Rewilding Lawns for the Planet

It becomes more evident each year that our climate is warming more quickly than any of us thought. We may feel powerless to do much to change the path we are on. While we are doing the big things to conserve energy and electrify everything, it’s time to turn our attention to the intricate web of life that surrounds us right around our homes. A healthy ecosystem is vital to our own survival, so let’s think about our yards!

Please don’t spray!

A perfect looking lawn is not as desirable as it appears. Synthetic fertilizers cause the grass to

not grow deep roots and excess fertilizer runs off to pollute our rivers and streams. Pesticides and herbicides, like glyphosate and neonicotinoids are banned in other countries because they are carcinogenic. 

When you spray, the insects are poisoned and the birds eat the insects. Our children and pets are much more susceptible to getting cancer because they spend so much time on the lawn. Chemicals and loss of habitat has done away with most of the natural predators of annoying insects like mosquitoes and ticks. Swallows, bats and dragonflies eat an enormous amount of mosquitoes everyday. Predators of ticks include opossums, chickens, frogs, ducks, turkeys, squirrels, spiders, lizards, toads, chipmunks and woodpeckers.

Plant native plants

Plants and insects have evolved together over eons so these insects can only eat and lay their eggs on these certain native plants. We all love the birds who come to our feeders but they can’t feed their babies seed. They need lots of squishy baby caterpillars full of fat and protein that the babies can swallow. It takes 6000 to 9000 baby caterpillars to raise one clutch of chickadee chicks. One oak tree can support 900 different species of insects so if you have room, plant an acorn. Trees also provide shade, give us oxygen, filter our water, hold the topsoil in place and sequester tons of carbon. All those fall leaves are nature’s mulch and they provide the moist place for many insects to complete their life cycle.

Turn your lawns to meadows

It’s time to rebuild meadows wherever we can. Not just in our yards but along highways and on public lands. We need to give back a portion of our property to nature. The deep roots of meadow plants hold onto water and store carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change. 

Caring for traditional lawns is resource intensive. Gas powered lawn mowers emit 10 times more carbon than a car for every hour of operation. Lawns use up 30% of our fresh water in the summer. Lawns do not feed any creature, not even the microbes in the soil.

If you live in a condo association or development, consider getting together with your neighbors to request that lawncare be handled more sustainably. If you use a lawn service, request natural, organic lawn care methods.

Dig deeper with the Library Climate Series, co-hosted by York Ready for Climate Action, York Public Library and York Land Trust. The Rethinking Gardening lecture is Wednesday, April 24 at 7pm on Zoom, and the YLT Native Plant Sale is Saturday May 11 from 9am-12pm at York Land Trust.

Want to know more? These books are a tremendous resource:

Nature’s Best Hope, Bringing Nature Home and The Nature of Oaks by Douglas Tallamy

We Are The Ark by Mary Reynolds

Lawns to Meadows by Owen Wormser

Hidden Half of Nature by David Montgomery

Thank you for doing your part to help the planet. Happy Spring!


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