As we approach the best season of the year – beautiful autumn, hooray! – there’s still plenty of time to save energy in our landscapes.
Care to take a guess about how much gasoline we use every year in mowing the great American lawn? If you’re thinking hundreds of thousands of gallons, you’re almost right. The answer, as best the EPA can figure, is about a million and a half. Every year. On mowing lawns. Really? We’ve got to be able to do better than that.
If you’d like to reduce fuel consumption in one of the easiest ways possible – by mowing less lawn – consider working these five ideas into your landscaping plans.
1. Simply stop mowing some portion of an existing lawn. Choose a spot that isn’t thriving anyway, perhaps a place that’s too shady or damp for the lawn to grow well, or an area that you never use, or even a bit of your yard that you’d like to showcase as a patch of ecological health. Here’s what you do: just don’t mow it anymore, except maybe a path that curves enticingly through it, or a strip around the edge, to give the lawn a tended appearance. Yep, it’s a simple as that.
The grasses will grow taller and begin to resemble a meadow, and you can maintain this new “liberated lawn” by mowing it just once a year. If unexpected flowers show up, then say yay! and look forward to more. If plants that you know are invasive or undesirable start to come in, then it’s easy enough to whack them down, pull them out or start mowing them again. If you see baby trees starting to sprout, you can decide whether to remove them or let them grow tall and begin to convert this section of lawn into a nice wooded grove.
Note: a regular lawn mower may struggle a bit with mowing this taller grass, so you might need to use some sort of string trimmer or, if the meadow is large, perhaps hire someone with a bigger mower.
2. If you’re about to seed some portion of your landscape in new lawn (because, as you know, early autumn is the best time to sow grass), consider using low-mow or no-mow grass instead of conventional seed. Several products are available now; they are fescue mixes that grow only to about 8 inches tall, and can be mowed 2 or 3 times a season, or never. A good source of such seed is Prairie Nursery, in Wisconsin, or you might like to seek a local supplier. Be sure to read the product information to confirm that your landscape conditions will support this type of grass.
3. Convert part of your lawn into a wildflower meadow, moss garden, fruit orchard, vegetables or a woodland grove. To get rid of grass, you can smother big patches with thick layers of newspaper or cardboard, then add a layer of mulch or compost over that, and then wait a month or so. Some people who can’t wait, or want to eliminate really large areas of lawn, will strip the sod, either by hand or with a piece of equipment called, guess what, a “sod-stripper.” Others might favor using an herbicide, but whether or not you’re concerned about possible environmental impact, garden chemicals take huge amounts of energy to be produced and transported (“embedded energy costs”), so be sure to weigh this factor in your mental figuring.
Keep in mind that the grass doesn’t have to be totally gone if you’re planting fruit trees or berry bushes, or installing a veggie garden or woodland grove, because you’ll be able to eliminate that grass gradually. The same is not true if you’re investing in a wildflower meadow: for that you really should get rid of all lawn grass, because it’ll just interfere with the success of the meadow.
4. Mulch larger areas around the base of large trees or groups of trees. You can make a very large circle of mulch around any tree, even all the way out to the edge of the canopy; all the tree experts now recommend this, and most of the historic east-coast estates now maintain their ancient specimen trees this way. Whether your landscape is big or small, old or new, generous areas of mulch are better for the trees AND they reduce mowing costs.
The best mulch for all woody plants is the fallen leaves and needles of each plant itself. This is what nature does, and it helps support soil chemistry and healthier soil organisms, both of which make trees grow better. You can learn more about mulch and shade trees in my earlier posts: Rain-Sipping Landscapes, Gotta Love a Shade Tree, and Evapo-transpiration: Tree Sweat? In every case, don’t let mulch rest against the bark of woody plants, and never make a mulch volcano!
5. Use an alternative mower. There are so many cool electric mowers available now, and they’re especially perfect for smaller areas of lawn. Same for push mowers: they’re just so much better and smoother and easier than they used to be. Many of these products are on sale now, at the end of the season.
Even better: bring in a sheep or two to mow your lawn! They even come with their own fertilizer, and distribution is free. Okay, this idea isn’t practical for most people, but you might check around and see if there’s some enterprising young person locally who offers this as a service. Suburban shepherding: the new wave in sustainable lawn-care!
So you see: this is a great time to start reducing lawn. If you’re about to create some new lawn, consider seeding a smaller area or using alternative grasses. If you’re realizing you’ve wasted a huge amount of time this year on mowing your existing lawn, or you’ve spent too much money on the mowing company who tends your yard, consider doing it all differently next year. Make changes now, and save gas for years ahead. And check out hundreds of other money-saving ideas in my book, Energy-Wise Landscape Design.
Category: Energy-Wise Landscapes
About the Author (Author Profile)
There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.