If you're keeping up with the "green" movement, you've probably spent some time around your home looking for ways to save energy and reduce waste. You've swapped incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent models, separated your recycling from your trash, caulked leaky windows and installed a programmable thermostat.
But greening your home doesn't stop at the front door. There's a lot you can do to make your yard -- and the way you care for it -- more environmentally friendly. Some of the steps you can take can even save you time and money. We'll start at the beginning: Just what do you have growing underfoot?
Plant the Right Plants
There's nothing like the feel of a fresh-mown bluegrass lawn -- but depending on where you live, there might be a better option for you. Choosing a groundcover that will thrive around your home will save you lots of time and money in the long run. Here's what to keep in mind:
- What's the average temperature where you live?
- How much rainfall do you get each year, especially during the spring and summer months when grass grows fastest?
- What's your soil like?
- How shady is your lawn?
Once you have the answers, talk to a lawn care professional in your area -- he or she will have experience with which grasses will grow best and require less water and upkeep.
Once the grass is in the ground, the next step to cutting down on waste is to keep it healthy.
Keep It Healthy
When it comes to looking smooth and green, healthy lawns have a serious advantage over unhealthy lawns. And it's not just because a sick lawn tends to look bare and wilted. A healthy lawn has strong, deep roots. It absorbs water better than an unhealthy lawn, and all those roots make it tougher for weeds to find a home there.
Regular care is a great way to keep your lawn healthy. Get rid of weeds that do sprout promptly so they can't take over. Fertilize in the spring and fall, but don't overdo it. Mow only when you really need to, and raise the blade height on your mower to let the grass get a little taller -- that way, it can collect more sunlight and develop deeper roots. And finally, make sure not to cut more than a third of the blade height each time you mow -- a more drastic cut can damage your grass.
No matter how deep its roots are, your lawn may still need a little extra water at some point. Read on to find out how to make the most of it.
Especially if you live in a relatively dry area, it can take a lot of water to keep a yard green and healthy. Fortunately, it's easy to cut down on the amount of water you need to grow a lovely lawn. Here are a few basic steps:
- Don't water during the heat of the day: A lot of the moisture will evaporate before the soil (and grass) can absorb it.
- Water only when you need to: Check the weather report before you decide to water.
- Use only as much water as you need: That sounds obvious, but in Utah, for example, about half the water used on lawns goes to waste [source: Utah DNR].
- Install a drip irrigation system: Drip irrigation releases water slowly, giving plants time to absorb each drop before the next one appears.
Once your lawn is green and growing, you can keep your environmental focus while maintaining it as well. We'll look at how on the next two pages.
Green Your Mower
If it's time to replace or upgrade your mower, you can find a number of greener options on the market. One energy-conscious option is the reel mower, which transfers the power of the person pushing to the set of spinning blades that cut the grass. Since physical effort is what makes them go, manually powered reel mowers are best for lawns that are both very small and very flat.
You don't have to give up on power to have a more environmentally friendly mower, though. A number of manufactures produce mowers that use alternative fuels. Electric mowers, for example, are quieter than gas mowers and don't give off exhaust. They're available in both cordless (rechargeable) and plug-in models. Cub Cadet also sells mowers that run on liquid propane, which also reduce emissions but don't need to be plugged in or recharged. You can also find mowers that run on diesel fuel and compressed natural gas.
Lose the Chemicals
Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are just some of the products you may use on your lawn. If your lawn is already healthy, you don't need to overdo it with these kinds of products -- a little goes a long way.
But chances are, you'll still need to put something on your lawn at some point. And since these products can make their way into the water supply (and wind up on children's hands and pets' paws) many homeowners are choosing organic or natural alternatives. Natural herbicides include corn gluten and vinegar. Garlic, boric acid and citrus oils are among the more natural insect repellents and pesticides. You can also shop around for natural and organic versions of these products at your local garden supply store.
In addition, you can go green with your lawn care products by using compost as a homemade fertilizer. A number of companies, including NatureMill, Exaco and Earthsaver, make compost bins for home use. If you want to try your hand at vermicomposting -- composting with the help of worms -- you can find a range of starter kits through companies like Worm Factory. And if you'd prefer to skip the composting process, you can buy compost and other natural fertilizers ready-made.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Reeves, Walter. "Moss - Growing." Gardening in Georgia. (5/12/2010) http://www.walterreeves.com/landscaping/article.phtml?cat=15&id=389
- Moss Acres. (5/12/2010) http://www.mossacres.com/
- Utah Department of Natural Resources Division of Water Resources. "DWR Weather Data." (5/12/2010) http://www.conservewater.utah.gov/ET/ETSite/default.asp?Summary.htm
- University of California. "Water Conservation Tips for the Home Lawn and Garden." (5/12/2010) http://ucanr.org/freepubs/docs/8036.pdf