce the size of our lawns, we can establish or enlarge planting beds and planters filled with trees, shrubs and perennials that use less water once established and require maintenance only a few times a year to keep them looking their best. If you prefer a more natural look, only a spring and fall clean-up/pruning may be needed (except for trash removal). Another option is to enlarge hard-scape by creating plazas and permanent seating.
These options have long term savings in terms of maintenance, but are more expensive to implement. Some require changing our expectations about the appearance of outdoor spaces.
Introduce Biodiversity to Lawns
We can change our expectations about what constitutes a lawn to include clover, edible weeds, and groundcovers. This can reduce the need for fertilizer, pesticides and mowing, while maintaining a space that can provide useable lawn space.
Steppables (www.steppables.com) is a brand of groundcovers rated to tolerate various levels of foot traffic and light conditions. They are a useful in relatively small locations with limited foot traffic.
Moss is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to grass and other conventional groundcovers for shady areas with adequate moisture, shade, humidity and acid soil. Not only is moss visually soothing, but it also requires little or no maintenance once established. The benefits are no mowing or de-thatching, no fertilizers or pesticides and no watering are required once established. Moss can tolerate extremes in temperature and moisture levels. Even during periods with severe cold, moss, unlike grass, remains a dark green color. Excessive heat or lack of rainfall, also have no permanent effect. During these difficult growing periods, moss plants simply go dormant and lose some of their lush green appearance until a summer shower quickly restores it.
Areas Less Travelled
Native plants, meadows and buffalo grass can reduce mowing and other maintenance. These options really only work in less travelled areas or where a fairly wide path is mowed to avoid problems with ticks. Annual controlled burns are the preferred method of maintaining meadows. Annual mowing and periodic weeding of non-native plants is recommended as an alternative maintenance procedure.