Mowing the Lawn or Not

Lawns are getting greener, and it's not just the fertilizer. Taking the environment into account when choosing ground cover and mowing options has become an important issue when it comes to maintaining a healthy yard.

Choosing a Ground Cover

You can decide how much time, effort, and expense you want to put into your yard work. As with so many other conservation measures, choosing a low-maintenance lawn can also reduce the impact your lawn has on the environment and the amount of natural resources used. It can also reduce the amount of money you spend trying to maintain the perfect bed of grass.

Lawns can be planted with a mixture of native tall grasses or plants that require little maintenance. Prairie grasses and flowers will grow taller than standard lawn grass and will beautify the yard with colorful flowers during different times of the year. Other plants and flowers can be added to offer decorative alternatives to grass and give lawns a less manicured and wilder look.

Short-growing plants and ground cover can provide an alternative to standard grass while allowing people to walk and play in the yard. The right grass substitute or no-mow lawn can reduce and possibly even eliminate the need to mow and fertilize altogether.

Multiple companies offer seed mixes of wildflowers and short grasses that can be thrown into the yard. Mixtures can be made according to geographic location, watering and lighting requirements, mowing needs, and soil conditions. These mixtures include ingredients like ryegrass, clover, daisies, lavender, and thyme. Some of the companies that provide no-mow lawn and grass alternatives are listed here:

  • Hobbs & Hopkins Ltd. is located in Oregon and carries seed mixes like Fleur de Lawn and Fragrant Herbal that are especially for the Pacific Northwest. They work closely with Oregon State University to determine different ecology mixes for lawns and gardens.

  • No Mow Grass can be ordered from their website. They carry specific seed mixes amenable to the variety of weather conditions in the United States. The Web site also offers preparation and planting instructions. No Mow Grass carries wild-flower seed mixes for all types of weather conditions.

  • Prairie Nursery provides seed mixes for the northern United States and parts of Canada. Their seed mixes include prairie plants and grasses. They also carry lawn mixes that include slow-growing, fine fescue grass, which grows up to nine inches tall. Due to their slender build, the blades fall over, giving them a height of about four inches. Fescue grasses are good for areas that are too warm for cool-weather grass and too cool for warm-weather grass.

  • Wildflower Farm carries a variety of tall prairie grasses and shorter lawn grasses. Their stock is more appropriate for the central-northern United States. They carry Eco-lawn, a substitute for standard yards that includes a mixture of seven fescue grasses.

  • Stepables are carried in a variety of lawn and garden shops across the United States. Stepables were created by the Under A Foot Plant Company. They offer a wealth of plants that can be selected by zone (location within the United States) at their website. Information on each plant includes a photo, sunlight and watering requirements, information on whether mowing is necessary, and other maintenance requirements.

Maintaining a healthy lawn is even easier if you use native plants when landscaping. Native plants are adapted to local climates and conditions so they don't need a lot of care to thrive — they have been flourishing for years without any help from humans. They are accustomed to local pests, so native plants do not depend on pesticides.

Native plants are also acclimated to local weather conditions and rainfall, meaning they don't need excessive watering or protection. Local birds and butterflies are often attracted to native species, making a yard a haven to animals. Native plants will also live longer than exotics, saving time and money, and conserving natural resources. Ultimately, using native plants will cut down on the effort and energy needed to maintain a beautiful lawn.

In the southern and southwestern United States, xeriscape landscaping has become a popular alternative to high-maintenance yards. Xeriscaping uses plants specifically selected for their drought-resistant qualities. In areas where water restrictions are common, these types of plants offer a pleasant alternative to standard lawns. One example is the use of clover instead of grass. Not only is clover drought-resistant, it's tolerant of weeds and insects, requires minimal mowing, and offers a soft cushion for walking.

Choosing a Mower

Either by personal choice or neighborhood covenants many people have lawns of green grass that need to be maintained. That's where choosing the right mower comes in.

The California Air Resources Board estimates that 2006 model lawn mowers emit 93 times more emissions than 2006 model cars. California is working toward legislation that would require emission standards to be more stringent than those in the other 49 states. Lawn mower manufacturers may soon have two lines of mowers, one compliant with California requirements and the other meeting broader requirements for the rest of the country.

If you want to skip a trip to the gym, mow your yard using a reel lawn mower. Reel mowers are the oldest residential lawn mowers. The blades are attached to the wheels, so pushing the mower manually causes the wheels to roll and the blades to rotate, cutting the grass.

While some people may choose this type of mower for nostalgic reasons, others may like its simplicity — no engines or ignitions to keep in working order and no fuel mixture to store in the garage. Because they are not dependent on fuel, reel lawn mowers don't produce any emissions.

Electric lawn mowers work well for small yards and gardens. Although they do not produce any emissions, these mowers do get their power from local plants that may burn fossil fuels. Not only are electric mowers friendly for air quality, they're quiet. Some can be equipped with a grass catcher and even have mulch capabilities. Electric mowers are lightweight, and the handles can be folded for easy storage. Cordless mowers can be charged over-night to provide up to forty minutes of mowing time the next day.

Newer power-driven lawn mowers are more efficient than older models, but they can still produce smog-forming chemicals and carbon monoxide. Lawn mowers do not have catalytic converters, which are required on automobiles to treat the exhaust before it escapes and remove nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and hydrocarbons before they can combine with sunlight to form smog. The EPA is currently working on legislation that would require the installation of catalytic converters in lawn mowers.

Leaves and grass clippings need not be taken to the curb. They can be used in compost and made into mulch or used in planting beds and gardens. The EPA estimates that up to 31 million tons of yard waste is collected, transported, and processed by municipalities every year. Keeping yard trimmings at home for use in the garden reduces waste processing and the need for transportation.

If raking isn't your ideal pastime, manual leaf sweepers are available. Composters.com offers an assortment of lawn sweepers that can be used to collect leaves from yards, sidewalks, and driveways, ready to put in the compost pile.

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