In earlier times, human survival depended on knowing hundreds of different plants: ones that were poisonous and others that were good for food, flavoring, medicine, fence posts, and even roof rafters. With lawns, all you need to know is how to mow and apply an ecologically disastrous, 4-step, so-called lawn-care program. Lawns are part of the "dumbing down" of human beings.
One of these hot, humid summer days, about noon, stand in the middle of a large lawn. There's no shade. Here comes the lawn-service crew to care for the grass the way advertisements say they should. What is it today? A high-nitrogen, energy-intensive fertilizer, or an insect poison sprayed on the soil? Perhaps it's an herbicide designed to kill everything that is edible or flowering.
No, it's the weekly mowing; three machines start roaring away. It's too hot. There are smelly oil fumes and too much noise. Where are the birds and butterflies?
It's time to shed a bad habit and depose an American icon. Say good-bye to your lawn. Research indicates that lawn fertilizers pollute Long Island Sound. Herbicides used on lawns have been connected to cancer in dogs. Insecticides and fungicides not only harm beneficial soil organisms, but also create toxic environments in their manufacture and use. Mowers, blowers and trimmers are many times more polluting than automobiles.
It may be better to have a lawn than asphalt or gravel, but think about what mall parking lots (spreading like wildfires across the land) feel like on a summer day. Compared to any of nature's ecosystems-- a forest, meadow, wetland, pond, thicket, or even an organic garden-- a lawn (especially a chemically-maintained one) is a desert, inhospitable at best, toxic at worst, to most living things except grass and geese. And, Japanese beetles love to live near and reproduce in there.
Unlike lawns, most natural environments are complex, multi-story polycultures. From the tops of mature trees, to the tips of their roots deep in the soil, we find intricate webs of relationships between plants and animals. Oaks and maples provide habitats and food for lichens, insects, mammals and birds as well as shade for lower growing trees like dogwoods, which in turn shelter blackcap raspberries or blueberries, ferns and fungi. Reproduction, growth, death and decay all occur simultaneously. In most environments, these relationships have evolved over thousands of years. They are fairly stable, yet paradoxically, flexible and always changing.
To restore diversity, stop mowing some or all of your lawn. Plant vegetable and flower gardens, native shrubs and cooling trees. As your lawn fades away, you'll find yourself surrounded by the ever-changing beauty and complexity - the sheltering and nourishing bounty - of our native environment.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth.
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