Lawns: Friend or Foe?

In an effort to find people who fit our culture here at MOM’s, we just got done writing a very cool employment ad.  Among various traits, we’re looking for people who “don’t understand why people care so much about their lawns.” 🙂

I was reading a report that came out a couple weeks ago in the Post that says that the chemicals put on people’s lawns are the biggest polluter of the Chesapeake Bay.

I have a lawn, if you want to call it that…

I think my lawn is 2 parts grass and 1 part weeds.  My lawn isn’t looking very green right now, but it’ll get there in a couple of weeks.  In the summer, even though I never water my lawn, it’s usually the greenest in the neighborhood.  I suppose that’s because the weeds in it are drought/heat resistant.

When I was a kid, my dad used to use all sorts of chemicals on his lawn.  He died when I was 17.  It became my job to care for the lawn.  I never put any chemicals on it.  I just mowed it on the “mulch” setting- leaves and all.  My mom’s neighbor came to me a couple of years after I took over and said to me- “Scotty- no disrespect to Al (my dad), but you must be doing something right, because the grass is looking better than it ever has!”

I love mowing my lawn with my electric mower.  To me, mowing is Zenful- it brings me to a meditative state and, along with the good cardio I get while mowing, I get the satisfaction of seeing my accomplishments right before my eyes.  I get some of my best ideas while mowing the lawn.  By mowing, I also like to set an example for my kids- trying to instill a work ethic.

I’m starting to let some trees grow up in my lawn.  I’ve planted some oaks- and some tulip poplar seeds have taken root and actually reached about 20′ high in 5-6 short years.

Out of consideration for my neighbors who don’t want dandelions in their yards (and I’d rather not give them a reason to spray), I’ve been manually removing the sprouting dandelions these past few days.  I respect dandelions for their tenacity!  If it was up to me, I’d let them grow and dot my lawn with their bright yellow flowers.

I mulch the leaves and grass into my lawn and then I take hundreds of worms from my compost pile and put them in my lawn just after sunset.

One day years ago while I was mowing, my late ex-neighbor who founded the SuperLawns company stopped his car to tell me that most people cut their lawns too short- and that cutting on the highest setting helps eliminate weeds and keeps your grass more healthy.

My lawn is my friend- and in addition to the benefits above- I’ve got a bunch of kids who use the yard a lot.  I suppose I care a lot about my lawn, but I care about the Bay much more- which is why I won’t use chemicals on my lawn.

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21 Responses to Lawns: Friend or Foe?

  1. Marc says:

    Scott, I am wondering what your thoughts are on the average homeowner starting to grow food instead of lawns here in the DC-MD-VA area. What will it take for this to become a realistic undertaking for people? As far as I have seen, these types of endeavors are still relegated to the back- or side-yard garden, if that even. An acquaintance of mine just started this project with his partner in Davis, CA:
    http://www.EdibleBackyardsCA.com/
    And I come from Portland, Oregon where some folks grow food and herbs that take up their entire front yard.

    Nothing beats reducing emissions from food transportation like growing your own food, am I right?

  2. Scott says:

    Hi Marc. I like that idea. I think with the right crops planted, a family of 4 or so could pretty easily eat the bounty from 1/2 acre+.

    I think gardening would help people be more calm as it provides for seemingly much needed solitude in this go-go-go day and age. It also provides a great sense of accomplishment, if you have them- gives your kids something to do, is a good source of exercise, saves money, and gets people out in their yards where they’re more likely to converse with neighbors.

    I see the main 2 obstacles in this particular region being people’s lack of time (busy-ness) and the deer. There are no more natural predators to deer in areas where most people live and deer will take down a garden in a night without so much as a burp- and they’ll hop a 6′ fence just as easily!

    Finally, the carbon footprint of food travel is not much relative to the overall carbon footprint of producing food (see earlier blog post). A larger organic farm likely has efficiencies of scale environmentally that might be so significant, that it could more than make up for the fuel used to ship the product. I’m sure for any substantial suburban plot, some gas powered tillers, tractors, municipal water, etc. would be needed- and such equipment would operate less efficiently than large equipment on a large farm.

    In short, if I didn’t have easy access to great fruits and veggies like I do now ;), I might get a small plot going for stuff like herbs, lettuces, and the usual tomatoes, cukes, and zukes… mostly because I’d simply enjoy the process of planting, caring, harvesting, and eating such fresh product. But I’m undecided on whether it’s more socially/ecologically responsible to grow your own food.

