Question

What is better: landscaping my yard, or letting it grow naturally with the routine mowing?

Asked by Margaret
Akron, OH

I recently bought a house in Ohio, and though it is still winter, I have started planning house renovations for the spring. I don't know if I should landscape my yard (and how to landscape environmentally friendly), or if I shouldn't landscape -- why not?

Answer

Richard Heller

Answered by Richard Heller

New Rochelle, NY

Greener by Design

January 25, 2011

Better for whom is the question.  It is human nature to change/alter our environments. How much we do it is a matter of principle and perhaps need.

Every homeowner has to decide for themselves what "better" means.

Striking a balance

You would think this would be a simple enough question, but when it comes to land use and how that use impacts the local ecology, it is often difficult to strike a balance.

For example, a majority of our grocery-store-bought fruits and vegetables come from California and Mexico. Trucking the food across the country is a huge expenditure of fossil fuel. Many folks feel that growing their own vegetables is less expensive and more environmentally friendly from a reduction of fossil fuel point of view.

On the other side, almost all the fruits and vegetables we grow and consume are not native. Additionally, we are not real keen on local animals and insects eating them while we grow them, so we tend to put up bird nets to keep the birds out of our blueberries and such, we try to control insects naturally, we want the rabbits to stay out of our vegetable patch, etc. This all has an impact on the ecosystem, and it can be difficult to balance which is the lesser of evils, especially when the problem is basically us humans.

First accept that you will have an impact

I would argue that you need to get clear on how you want to use your outdoor space first.

Accept that you have an impact no matter what and look for ways to minimize it.

  • If you're growing vegetables, do it organically and avoid pesticides.
  • If you want a lawn (and lawns do sequester carbon) then get an electric, propane, or even push mower and try to keep it minimal.
  • If you want a lovely lush landscape, do your best to work with native plants. Native plants will sustain beneficial insects and animals. Maintain as much biomass (layers of plants, trees, shrubs, groundcover) as possible, as this allows for more diversity.
  • Watch out for invasive plants like honeysuckle that have been brought over for ornamental purposes but outcompete the local plants, removing needed sustenance for beneficial organisms.
  • Fertilize with compost tea, start your own compost so your “waste” is less and you are putting organics back into the property. Avoid removing leaves and garden waste, and compost that as well.

So many of the problems we create with the environment are about waste management, petrochemical-based products and machines, and lack of biomass.

You can learn much more about this from the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

 

For more information:

Read Sherri Osaka's tips article "Take Steps toward a Poison-Free, Natural Lawn."

Tagged In: native plants

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