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Goodbye to the grass? More Americans are adopting “eco-friendly” lawns and gardens

A resident of West Liberty, Iowa, mows his lawn in 2011.

WHITE PLAINS, NY (AP) – Lee Ann Ferrara is turning his small suburban yard of grass, framed by several shrubs, into an anti-lawn patchwork of flower beds, vegetables and fruit trees.

It didn’t happen right away, says the mother of two young children.

“We started suffocating small areas of lawn with cardboard and mulch every year and planting them, and now in the front yard, probably three-quarters of the beds are planted,” she says. “Every year we do more.”

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Its perennials and native plants require less care and water than turfgrass. And she doesn’t need herbicides or pesticides – she doesn’t strive for emerald perfection.

For generations, the lawn – this neat, green, weed-free carpet of grass – has dominated American backyards. It still does. But a surge of gardeners, landscapers and summer residents worry about the environment now view it as an anachronism, even a threat.

Like Ferrara, they are affected by this.

“America is unique in its focus on the monoculture lawn,” said Dennis Liu, vice president of education for the E. O. Wilson Foundation for Biodiversity in Durham, North Carolina. “Our English heritage is our own little tidy green area.”

Now, the drought, the collapse of insect populations and other environmental issues emphasize – in different ways, in different places – the need for more species of plants in large and small rooms.

Some people are experimenting with more “eco-friendly” lawns, seed mixtures that you can buy with local herbs that are less thirsty or picky.

Others mow less and suffer old enemies such as dandelion and clover. Others are trying to replace lawns, completely or in small pieces, with garden beds, including pollinators and edible plants.

All this leads to a calmer, wilder view of the yard.

“The more you can do so that your little part, which you are in charge of, floats in the flow of nature, the better for everyone,” says Liu.
In states with water shortages, many homeowners have long replaced lawn grass with less smoky options, including succulents and gravel.

Elsewhere, the pandemic has accelerated the trend of deviation from lawns. Gardening exploded as a hobby, and many non-gardeners spent more time at home, paying more attention to the world around them.

Municipalities across the country are handing out lawn signs reading “Healthy Yard” to homeowners who refuse chemicals or mow their lawns less often. Many cities are introducing rules for conventional tools such as gas turbines and mowers, mostly because of the noise.

“For people who are interested in gardening, many have realized that it can’t just be decorative. It has to serve some other purpose, be it food, habitat … to be used as much as possible, “said Alicia Holloway, Georgia University’s expansion agent at Barrow County.” It’s a shift in thought, in aesthetics. “

Monrovia, a major plant grower for nurseries and other outlets, has seen great interest in the “Garden of Wealth” trend – a more “living” yard with lots of plants, says trend trend observer Katie Temony. She says it’s a way to think of your yard, “as not just yours, but as part of a more beautiful, larger world that we’re trying to create”.

Plants that attract pollinators have been the most sought-after category in a Monrovia customer survey, she said.

And more. The lawn will not disappear any time soon.

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Many homeowners’ associations still have rules for keeping backyards in order. And lawn services are usually aimed at maintaining grassy spaces.

Andrew Bray, vice president of public relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals Trade Group, says lawns are still the main choice. People want neat open spaces for recreation, games and entertainment.

He says his group supports the goal of making lawn care more environmentally friendly, but believes that some recent regulations, such as against gas fans and mowers, have created a “difficult political situation.” He says that electric alternatives to these tools are not yet possible for large lawns that professionals work with.

This year, the Landscape Trade Group has set up a new public platform, Voices for Healthy Greenery, to present its side.

“Whether people want to have a big yard, plant a forest of trees in their backyard or want a meadow and unstructured plantings,” he said.

Those who are concerned that grass lawns cannot help pollinators and other species face another problem. “A lot of people don’t want bees – they’re afraid of nature,” said Holloway, Georgia’s expansion agent. “I think it’s changing, but we still have a long way to go.”

Replacing herbs also requires patience. “One of the best parts of my job is visiting the site. I go to backyards that people have been working on for 20, 30 years, and it has helped me to overcome the thinking that everything needs to be done at once. It really takes time, ”to create a yard that has plantings, not just a lawn, says Holloway.

And it is difficult to overcome traditions and neighborhood expectations. “The lawn“ looks neat and it’s easy to keep doing what you do, ”Liu says. But “once you establish a new balance, it will be easier for you, it pays for all these benefits.”

Some neighbors may see a yard without a lawn “and think they’re crazy there,” he says. “But a lot of people will think it’s so cool.”

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