The biggest problem with lawns is that they’re really not all that eco friendly at their best. They take a lot of water and don’t give much back aside from giving the kids a place to play and making the yard look acceptable to neighbors. Some places that’s really important. But in many climates they take too much water, most popular lawn mowers aren’t too good for the environment, and too many toxic chemicals are used on most lawns.
These are some options to make your lawn care a bit more eco friendly. Even though they aren’t ideal environmentally speaking, sometimes a lawn is the choice you’re going to make.
1. Use a push reel mower.
A lot of people don’t like push reel mowers, remembering the hard to push around models from years ago. I have one now, however, and it’s really not that bad. Only slightly more challenging to use than a powered mower.
The advantage to a push reel mower is that you don’t have to plug it in or buy gas for it. It’s all human power.
2. Keep the fertilizer eco friendly.
All those chemical fertilizers people use on lawns add problems even though they green up the lawn nicely. They’re the major cause of lawn thatch. Worse, the runoff from lawns that have been fertilized is very bad for the environment.
Leaving your lawn clippings on your lawn is very good for it. They won’t provide all the nitrogen your lawn needs, but they will provide some. If you don’t want to leave them on the lawn, make sure you at least compost them.
If you can stand it, let clover grow in your lawn. Clover brings in nitrogen too. Its blooms attract bees, which is good for the bees, but may mean that kids may prefer shoes when playing on the lawn to avoid stings. Some places the homeowners’ association will give you trouble over clover, so you may have to be careful. You may also want to watch out if you have burr clover, as those burrs can be very annoying when they get in pets’ fur or into the carpet in your home.
Watch out for how much phosphorus your lawn needs too. Manure fertilizers have more than enough, and you should not add more phosphorus to your lawns if you’ve used manure on it.
3. Sweep after you mow.
Sure, it’s easier to use a leaf blower to clean up the clippings along the sidewalk or driveway after you’ve mowed the lawn, but it’s a huge waste to do so, not to mention hard on your ears. It’s better to sweep up the clippings with a broom and toss them into the compost pile.
If you don’t want to do it and you have kids who are old enough, set them to sweeping up after you mow. It’s a good chore and doesn’t require perfection.
4. Water at the right time of day.
The time of day you water makes a big difference in how much water your lawn needs. You don’t want to water at night, but you should water early enough in the day that the heat doesn’t cause too much of the water to evaporate.
Also avoid watering at times that tend to be windy, as this will blow too much of the water away. You want the air to be calm and cool when you water. Early morning is good in most places, but it’s always good to check with a local garden center for further advice.
5. Don’t use poisons to control weeds.
Weeds are an annoyance in a lawn, at least if you perceive them that way. You can see them as a benefit, such as the nitrogen clover adds to a lawn, or the biodiversity added by having weeds in your lawn, or they can be seen as a nuisance, especially if you are dealing with a homeowners’ association that tends to be difficult about such things. Weeds can also be a nuisance if they make your lawn less pleasant to play on.
The key to weed control is getting them while they’re small, especially before they’ve gone to seed. The most eco friendly way to get rid of them is probably to do it by hand. It’s tedious, but you can really get in there and get a lot of the roots, so it probably won’t grow back.
Corn gluten can work as a preemergent weed killer. It also gives a little nitrogen, so it will benefit your lawn in other ways.
You can also use boiling water to kill weeds. The great part is that it kills them pretty quickly – within a day or so of pouring the water the weeds will be quite brown, but it’s safe within minutes for children or pets to play in the area. It also won’t kill any seeds you spread there once the water cools.
You may have to repeat a boiling water treatment a few times to fully kill a weed if its roots are deep enough. Each time the weed will be weaker, and eventually it will stop coming back, so long as you are persistent.
I will warn you that killing weeds with boiling water is quite tedious if you have a number of them to do. It’s very effective, however, and can be worth the effort.
6. Let your grass grow at least 3-4 inches tall.
Tall grass is healthier grass. It’s better at keeping the weeds away and it needs less water. Don’t trim it as short as possible – trim it to no less than 3-4 inches tall if at all possible. Your lawnmower will probably have a setting that allows you to leave your grass about this tall.
7. Rethink how much lawn you really need.
There are reasons you need a lawn, such as having an easy place for the kids to play or because the homeowners’ association says you must have one, but do you have more lawn than you need? You may be able to turn part of your lawn area into something more eco friendly, such as a vegetable garden in the back yard, or a larger flower bed or more trees in the front.
8. Accept the brown.
It’s perfectly normal for your lawn to be less green in the summer. That’s its natural cycle. You don’t really have to water it so much that it keeps that perfect green all year round unless you’re required to do so. The weather is hot, and it’s much harder for your lawn to stay green.