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July 9, 2010

Life-Friendly Lawn

Give back to nature and enjoy the benefits of a low-maintenance, eco-friendly humane lawn

  • A habitat island in this humane lawn provides food and shelter for a variety of animals and insects. Janet Snyder/The HSUS

  • Give up those fancy edges and manicured look for natural, native borders that are wildlife friendly. Debra Firmani.

How easy it is to go with the flow, mindlessly mowing and maintaining a lawn in the same old way without thought of whether there is another way, a better way.

As it happens, there is a whole world of interesting (and attractive!) options that will enable you to help support wildlife where you live, work, and play. 

All you need is the desire for a livelier landscape and openness to some experimenting to see what works! 

Mow less and water wisely

  • Allow selected areas of grass to grow, mowing only a neat edge around them to create a habitat island.
  • If you’re starting a new lawn or replacing an existing one, plant grass only where it is needed, and opt for a hearty, pest-resistant, draught-tolerant grass species appropriate for your region.
  • In low-traffic areas, use native ground cover plants instead of grass.
  • Create mini-meadows of native grasses or wildflowers and mow only pathways around them.
  • If you choose to water your lawn, do so in the morning, and water infrequently and deeply to strengthen the root structure.

Learn about life-friendly fertilizing

  • Fertilize naturally by leaving lawn clippings behind when you mow (but don’t use grass clippings from a chemically treated lawn as fertilizer).
  • When needed, add compost, or organic fertilizers that increase microbial activity and protect against thatch and disease.
  • Create a balanced compost mix with carbon-rich brown materials (dried leaves, straw, hay, and sawdust) and nitrogen-rich green materials (grass clippings, weeds, seaweed, vegetable kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds).
  • Turn the compost pile often to let oxygen reach the microbes.
  • Add compost with a spreader or by dumping and raking.

Break the bond with pesticides

Each year, pesticides are applied to U.S. lawns and gardens at the rate of about 3 pounds of active ingredients per acre, harming far more than their insect targets. They contribute to at least 72 million pesticide-caused bird deaths every year , and make their way into streams, where they kill still more wildlife.

Studies also suggest a possible link between the rise in lawn pesticide use and increased risk of childhood leukemia, brain cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.

Similarly, dogs exposed to lawns treated with a common pesticide have shown an increased risk of canine lymphoma.

  • Stop using pesticides, so that beneficial insects can return and keep insect pests in check. Add native plants to support healthy populations of beneficial insects.
  • When necessary, apply neem, insecticidal soap, natural pyrethrins, or spinosad.
  • Consult the 2012 Directory of Least Toxic Pest Control Products, available from the Bio-Integral Resource Center

Eliminate synthetic herbicides

Roughly 90 million pounds of herbicides already being applied to lawns each year, harming people, pets, and wildlife.

  • Apply a mulch of shredded oak and maple leaves to discourage weeds.
  • Allow grass to grow to about 3 inches before mowing, crowding out weed sprouts with shade.
  • Remove weeds with a “weed hound” or dandelion knife.
  • Douse weeds with hot water to wither them.
  • Suppress weeds before they emerge by applying corn gluten meal.

Learn more

Browse this list of books and websites to learn more about how you can give back to nature.

Create a Humane Backyard

A place that offers food, shelter, water, refuge from toxic sprays, and safety from mowers—it’s what every creature wants, right? They want a Humane Backyard. By making simple changes, you can create that haven of comfort and security for local wildlife. And you can do it anywhere: in the city, suburbs, or country. So look around--at your backyard, balcony, or the park down the street—then let us teach you how to make your own Humane Backyard. Once you’ve learned how, take our Humane Backyard pledge.

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