5 Tips on Eco-friendly Lawn Care

How much do you know about eco-friendly lawn care?
How much do you know about eco-friendly lawn care?

In 2008, researches made a disturbing discovery in remote areas of Antarctica. Scientists found traces of the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, better known as DDT, being reintroduced to the arctic ecosystem. For years DDT has laid in wait, frozen in time in the arctic ice. But as climate changes melt the ice, DDT is released and it's affecting wildlife once again.

DDT has had a tumultuous career. Synthesized in 1874 and identified as an insecticide in the 1930s, DDT became the pesticide of choice for the Allied forces during World War II. It was used successfully to kill mosquitoes in the fight against malaria in Africa. Environmental concerns -- namely the effects of DDT on animal reproduction -- have since made the chemical one of the most controversial in history.

This story is just part of the growing concern that humans are adversely affecting Earth's natural environment. We could go on about greenhouse gases, clear cutting and pollution, too. The truth is, humans are an environmental nightmare for our precious planet. Just look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But you can do something for the environment simply by the way you care for your lawn. And we're going to help you do that.

These five tips on eco-friendly lawn care, listed in no particular order, will help you help the environment. As you're about to learn, even having a lawn disrupts our ecosystem. Nothing can improve unless someone starts the movement. We're going to help you get started.

5: Biopesticides

As you read in the opening section, DDT works well as an insecticide but isn't good for the animals that come in contact with it. Research has shown DDT to cause reproductive ailments in birds, such as thinner egg shells. This is an example of a manmade chemical produced to improve the quality of human life. But what happens when it damages the environment?

This is something to consider the next time you spray an insecticide on your lawn: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there's some inherent danger to humans and other living creatures from chemical pesticides. But what if you could control pests without harming the environment?

Biopesticides are growing in popularity due to their innate properties. A biopesticide is a chemical made from natural occurring elements that control the insect population rather than kill it. A pheromone pesticide, for instance, disrupts the mating patterns of some insects such as moths and butterflies in the lepidopteran group. These pheromones only affect the targeted insects and have no adverse effects on other animals. Some biopesticides contain scents that lure insects into traps. Others known as microbial pesticides use microorganisms to kill insects. Milky Spore is one such type of microbial pesticide. Once spread, lawn grubs ingest Milky Spore in the soil. Then, within days, bacteria grow and kill the grubs from within. Milky Spore has no effect on beneficial birds and insects.

4: Mulch and Compost

Properly disposing of lawn waste is a cheap and easy way to help the environment. Mulch and compost are yard wastes that have been organically broken down and recycled by Mother Earth. But you need to aid in the process.

You can do one of three things with your lawn clippings after you mow. Your first option (also the easiest) is to mulch while you mow. This is handled easily enough with a mulching blade on your mower. If you don't have one, you can pick one up at your local hardware or home improvement store for less than $15 and install it quickly, even with limited know-how. Second you can bag clippings for disposal. This takes a little more time and effort, plus you'll have to pay for yard waste bags and possibly waste removal, too. Thirdly, you can create a compost pile.

Composting recycles organic material to be spread back into the earth for nutritional purposes. Virtually any organic material has some nutritional value that will benefit plants. When grass clippings decompose, they add to the overall nutrition of the compost. You can buy compost bins or build your own relatively cheaply.

With mulching, you get the best of both worlds. Mulching saves you time and energy and the grass clippings provide up to 25 percent of the fertilizer your lawn needs. Lawn clippings can be used for erosion control in flower beds and other areas conducive to runoff from heavy rainfall. All of these benefits are great for the ecosystem.

3: Rainwater Irrigation

Consider water conservation the next time you think about watering your lawn. You don't have to stop watering completely, but what if you could use rainwater instead?

The best way to water your lawn is to sit under your covered porch having a glass of wine during a rainstorm. Since that doesn't happen as frequently as lawns typically need, we often resort to man-made irrigation.

But watering lawns has an adverse affect on our environment. According to NASA, lawns account for more irrigation than any single crop in the United States. Lawns cover an estimated three times as much land as corn. Watering all that grass puts a strain on water supplies, not to mention a disruption in the Earth's water and carbon cycles. But rainwater can offset your irrigation problems.

You can harvest rainwater and store it in drums for future use. It's actually quite simple. All you need to do is catch it as it flows out of your gutter downspouts. You can buy elaborate systems or make your own rainwater collection system using food-grade plastic barrels. To water a lawn, you'll need an electric pump to create enough water pressure to power an irrigation system. For optimum results, you can even elevate your rain barrels and let gravity increase the water pressure.

2: Use Eco-friendly Lawn Care Equipment

Parking your car and walking can help prevent polluting the air, and parking your gas-powered lawnmower will help, too. Instead of using gas-guzzling power tools such as lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers and blowers, why not go electric?

You can find both corded and cordless power tools at any home improvement retailer. Battery-operated lawn tools are great for their portability, but not as good for overall performance. Batteries don't provide as much consistent power as your electrical outlets do. But using an electric lawnmower is where you'll make the most difference.

According to researchers at the University of Idaho College of Agriculture, gas-powered lawn mowers produce an estimated 10 percent of all air pollutants formed from portable gasoline machines. In addition, mowers don't adhere to the same EPA standards as gasoline-powered cars, so their emissions could be more toxic. Up until recently, the only way to circumvent the gas mower was the good old push-reel mowers. But now you can buy both corded and battery-powered mowers, too.

If you have a bigger yard, you can even get an electric riding mower. The Hustler Zeon is a zero-turn electric riding mower with a 42-inch (106.7-centimeter) cutting deck. The Zeon mows for 90 minutes on a single (14-hour) charge and has no fluids, filters or fumes to worry about. Not only will you cut down on emissions, you'll save money in the long run with electric power equipment. Electricity prices don't fluctuate like gas prices.

1: No-mow Lawns

Mowing the lawn can be miserable. If you've ever cut your grass during the summer months in Georgia, you understand. When it's 100 degrees and the air is heavy with humidity, the last thing anyone wants to do is work outside. So why not just let your lawn grow out?

It's a fair question. But ask yourself: Do you want to be the one house in the neighborhood that looks like it's in foreclosure even though it's very much occupied? Maintaining a lawn and yard does have its benefits. You cut down on the insect diversity by limiting weed growth, for one. An insect population can grow exponentially if you aren't careful. But who says you need a traditional lawn, anyway?

On the other hand, why not opt for a creeping flower or no-mow lawn instead of grass? Low-level groundcovers such as thyme, sweet alyssum and lavender offer beauty and don't require the maintenance. A no-mow lawn requires no watering or mowing, and those are two ways to positively impact the environment.

You may want to consider hardscaping. Instead of grass, build a desert or rock scene. Hardscaping requires no maintenance, not to mention you won't have to worry about erosion. The landscape may be hard, but taking care of it won't be.