Help combat climate change

July 9, 2023

Red-wing blackbirds, blue birds, swallows and gold finches are swirling and raucous right now around North Salem, especially thrilled by open fields and yards with tall grasses— that’s their domain. Considering their summer diet is insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, wasps, ants, spiders and millipedes while many also feast on seeds of weeds, grasses, and grains, our rainbow array of birds are happiest when lawns aren’t cropped short. 

Around here more homeowners than ever are letting their grass grow. Saying goodbye to lawn envy, engaged citizens are learning that the more perfect your lawn looks, the worse it is for the environment. In a world facing climate change, it's worth asking why Americans spend trillions of gallons of water, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and gasoline for mowing on lawn care. Turf grass is America's largest crop that doesn’t feed us or wildlife. Why do we go to all this trouble maintaining life support for something that doesn't make sense ecologically or economically?

It's not our fault. The picture perfect lawn is embedded in our psyches. Our European forebears started the trend; lawns were a status symbol among the nobles and aristocrats of the 17th century. In England and Scotland, extensive lawns decorated elite estates. When we crossed the pond, lawns followed, taking root on properties of our new country’s wealthy landowners. With the rise of the middle class, transportation, innovation in lawn mowers, fertilizers and targeted herbicides, as well as the emergence of games like golf, flawless shaved green grass aligned with the American Dream. By the 1950’s, homes with rows of trim front lawns gave the impression of well-kept conformity.

Lawns as such are a reflection of our cultural “norms” and how these are evolving. Just as we are now part of a diverse, global community, we can celebrate being different, perhaps imperfect with our yards for the good of humanity and pollinators. Likewise, we are developing a new way of seeing, no longer wooed by green monoculture but instead enticed by soft golden brown and amber tufts glowing in the sunlight and waving with the June breezes. Even King Charles, residing where this whole lawn thing started, is a big fan of letting nature take over, serving as an advocate for the natural world. It’s gratifying to see the trend towards more environmentally-friendly landscapes growing in North Salem, as more homeowners ditch resource-heavy turf lawns for more sustainable yards.

Here's how you can minimize your lawn footprint:

  • Allow sections of your lawn to grow in areas away from entrances, walkways and outdoor play and entertaining spots around your house, keeping the edges clean and cut so the yard looks maintained and purposeful.
  • Cut lawn paths 2-3” wide that visually align with your doorways or picture windows so that tall grasses are framed, and consider placing a bench, sculpture or bird bath at the end of the path to create a destination.
  • If you have to mow, mow as high as possible, taking a week off if there is no rain.
  • Use electric-powered equipment.