Monday, November 23, 2009

How to Have a No Maintenance Lawn - and Benefit the Environment

I am having a lot of fun converting my lawn from traditional grass to a natural lawn. Here is a picture of my front lawn today. It is still in the early stages of conversion - which involves removing the grass. It turns out that grass is not only difficult to grow, it is even more difficult to remove.
The process of removing grass involves covering sections with an old piece of carpet. After being shielded from the sunlight and water for about three weeks, the grass is dead. Then, I dig up the old grass and till the soil. [A knowledgeable reader has emailed me that it is better to not dig up the old grass, as this can foster weed growth. She says to simply plant within the old grass.] Finally, I plant small pods of a native plant called Sunshine Mimosa, which will eventually spread and function as a natural groundcover.

Sunshine Mimosa is native to where I live in Central Florida. Thus, it is naturally adapted to this area's climate, soil, and wildlife. Sunshine Mimosa is one of many native options, which include other groundcovers as well as bushes, trees, ivies, and more. To give you an idea of what it looks like "after" the new groundcover grows in, here is a picture of my backyard, which I started last year.

Sunshine Mimosa, Florida Native Groundcover

Benefits of Florida Natives

The "new lawn" is extremely drought resistant and requres no watering. It also needs no fertilizer or insecticides. It will grow to a height of between 3" to 9" inches. It grows slowly and mowing is not required, but to keep it shorter it may be mowed about every six weeks during the Spring and Summer months. In contrast, grass needs to be mowed about once a week during that period here in Florida.

Did you know approximately 5% of all air pollution in the U.S. comes from lawnmowers? So there is an environmental benefit to mowing less. It is also good for the environment to not have to water. Florida has been having drought conditions lately. It is estimated that up to 80% of an average household's water use is for lawn and garden irrigation. The amount of watering needed for Sunshine Mimosa is zero. And the need for sprinkler systems, which are expensive and prone to breaking down, is also eliminated.

From an aesthetic standpoint, last year at the height of the drought in the Florida summer when everything was brown, my Sunshine Mimosa was bright green. I was getting compliments from some of the same people who were skeptical when I put it in.

Here is another reason why you may want to consider a native lawn versus grass:

Wildlife cannot live in grass. In fact, only two species do well in grass here in Florida: cinchworms and ticks. By contrast, Sunshine Mimosa attracts butterflies, bees, birds and rabbits. I have noticed a big increase in the wildlife in my backyard since the change. And there is more than meets the eye to this on a microenvironmental level. One native plant, Saw Palmetto, will support up to two hundred different species of native Florida wildlife.

What About the Negatives of Using Natives?

The one objection I frequently hear is that a native lawn will reduce property values. I am not sure this is true - did grass save property values here in Florida in 2008? At any rate, I'll take a home that is livable and environmentally friendly.

Sunshine Mimosa Even Flowers

Oh, I almost forgot - during the Spring and Summer, Sunshine Mimosa flowers everyday, which you can see in my picture below.
Sunshine Mimosa in bloom
I hope you, and everyone in America, will consider giving gardening with natives a try. Using natives is good for the environment and a lot less complicated than Carbon Credits.