Home & Garden

Visualize your lawn options and plan for changes

Green grass along the Grand Strand in mid-December! Typically our grass is fully browned up by the beginning of the month.

December’s green grass makes for an interesting take on our yards. Warm weather’s lush foliage has waned, making the bones of our gardens apparent. Add to that the continuing delineation between turf and garden. The contrast between green turf and brown garden beds makes the shape of gardens and turf areas clear. This scene makes a good setting in which to look at ways to downsize a lawn.

After almost 70 years of reverence for well-manicured lawns, a beautiful lawn in many parts of the country still is a common value in American neighborhoods. However, a growing number of government entities, environmentalists, educators, green industry professionals and gardeners with good reason advocate lawn reduction.

Turf consumes a lot of water. Unlike the western part of the country, water is not in short supply in the east. That doesn’t mean we are off the hook with regard to water guzzling lawns.

We overload lawns with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers as we strive for perfectly clipped expanses of weed-free turf. With rain and irrigation the surfeit of chemicals runs off into our waterways where it harms marine life and upsets the natural ecological balance.

Our waterways are an important part of the natural beauty and recreation we enjoy. The excess of lawn chemicals that enter our streams and rivers is damaging to the natural ecosystem.

Consider that lawns have less than 10 percent of the water absorbing capacity as natural woodlands. That makes expanses of lawn a noteworthy contributor to suburban flooding.

Lawns are monocultures that provide nothing for wild life. Wildlife is a concern because ever spreading development has squeezed out biodiversity. Land that once provided a habitat for wildlife no longer supports native plants and animals.

The noise and air pollution that are part of lawn maintenance have a negative impact on our environment, too. A good portion of yard maintenance is dependent on the combustion engine. A gas powered mower emits about 10 times the amount of hydrocarbons as the average automobile. Gas powered edgers and blowers add more. Noise pollution from a typical lawn mower which runs at an 85 – 90 decibel level can be heard for a quarter mile.

In spite of the negatives, there are good reasons to include lawn area in our yards. Patches of lawn give the eye a chance to rest as it spans the landscape. Turf makes the scene more relaxing and attractive. Turf area provides a sports field or play area for children, pets and adults. In addition, grass traps dust and allergens.

There are a number of ways to decrease the size of an established lawn without getting rid of every patch of turf.

The first and easiest step is to round the corners. The elimination of hard corners cuts off small pieces of lawn. That not only pleases the eye but makes a lawn easier to mow.

Enlarge existing plant beds to include native and adapted plants. They attract birds, butterflies, bees and small animals. Plant a garden or hedge material to increase privacy and attract wildlife. Transforming part of your lawn to a habitat for wildlife is an ameliorative pursuit for our environment.

Make tree islands. When grass and tree roots battle each other for the same water and nutrients the grass typically loses. Moreover, grass does not grow well in shade. Mulch or plant ground cover under existing trees.

If you are ambitious add a pond or water feature, patio or permeable pathway to replace unused lawn area.

When it’s time to replace your mower consider an electric or battery powered model.

The lawn reduction movement urges homeowners to limit lawn area to the space necessary for activities, and use the rest of the yard for flowers, vegetables, trees shrubs and native plants, thereby restoring a native wildlife habitat.

Downsizing your lawn does not need to be a major project. This is a good time of year to visualize the options and plan a few changes.

Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.