One winter day at the Four Mills Reserve, I was stumbling between the slippery stones, muddy ground and remnant snow, when a clump of swordlike blades of grass peered amid the winter terrain, Carex pennsylvanica, Pennsylvania Sedge. Low key and pedestrian, this tough resilient grass almost never dries up in winter, withstands drought, flourishes in summer and you never have to mow it! Pennsylvania Sedge is unlike the lawn grass species we commonly water, fertilize and worship, these European species are not native to our flora, whence the special treatment they need just to be green!
This is the perfect contrast and the sum of choices that every homeowner should weigh this time of year. Simply put, the annual spring ritual of preparing the yard to become a lawn can be more fun, adventurous, rewarding and environmentally friendly if we had less of it!
Creating a garden with native plants such as trees, shrubs, flowers, ferns and grasses that evolved in their natural environment for eons have great advantages than the traditional lawn. Native plants require less water once established, attract pollinators such as bees and wasps, can be a reliable food source for wildlife and don’t need any chemicals to support them! But the real beauty may be found in that native flowering trees, shrubs and wildflowers are more attractive than non-native plants. In a word, it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly to create a landscape with native plants than all the invasive plants sold by the big box stores.
But don’t stop there! Going native is being sustainable too! Buy a rain barrel and place it under the spout for your home’s liders and gutters. Collect the water that drains from your home in the barrel that would normally run off into local streams and rivers. Use soaker hoses to distribute the collected water throughout your new garden or during extended dry spells.
In our region, waterways, streams, creeks and wetlands have been impacted severely by storms in recent years. Grassy shorelines have been gouged exposing loose dirt and sand, sediments, where once there was a lawn. Grass cannot hold a stream shore when fierce water rushes and heavy rains tear it away. Instead, restoring the riparian corridor with native trees and shrubs can break the onrush of water and slow the velocity. You don’t want to lose your backyard to storms nor do you want to lose it to grass alone.
Lawns are environmental deserts that require too much attention, money and your time to mow it. Reward yourself with color throughout the seasons, discover nature in your backyard and sit on your patio while watching hummingbirds dance around your flowers in summer. For me, there is no better way to enjoy the outdoors!