How ‘Green’ Is Your Lawn?


It’s true: A green lawn is not often a green lawn.

Many of you already  know this, but neighborhood peer pressure keeps you reaching for weed spray, fertilizer and a lawnmower.

When you step through your front door, do you feel like you’ve landed on the set of American Beauty?

Do you worry that your attempts at eco-friendly landscaping will draw more overzealous homeowner’s association enforcers than butterflies?

Fear not, cool green suburbanite, because creating a more wildlife-friendly yard is easier than you think. You, too, can become a refuge for the local critters, win the approval of your neighbors and lower your carbon footprint.

Several years ago, my wife and I replaced our very green (in color) front yard with native and drought-tolerant plants. Living in the arid West, we wanted to reduce our use of water-and lessen our mowing time.

As we tore up all that grass, we met with the predictable looks, scowls and disapproving remarks from our neighbors.

But a funny thing happened on our way to native flora.

Goldfinches, hummingbirds and swallowtails became regular visitors. So did neighborhood kids, drawn by the more visually interesting mix of rocks, wavy grasses and wildflowers. Random people started stopping by to learn more about particularly pretty plants.

Why? Because, in reality, few people really love all that green grass.

There are more interesting things to do with your yard — and your time. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Get Reel. As anyone trying to sleep in on a summer Saturday can attest, gas lawnmowers should be cited for disturbing the peace. They’re loud, smelly and often unreliable. Use your own power instead, with a reel mower. There’s no pollution, and you may find that lawn mowing is a lot more enjoyable.
  2. Plant for Wildlife. There are a number of ways to make your yard a safe haven for the wild things. You can begin by diversifying — creating a variety of small habitats around your property. The National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program can also get you pointed in the right direction.
  3. Plant Natives. You don’t have to tear out your whole lawn; just a corner of native plants will draw butterflies and birds. As ecologist Michael Rosenzweig notes, if everyone did this in a neighborhood, it would create a sizeable wildlife refuge.
  4. Grow Your Food. Concerned about how far your food is traveling? The ultimate local food is from your back (or front) yard. Even a very small space can produce enough veggies to help reduce your grocery bill while reducing your carbon footprint.
  5. Lay off the Spray. Herbicides and other pesticides don’t just stay in your yard. They run off into the water, impacting birds, fish and other wildlife. The fact is, you don’t need these toxic chemicals around. Organizations like the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides offer free tips on how to solve your weed, insect and pest problems without resorting to nasty chemicals.

(Photo: Swallowtail in author’s front yard. Credit: Jennifer Miller.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. My husband & I watched “Nature of Things” hosted by David Suzuki. The episode, “American Savannah” took viewers into the world of one of America’s longest-standing obsessions, the perfect lawn. According to ecologist Michel Gaudet, “Nature will disappoint those who want perfect lawns. They’ll have to use a bunch of toxic products that affect the environment and people’s health,” and he goes on to say; “The greater the biodiversity, the more it makes Nature strong…the pursuit of perfection is a syndrome.”

    I can certainly attest to that! 15 years ago, we quit using any sort of pesticide, fertilizer, herbicide on lawn & garden. Instead we planted some native threes and scrubs and left nature to do its thing. The birds brought us gifts too! A birch tree, a Yew tree and a couple of Mountain Ash, all perfectly planted gifts. The trees help keep the lawn in partial shade so no need to water it, ever. After 15 years of letting nature take charge, we have our own private Stanley Park.

  2. Your post gave me a new perspective regarding the upkeep of our lawn. I take great pride in my garden and I have to admit that I’ve used chemicals in trying to maintain my garden and my lawn. I’ve been meaning to consult with professionals regarding aspects of my yard cleaning and maintenance. Here’s a resource I found useful for yard and garden maintenance —

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