Yards: What are They Good For?

Are yards good for absolutely nothing? Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but the current statistics on the costs and damages associated with lawn care is mind-boggling. What was intended to be an oasis of tranquillity and area for leisure quickly turns into mowing mayhem, weed whipping wackiness, and never-ending watering woes. Pesticides and fertilizers are expensive and make their way into our waterways wreaking havoc. Americans spend their time and money maintaining over 40 million acres of turf1 and Canadians spend over 2 billion dollars a year on lawn and gardening products2. Lawn mowers are not just annoying but bad for your health. It’s no surprise that the exhaust isn’t great for you but the low-frequency noise pollution covers long distances and can easily penetrate walls. Yards become a trap for squandering time, money, and water. So here are some tips and tricks for making your yard more environmentally savvy!

Watering Woes: Cut down on water consumption by watering during the early morning and later in the evenings, reducing evaporation and scorching your lawn. Rain barrels, drip lines, and underground irrigation are also excellent methods for water reduction in the garden. Plant native grasses! Once upon a time, someone decided that Kentucky Blue Grass was the epitome of lawn luxury; however, native species are much more drought resistant, require less mowing, are more weed resistant, and help support a healthy local ecology.

Less Lawn, More Food or Flowers: Les Jardins de la Grelinette is a 10-Acre farm in Quebec that produces enough produce for 200 families; only 1.5 acres of that land is cultivated as permanent beds3. Imagine how much food could be produced if grass was garlic and potatoes? (Two very low maintenance crops). Instead of pushing a power mower, you would be using a trowel! Planting peas, beans, simple greens, or hardy root vegetable takes surprisingly little work for the delicious, tasty, snacks you get out of it. Raspberry bushes can provide a seemingly endless supply of berries.

For those looking to spend less time in the yard and more on the trails, planting perennials and native plants species is ideal. They require little maintenance, less water, and provide food and habitat for beneficial pollinators. We love our bees!

Consider Clover: If you still want a luscious lawn but want to do less work and water infrequently then look no further, clover covers it! Clover never needs fertilizer (it creates its own), requires less water, requires little or no mowing, attracts beneficial insects, out-competes most weeds, won’t burn from dog urine, the seed is cheap, grows well in poor soil, and feels great on the toes! Clover may not be your best choice for a soccer field as it’s not as resilient to cleats but besides that why not give your yard a clover makeover?

Dandelions: For those suffering during allergy season you may not be too sympathetic to the little yellow devils, but give me a chance to defend the dandelion! Dandelions improve soil quality; their roots can penetrate deep into hard ground allowing for both water and organic material to infiltrate into poor soil. The vivacious little flower is one of the first sources of bee food in our valley and provides much-needed relief after long winters. All parts of the dandelion are edible, it can be used medicinally, the leaves make excellent bitters in a salad mix, and the roots can be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute. I beg you to reconsider next time you go to douse your yard in weed killer. Pesticides are a short-term solution that creates an even worse long-term problem: poor soil quality weakening the strength of the desired lawn cover, making it easier for weeds to grow in the long term. You know what plant loves poor soil conditions? Dandelions!

Sounds too good to be true? Start with replacing a small area with perennials or vegetables and see how it goes. Your wallet and watershed will thank you later!

  1. Freakanomics: How Stupid is Our Obsession with Lawns
  2. Statistics Canada, n.d., CANSIM table 080-0009.
  3. The Market Gardener. Jean-Martin Fortier
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