Kicking the Lawn Habit
Do you ever feel like the more you give your lawn, the more it needs? While lawns perform some important ecosystem functions, like storing carbon and carrying out photosynthesis, they are biodiversity barrens. They tend to consist of only one or two species of nonnative grasses, and generally support only a few species of birds. Yet, studies have found that the average American yard is about 60% lawn, which gulps an average of 10,000 gallons of municipal water a year. There are an estimated 40 to 50 million acres of manicured lawns in the United States, most of it in residential areas.
You don't have to give up your lawn completely to be more sustainable and bird-friendly. Be conscious of how much lawn you actually use, and maintain only that amount. A native lawn or meadow that hasn't been sprayed with pesticides is safer for both kids and pets, as well as wildlife. This summer, unleash your lawn's potential to support more wildlife and a healthier environment for people. To learn about the native lawn pictured above, read our new Featured Site article.
Although nonnative lawns are the norm, they require more watering, fertilizing, and mowing than a native grass lawn. Native prairie grasses are accustomed to poor soils and therefore develop longer roots, which means they can access nutrients and water in the soil that are unavailable to shorter-rooted nonnative grasses. Consider reducing the size of your lawn this year, or develop a plan to replace it with native grasses like buffalograss, little bluestem, big bluestem, or Indiangrass. A high-maintenance lawn makes even less sense in arid or desert areas, but if you enjoy having a lawn for recreational use, consider planting a drought-tolerant mixture, such as the Habiturf blend.
If you would not miss having a lawn at all, there are steps you can take to convert your lawn into a wildflower meadow. Letting your lawn go wild will immediately provide more cover and food for birds; however, the grasses and flowers that emerge might include many weed species. If you have taken care to establish native species of grasses and wildflowers first, you can effectively reproduce a mini-meadow in your yard. Meadows can be mowed in the late fall every 1–3 years to prevent the encroachment of woody plants. Get local native plant recommendations, find nearby native plant nurseries, and contact local experts using our Local Resources Tool. (Just enter your ZIP code for specific recommendations.)