  3. I just had to interject this: there is a very effective and relatively inexpensive way of controlling deer in a small garden. This way will also control groundhogs, possums, racoons, cats and dogs, as well. It involves using electric fencing, though, which may not be permissible in some residential areas. (There is plenty of good pre-made signage to go with electric fences available) You can find the plans and materials a Premier Fencing on the web or ask me allan@freshandlocalcsa.com if you need more details. The big expense is the ‘fence charger,’ which makes the fence both ‘hot’ and ‘safe.’ We’ve effectively used this fencing to inclose acres of beans and greens in heavy populations of deer for the past couple of seasons. They have been 100% effective. At the same time, neighboring farmers with physical fences less than 12ft tall still get deer in their meas. These great electric fences can be installed without digging a single posthole! (At the same time, I have a doe who lives in our backyard, on hostas, I think. We don’t have a deer-proof fence for our yard…yet.

  4. Marc says:

    Awesome! Thanks, Allan.

    Good points that I hadn’t considered, Scott. I will look into the idea of ‘efficiency of scale.’

  5. Catie says:

    I too, have a lawn that is about 1/3 grass and 2/3 weeds, but it is wonderfully green, and even softer than grass for the kids to play on. I live in Arlington, and have a wonderful raised bed garden that produces an abundance of organic food for my family of 5. Yes, it is in our side yard rather than our front, but that is mainly for size (large sunny side yard, small, shady front yard) but after reading some blogs and books on backyard farming and ther urban farm, I’m considering re-vamping my front flower bed to grow vegetables as well. If only Arlington would change the zoning requirements for keeping chickens. You can view photos of my garden here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.1835249316494.2107398.1098271297&l=1828dba94b

    – Catie

  6. Cindy says:

    Your post about lawns reminded me of a conversation I had with out ‘lawn service’ this week. As I had my roto-tiller out churning up another segment of our yard while planting roses, lilac starts, etc., I was proud to announce to him that I wanted plants and trees the entire way up my driveway and that I was so happy that this would give him much less to mow. I also reminded him that his mower wouldn’t run as long and once I finished that huge project, I would begin on my backyard afterwards. I was shocked to hear him say that he read somewhere that GRASS gave off more oxygen than bushes, perennials and trees. Personally, I believe he is off-his-rocker, but I will say that I haven’t any data to back up my claim.
    Any help? We have 2 acres and if I had my druthers the backyard would be filled with herbs and the front with sweet smelling flowering trees and other hardwoods.
    I need a little ammunition for my side!
    Thanks,
    Cindy

    • Scott says:

      Cindy- it’s really not a question of oxygen production, but rather carbon reduction.

      Not a big surprise, but your lawncare company is rationalizing for obvious self-interests that lawns are better than trees. Check out this website, which gives a good explanation… http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/bot00/bot00827.htm.

      EVERY source we found that claimed grass is better than trees was, of course, from the lawncare industry.

      And besides the point of all of the oxygen/carbon issue is that trees don’t require chemicals.

  7. Scott says:

    I just got this sent to me…

    Renowned Environmentalist Paul Tukey discusses Organic Lawn Care: The Safe
    Lawn: How & Why to Create a Beautiful, Natural Landscape
    Saturday,May 7, 2011.10:00 am – 12:00 pm
    The Bullis School, Howard Auditorium
    10601 Falls Road, Potomac, MD 20854
    Presentation is FREE and open to the public
    Registration is encouraged: 301.424.4141

  8. Laura says:

    I have a very shady yard with large mature trees, and I’ve got the front lawn mostly converted to moss. Much more drought/heat resistant than grass, and what grass there is grows much slower so I don’t need to mow as often. I love coming down my street when the weather is hot, and my yard is like a welcoming oasis of cool green shade. Keeps the house cooler too!
    Now if I can just find a good ground cover for the back yard that will survive 3 dogs galloping around on it.

    • Scott says:

      Laura- you might want to try wood chips for your back yard. Keep your eyes peeled for a tree-crew chipping up some wood and if it’s just one truck, they’ll likely drop it at your house free of charge. This is what I use in place of mulch.

  9. becky says:

    Scott,

    I was smiling when I read “don’t understand why people care so much about their lawns.” I’m one of these people. But I hesitate to say it out louder. Most people are obsessed with their lawn because of peer pressure (neighbors). Growing grass is very hard. Naturally, weeds are wanting to take over the lawn. Thanks, Now I know someone is with me.

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