How to Perform Lawn Care That Improves the Environment

My yard is on a cul-de-sac, so we don’t get much foot traffic. But I often spot a pair of women walking down my street and stopping to examine my yard. One day I went over to greet them. It turned out they are mother and daughter, and one of the things they do when the daughter visits is wander the neighborhood.

We talked about my pollinator-friendly plants, and they asked about one of my trees, a sassafras. I broke off a twig and let them enjoy the aroma.

Before they continued their walk, the daughter said, “We like your yard. it’s interesting.” They didn’t say gorgeous or spectacular, but still, I was flattered. Interesting is perfect for my garden.

My ‘Interesting’ Yard

I’ve been working for decades on my lawn care, a little bit at a time, to transform the cookie-cutter landscaped yard that came with our house.

At first, my goals were centered around growing organic vegetables and fruit. But as I learned more about sustainability, I realized there were ways I could help the environment, too.

Lawn Care That Makes a Difference

I started reducing the size of my lawn, composting, and making my little part of the world more wildlife-friendly. I even received a Certified Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation.

Then I learned about a program in my state of Tennessee focused on lawn care that prioritizes a balance between what people want from their yard and what the environment needs to be healthy. In Tennessee, this is called a ‘smart yard.’

There are many programs like Tennessee Smart Yards across the country. In fact, the Tennessee program is modeled after one created in Florida. Each area has different challenges, of course. For example, water management may be a more significant focus in the desert.

But following the program suggestions means keeping your yard and surrounding areas ecologically sound. With careful stewardship, you can balance your wishes for your yard with ways to keep it healthy.

Work with the nature in your yard to benefit your family and your community. And you, because nature can heal you.

Support Pollinators and Wildlife

Transform your yard into a place to enjoy wildlife. It is lovely to walk through your own yard and hear birds singing, watch them splash in the birdbath, and hear the humming of bees as they flitter over your flowers. Besides bees and birds, my favorite wildlife sightings are owls, wild turkeys, turtles, and rabbits.

Supporting pollinators and wildlife is important because of the loss of food and shelter that comes with development in our communities. We need to support the tiny ecosystem in our yard. Providing native plants, shelter, and food and water sources support beneficial insects, pollinators, and wildlife.

With a yard that operates as an ecosystem, you need fewer pesticides since the beneficial insects get rid of the invaders. Wildlife will help disperse native seeds.

Prevent Pollution

A traditional grass yard lends itself to many ways to pollute the environment. Maintaining a typical lawn means watering, fertilizing, and mowing. Instead, look at ways to reduce the size of your grassy area, and consider using some native ground covers. Finally, for those areas with grass, mow at a higher setting to let the roots grow deeper and absorb more stormwater.

Water Pollution

A danger to our waterways is runoff from yards. Bacteria from animal waste and dangerous chemicals make their way into the streams and rivers.

With a more balanced yard, you can do many things to support the environment.

Reduce stormwater runoff with plantings that keep the water in your yard. A beautiful way to do this is to plant a rain garden where you see water buildup. HGTV provides instructions and photos of rain gardens.

Plant a gorgeous plant barrier on the edge if you live on a lake or a stream.

Capture the rainwater from your roof in a rain barrel for irrigation.

Mulching means less water runoff and less weeding. Try a 3-inch layer of eco-friendly mulch on unplanted surfaces.

Soil Pollution

Your soil supports your yard and vegetable garden. So make sure it is healthy. Your local extension office will test your soil so you can fertilize it appropriately. Using non-toxic fertilizers helps protect the good critters in your soil. And you can fertilize with the waste from your household.

Air Pollution

Aah, the sounds of summer: the sputtering lawnmowers. With a smaller lawn you reduce the amount of air pollution from yard equipment. And you’ll have more time to spend enjoying the beauty you’ve created.

Reduce Your Footprint

One major source of greenhouse gases is yard waste sent to the landfill. Use your waste instead!

Mulch your grass instead of bagging the clippings. This helps your soil.

We have large maples that provide a glorious red show in the autumn and then shed their leaves all over our yard. If we rake them to the street, our city will come by and vacuum them up. Instead, we consider the leaves a fantastic source of fertilizer. We rake them into a pile, providing shelter for insects and wildlife over the winter. Then in the spring, we mulch the leaves to use on our garden beds.

I also bag up leaves and let them sit for a year. The result is glorious leaf mold that is a fantastic fertilizer.

And you can transform your household waste into rich compost for your garden.

How To Get Started With Environmentally-Friendly Lawn Care

Find out whether your state has a program. If a google search doesn’t work, call your local county extension office. Your local Master Gardeners can help in ways that are tailored to your community. They can recommend native plants, help you plan changes to your yard, and recommend ways to create a gorgeous yard that nurtures the environment.

Keep in mind that transforming your yard will be an ongoing process unless you have a lot of time and money. Start by listing your goals, and then take them one at a time. Technology can help your planning.

Consider starting with reducing the size of your lawn. By taking out sections of your lawn and adding native plantings, you accomplish many eco-friendly goals: reducing water use and runoff, reducing the air pollution that comes with mowers and trimmers, less need for fertilizers, and more visits from pollinators and songbirds.

And you add to the value of your landscape. Eco-friendly landscaping can be gorgeous.

Be a Steward

My program has a certification process, and when you meet the requirements, you can put up a yard sign. I hope that it sparks my neighbors to consider environmentally-friendly lawn care.

Be a role model for your neighbors, children, and grandchildren.

Environmental steward Doug Tallamy writes:

“Our National Parks, no matter how grand in scale are too small and separated from one another to preserve species to the levels needed. Thus, the concept for Homegrown National Park, a bottom-up call-to-action to restore habitat where we live and work, and to a lesser extent where we farm and graze, extending national parks to our yards and communities.”

I love the idea of being one part of a homegrown national park. Will you join me?

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Terri Lyon

Terri Lyon

The Activist For Activists. Author. Teacher. Psychologist. Animal Lover.