Winter is prime time for making sure your lawn is well maintained — and will be beautiful once spring and summer come. It’s also a great time for using green and sustainable practices to negate the negative side effects of traditional lawn care maintenance.
The classic American lawn — lush, trimmed and green — increasingly draws fire for not being all that environmentally friendly. The growth and maintenance of a lawn requires the heavy use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
Approximately 70 million pounds of pesticides go on lawns annually. They damage the ecosystem and the soil. The runoff is the largest pollution source for rivers and oceans. Birds, squirrels, and other wildlife can be poisoned by pesticides and herbicides that have been used on lawns and plants — their food, after all.
Green lawns take an amazing amount of water. Of total water usage nationwide, up to 70% is used solely to water lawns and gardens. Water in some parts of the country — think Southern California — is now more precious than gold.
Even if you or your landlord’s lawn is literally the size of a postage stamp, the total amount of land devoted to lawns in the U.S. is astonishingly large. It’s so big that NASA can map it — 40 million acres. That much land is also dedicated to the wheat grown in this country.
While lawn maintenance can tax the planet, there are many benefits to having a green lawn. Lawns and plants breathe in carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. In an age of global warming, they cool the environment. An average size lawn cools space more than an average home’s air conditioning unit.
So if you want a green lawn after a long winter, what’s a millennial to do? Do it in a green-friendly way! Here are five tips to follow this winter:
A rain barrel is a budget-friendly item you can purchase at gardening stores or big-box home care stores. You catch rain or snow and store it. Use the reservoir only when your lawn needs to be watered. Voila! Conservation of one of the world’s most precious resources.
Mowing your lawn, whether done by you or your landlord, is a good idea. An untended lawn can promote disease and make all too good a nesting place for pests. When winter comes, though, it’s not wise to mow it too close or to mow it a lot. Why? Frequent and close mowing can expose grass too much, leaving it fragile and unhealthy come spring.
If that happens, you’ll be tempted to use fertilizer — which you want to avoid. Best advice? Lower the mower’s height by half an inch to an inch. You or your landlord can do this pretty easily. Mowing once a month or less if hasn’t grown a lot is just fine for frequency.
Mulching is a three-fer: it conserves soil nutrients and moisture and so reduces dependence on fertilizer and water. It also decreases any need for pesticides because the increased nutrients make plants hardier. Plus, it’s very simple to do.
Mulching refers to putting a layer of material around plants or on the lawn. As the material breaks down, its nutrients feed your lawn. Mulch occurs naturally as grass clippings, leaves, pine needles and bark. Placement is all you need to do. Not sure where to find mulch? Contact your local home improvement store or local university’s agricultural extension to find out where to purchase.
Testing your soil will give you a read on much fertilizer — or how little — you need. It provides a read of your soil’s nutrients and its pH — it’s acidity or alkalinity. Without knowing these, you are in the dark about how much fertilizer you need. Armed with this info, you can check which grasses and plants will thrive in your soil with minimal fertilizer and water.
Take a soil sample from about 4 inches deep. You can use a kit from a garden store or send the sample to your state’s agricultural extension. Many states offer a free service. Do your soil testing before spring planting begins. Winter is an ideal time.
Use the winter months, when you can’t plant, to consider reducing the size of your lawn and planting a more green-friendly space. Can you create a yard with ornamentals, wildflowers, cacti or herbs native to your region? If so, try a new planting plan in the spring.
Green lawns came into fashion in the U.S. largely because they were native to England and therefore sustainable there. Sustainable lawns for your region might be very different. Check into which plants are native for starters, and have fun reading about what you could do!
With these tips in mind, take care of your lawn this winter for a green lawn come spring.