The fact that we are even discussing a chemical-free landscape is exciting. It wasn’t that long ago that the answer to all landscape issues was a chemical treatment. In the past we were not as aware of how the choices we made when maintaining our landscape impacted nature, such as our pollinators and birds. It also wasn’t that long ago that the ideal landscape was one that was flawless: no spots on leaves, no spent blooms, perfect beds of mulch, and a lawn that was impossibly green and lush.
What constitutes the ideal landscape is changing, and for the better. With this new ideal comes a learning curve as to what a healthy landscape really looks like. The first hurdle to a chemical-free landscape is being passed by many homeowners, especially those who are planting for pollinators. We know insects will eat our plants: that’s why we plant them. We know that more plants and less mulch makes for a healthier garden, and we opt to pull weeds rather than knock them back with chemicals. Our gardens will look different when we plant with nature and forgo chemicals, and we are fine with that. In fact, we embrace the new look and the wildlife that a chemical-free garden supports. The last hurdle to cross when it comes to a chemical-free landscape is having a chemical-free lawn.
Notice I am not saying you must eliminate your lawn. I see the appeal and use of a lawn. A lawn sets off the gardens, gives pets and kids room to roam and play, and it can be an attractive landscape feature. But what if we cut our lawn a little slack, just as we do with our gardens? We can find balance in wanting a landscape that supports nature while also having a lawn if we eliminate the use of lawn chemicals. We can still offer the lawn supplemental nutrients: we simply opt for organic options such as Milorganite. In the fall, we aerate the lawn to improve air and water circulation. We also keep the lawn taller to help conserve moisture, keep the soil cooler, and shade out potential weeds. Will the lawn look the same? Most likely not.
Organic options for lawn care are not as effective for weed control. Some options, such as Milorganite, offer no weed control. Your lawn may have a few spots of clover or violets, and it may no longer be the perfect expanse of flawless green. What the chemical-free lawn offers in return far outweighs a few weeds. What you will see, I hope, is an uptick in the number of fireflies at night. Remember being a kid and collecting fireflies to place in a jar by your bedside? Remember nights on the porch and seeing the night flash with little pops of gold?
I would happily forgo chemical lawn treatments if it meant the return of the firefly. Our native bees will be most thankful, too. Many native bees are ground nesting, solitary creatures. By eliminating the use of shredded mulch in our gardens we make it easier for them to find underground nesting spots. When we leave leaf litter and garden debris in the garden, we create additional habitats for native bees and other insects. And, when we keep the lawn chemical free, and perhaps allow a few spots of clover or violets to take hold, we offer a healthier environment for them to thrive.
We opted for a more natural way to garden to support the Monarch butterfly, let’s do the same with our lawn to support the firefly.
~ Peter Wimberg