Many homeowners are starting to catch no-mow fever. They understand that while lawns help with fire, rodent, and weed control, they also require toxic fertilizers and herbicides to maintain them. Not to mention the labor and fuel invested in keeping them short and pretty. One source claims that 3 trillion gallons of water a year is used to keep lawns green. We also use two hundred million gallons of gas and 70 million pounds of pesticides – just to have a lawn! A desire to be more in tune with nature, cut costs, and relax has prompted many to look at no-mow alternatives.
Planting things like dandelions, white clover, plantain, creeping thyme, bugleweed, and chamomile give the insects and animals food to eat. They provide a habitat where wildlife can thrive. Monoculture lawns don’t do that. Additionally, dandelions and plantain can not only live in poor soil, over time they can make the soil healthier so that other plants can grow there. All this without fertilizers! Best of all, you don’t need to mow these low growing plants.
The fashion for low growing lawns came from Europe. The area around castles were kept low for safety reasons. Sentries could easily see if invaders were approaching if the grass was short. Later, during the Renaissance, the very wealthy cultivated lawns as a status symbol. It cost a lot of man hours to hand scythe grass, so only the richest people could afford a lawn. With the coming of industrialization and mass movement to the cities, cities began beautification projects that included parks. This was the first time there were public spaces where people could enjoy what was previously a pleasure for the rich.
Finally, lawns came to the every day man with the creation of Levittown, an affordable housing development built after World War II that included a ready made lawn. In the 1950’s, society demanded conformity and neatness. The manicured lawn fit the bill, and it’s been an American staple ever since – until now. We’re starting to see just how detrimental this practice has been for the environment. Nature doesn’t create monocultures. Plants are designed to spread out over an area and share the landscape with others so that animals who eat them don’t over graze. If there is not enough water in one space and a plant dies, the ones that are in another area will still thrive. It helps to keep the web of life going.
So, if the coming of spring has you thinking about what to do with your lawn, consider a change. Perhaps it’s time to plant white clover to feed the bees. Maybe you want dandelion seeds (yes, you can buy them!) to brighten up your lawn with color. Bugleweed is another low growing, fast creeper that can add some color to your yard and stand up to foot traffic. If your city ordinance permits it, you can also mow strips (as they do in Europe) so that you create habitats for some animals while reducing fire and rodent risk around your home. There are lots of ways to create a no-mow landscape. Don’t be afraid of a weed or two. Just get creative. We are all used to grass, but it doesn’t have to be this way. And “when you know better, you do better.” ~Maya Angelou