Eco-Friendly Lawn & Garden Care
They may look green, but a lot of lawns are anything but. American homeowners use a lot of toxic chemicals on their lawns - up to 10 pounds of pesticides per acre. When it rains, pesticides are flushed into local streams, rivers, and lakes, harming fish and plants along the way. Here are some tips to make sure your grass looks great - and is safe for pets, children, and other living things.
Choosing the Right Mower
Using a gas-powered mower for just one hour produces the same amount of air pollution that a car emits from driving 100 miles! Luckily, there are many low-energy, high-quality alternatives to convential gas mowers:
- Rotary mowers. Those "old fashioned" hand-powered mowers your grandparents used are making a comeback! Homeowners with smaller lawns find rotary mowers particularly appealing for their maneuverability, low maintenance costs, and minimal environmental impact.
- Electric mowers. Electric mowers emit far fewer pollutants than gasoline-powered machines, are much quieter, and are often easier to push than their gas-guzzling counterparts.
- Battery-powered mowers. Some mowers and other garden equipment operate with battery packs that can be electrically recharged. Though these mowers offer many of the same benefits as electric mowers, they do contain batteries that generally last only about five years. Because the batteries contain heavy metals, they must be disposed of in a hazardous waste facility.
Mowing and Fertilizing
Many local utilities offer discounts on new, electric powered lawn care equipment to businesses and homeowners who trade in their gasoline-powered appliances. Contact your power company to find out if they offer such a program.
- Mow only as often as you need to keep your lawn in good shape. For most lawns, that means cutting your grass no lower than 2.5 inches; keeping many grasses as long as 3.5 inches is ideal for crowding out crab grass and other weeds. Longer grass retains water better.
- Use natural fertilizers or compost. They release nutrients slowly throughout the year, won’t leach away, and support the variety of soil organisms that combat diseases.
- If you're in the market for a lawn care company, seek out one that uses "natural" management practices as opposed to heavy chemical treatments. For more information about the hazards of lawn pesticides, see this Lawn Pesticide Fact Sheet from EarthShare Member nonprofit Beyond Pesticides.
- Leave grass clippings on the lawn after you mow to provide your lawn with a natural (and free) source of nutrients, or compost the clippings for use in your garden.
- Create healthy soil. Earthworms and other soil organisms keep the soil healthy. By moving through the soil, they allow water and air to penetrate, and they recycle thatch back into nutrients that the grass can use.
Using Less Water
The City of Boulder calculated that more than 50% of the city's drinking water is used for landscaping. The best way to conserve water is to reduce the amount of landscaping required to maintain your yard.
- Xeriscape. Given how labor and water intensive maintaining a lawn can be, why not opt for a yard that's grass free? Some alternative ground covers that require little mowing or watering include Yarrow, Alyssum, Thyme, and Sweet Woodruff. Before planting, check with a local nursery to make sure the option you choose can tolerate your local climate conditions.
- Water deeply but infrequently. Grasses do best when the whole root zone is wetted, and then dries out between waterings. Avoid frequent shallow watering that causes poor root development. Overwatering also promotes lawn disease. Water in the early morning, when temperatures are cooler, to minimize evaporation.
- Check your sprinkler system regularly and adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street.
- Collect and use rainwater for watering your garden with a rain barrel or direct downspouts or gutters toward shrubs or trees.
- Install a drip irrigation system around your trees and shrubs to water more efficiently.