Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Brown is the New Green - the Quest for a Sustainable Lawn

Carex texensis - in spring
These hot August days have driven me inside for my summer dormancy where I weakly wave to my plants and wish them the best until October. I do suit up (hat, gloves, long sleeves) to mow my neighbor's lawn on occasion so that I can add the clippings to my compost.

Many people have strong opinions about lawns in relation to the chemicals and water resources used to keep it perfectly green. Not just lawns - driving home from work the sprinklers were mostly watering the road in an attempt to keep the median green.

My own front yard is approximately 625 square feet. If I watered it the recommended 1 inch per week, it would use about 1,677 gallons a month (1 inch of water = .62 gallons/square foot.)  That's a lot of water to keep alive something that you can't eat or put into a vase. It will also require fertilizer to keep it going, which then means I'll have to mow it. Water, fertilizer (even if it is organic), and gasoline. Suddenly the word "sustainable" isn't springing to mind.

What is sustainable anyway? There are a lot of definitions. Environmentally speaking, some say it is anything that endures over time without artificial, or man-made input. Watering from a hose is not considered a sustainable act, while rain falling from the sky is. If you have to supplement plant growth in any form, that, to some, is not considered sustainable. The lines blur when you enter in the whole organic movement. Some say that as long as you use organic inputs, like cow manure or compost, you are being sustainable because those sources are renewable resources. So, if I go ahead and have a lawn, get rid of the mower and use a goat to graze and fertilize it, I'm being sustainable. To me the argument becomes ridiculous because having a patch of green grass that requires all this maintenance makes it artificial - and therefore not sustainable - to me. Plus I'm not fond of goats (used to raise them, don't want to repeat the experience.)

Clearly, there must be room in the middle. There is something about the makeup of human beings that loves to see a sea of green. Maybe it is our pastoral past where we associated green fields with good hunting. In any case, telling people to give up their lawn is just not going to fly. What we can do, is help people make better choices. Instead of a thirsty lawn of St Augustine, consider reducing the size of the lawn and plant more ornamentals. Trees and shrubs don't require as much maintenance and are just as lovely. We also must change. It should be perfectly fine to plant Buffalo Grass and let it go brown and dormant in the summer - thus eliminating the need to water at all.

My own lawn is history. I killed all my St Augustine grass seven years ago and planted sedges (Carex texensis) in a much smaller footprint. I only water once a month if it hasn't rained and I don't mow it (although you can if you wish.)  I've spread wildflower seed so that in the spring and early summer I have my own meadow.   The peripheral ornamental beds are planted in natives and antique roses that don't need to be babied through the growing season. An added benefit is that many of the ornamentals provide food and habitat for our native birds most of the year.

It's my contribution toward being responsible to our growing population and shrinking resources. Water in Texas (and most elsewhere) is finite, and we all need to work together to make sure we conserve. Having a brown lawn should be a badge of pride - brown should be the new green!