Pharyngula

The Roaming Ecologist has a few words about lawns.

Lawns – those myopically obsessive (and evil) urban, suburban, and increasingly rural monoculture eyesores that displace native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day* in favor of sterile, chemically-filled, artificial environments bloated with a tremendous European influence that provide no benefits over the long term; no food, no clean water, no wildlife habitat, and no foundation for preserving our once rich natural heritage. And there’s the unbearable ubiquitousness of mowing associated with such a useless cultural practice, which creates a ridiculous amount of noise pollution, air and water pollution, and a bustling busyness that destroys many peaceful Saturday mornings. The American lawn is the epitome of unsustainability.

I would like to subscribe to your newsletter, and attend your weekly meetings protesting grass, rather than mow my lawn. That season is soon upon us.

But then he also shares this excellent illustration of native prairie plants. They’re all roots! Unlike that scrubby shallow Kentucky bluegrass film on the left, that just forms a superficial mat of roots.

Illustration by Heidi Natura, 1995, of Living Habitats.  Click on image to see larger version.  80% of a prairie’s biomass is below ground, which is a part of the reason why prairies are the greatest soil carbon factories in the world.  Those roots break up compacted soil, and as a portion of those roots die each year, they add organic matter and decompose into carbon, further enriching the soil; all of this is done without deadly pesticides or equally deadly petrochemical fertilizers.

Illustration by Heidi Natura, 1995, of Living Habitats. Click on image to see larger version. 80% of a prairie’s biomass is below ground, which is a part of the reason why prairies are the greatest soil carbon factories in the world. Those roots break up compacted soil, and as a portion of those roots die each year, they add organic matter and decompose into carbon, further enriching the soil; all of this is done without deadly pesticides or equally deadly petrochemical fertilizers.

OK, now what can I do to kill the ground hugging parasites covering my yard and replace them with cool plants like that?

Comments

  1. #1 jfb
    March 28, 2016

    Our yard is perpetually on the verge of HOA fines because I cannot bring myself to dump perfectly good water on the ground, and after every drought that resistance gets stronger (although interestingly, St. Augustine can be *very* drought-tolerant if it doesn’t get more than a couple of hours of direct sun per day – the grass on the sides of the house does just fine without any additional watering).

    I would love to xeriscape with all native Central TX plants, but the HOA won’t allow it.

  2. #2 jane
    March 28, 2016

    I like to think of my lawn as an ultra-short-grass prairie, incorporating healthy amounts of legumes (clover) and miscellaneous forbs (dandelions, ground ivy, violets).

  3. #3 Gingerbaker
    March 29, 2016

    I like lawns.

  4. #4 EN
    birthplace of the solution to ground-hugging parasitic plants
    March 30, 2016

    PZ–you’re not the first to look for a solution to clear out the lawn. I have one word for you–“napalm”!

    Napalm was invented by Harvard chemist Louis Fieser during WWII. He said later that he first thought of it while trying to imagine a way to remove the crabgrass from his lawn.

    History does not record whether napalm was ever actually used for this purpose, although it did burn a pretty big hole in the Harvard soccer field during the first test.

  5. #5 lyle
    March 30, 2016

    In the Tx hill country I find tht during droughts the native plans just go dormant, and after 2 inch rains come back green. Where I live there have been watering restrictions for the last several years. Perhaps talk to the state rep about passing a law removing restrictions on brown lawns or just spray them with green dye during a drought. (A couple of the last year, I meant mowing about 3 times in the spring than nothing due to the drought)

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    March 30, 2016

    From what I’ve read, the practice of maintaining well-manucured lawns originated among the late 18th century English merchant class. This crowd engaged in competitive, ostentatious displays of wealth, which frequently took the form of doing something utterly ridiculous with the country estate. For instance, devoting perfectly good agricultural land to the cultivation of an entirely useless, high maintenance crop. At least England has a suitable climate for cultivating grass. Most of the US does not.

    Over the past few years I have been replacing portions of lawn with ornamental plants that fare well in this climate and (at least after the first year) only need watering during prolonged dry spells. It looks a good deal more interesting than a plain old lawn, and I can get rid of the hardest parts of the lawn to maintain. It takes a bit of concentrated effort in the spring, but worth it in the long run.

    One neighbor has eliminated his front lawn entirely. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to that stage, time and energy being finite resources, but it’s a worthy goal.

  7. #7 SteveP
    State Institute For The Criminally Insane
    March 31, 2016

    Dear Lawn Doctor: Our local campus has a severe infestation of John Deere Fly. These pests create a tremendous racket on what would otherwise be spectacular summer days and spew a noxious mix of dried dog waste, soil, herbicides, insecticides, and poorly combusted petroleum based fuel and lubricants into the atmosphere. Do you have any suggested remedy for them? I suspect that their weak spot might be the symbi-idiot that sits astride the beast with massive ear protectors. RPG’s are not legal in our neighborhood. Any ideas? Thanks!

  8. #8 David Owens
    Shrewsbuty
    April 1, 2016

    Well – lawns can be a resource, right?
    At least the cut grass can be used to make compost for gardens.
    As an avid gardener and waste company owner – I don’t think theres an easy way to get rid of parasites in the soil without some strong chemical which in turn can make it so the soil can no longer sustain plant life on it.

    Cheers!
    David Owens @ http://www.mrrubbishruislip.co.uk/

  9. #9 Lyle
    April 2, 2016

    Of course you could dig up the grass and xeriscape the lawn with small (1-2 inch) rocks over a plastic liner. (If the HOA allows it) Some of my neighbors in the Tx hill country have done that. If done with a proper liner it makes a zero maint lawn, all be it it increases the runoff.

  10. #10 Howard
    Pflugerville, TX
    April 4, 2016

    We live in an unincorporated suburban area near Austin TX, so no HOA. For the past 10 years we’ve been throwing everything at the lawn by way of native seeds and plants and also expanding the size of vegetable plots, thus gradually reducing the mowed area. Still got a ways to go, but re-wilding is happening.

  11. #11 Bob Gotschall
    Las Vegfas
    April 4, 2016

    I once lived in Lake Eldora Colorado. My lawn was composed of wild grasses and flowers (Mt Columbine). I guy a mile or so down the road insisted on fencing his yard and mowing regularly during the short mountain (9,000 feet) summer.

    I only felt sadness.

    Now in Las Vegas it is considered nearly criminal to grow a lawn

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