Lawns are pretty. However, that’s about all they are — pretty. There isn’t too much else they’re good at. There are few species that can use lawns, except for a few bugs and, of course, people. So why do people have them?
To be honest, the only real reason people have lawns is because it’s the tradition. Most homes come with a lawn and maybe a small flower garden. Tearing up your lawn to put a garden in is hard work. The process of doing it looks ugly, and it takes a bit more work to maintain than a lawn does.
But the fact remains — lawns don’t do much for anyone. In fact, if you’re looking to have a nice lawn, there’s a good chance you’re fertilizing and watering it throughout the summer. That uses up even more resources, and all for aesthetic appeal. So what are your options? Assuming you don’t have a neighborhood alliance that dictates how you maintain the outside of your home, you don’t have to have a lawn.
Take It Slow
Revamping your entire yard is not a weekend project. You’ll want to pick and choose specific things to get done, even planning to take several summers to complete the project if your yard is very large. One of the quickest ways to make your lawn more useful to wildlife is to choose a few spots to plant some trees. It’s a small project that can totally change the appearance of your home.
Try and keep to native tree species to attract the most birds and plan for where the shade will fall. There are plenty of plants and vegetables that need shade to grow, so don’t assume you can’t plant near your trees, too.
Pick a Spot
When you start working on building a garden, smaller is better to start with. Most of the easy-to-grow vegetables require at least partial sun, so pick a nice sunny spot and dig up a square of sod. You can always make the garden bigger, but it will take a long time to regrow grass if you decide you want to!
A big help is to have a garden tiller at home. Tillers are powerful machines that are great at breaking up soil and digging out roots and rocks. Tillers come in various sizes so they can be used in small or large areas. You can turn an unsightly area into a green lawn or create new planting beds.
Once established, the garden will play double (or quadruple) duty — providing food for you and your family, making the whole landscape more attractive, getting you outside for some exercise and providing food and landing spots for native species. Really, a big green lawn is just a block of concrete to birds and bees, so why not break it up a bit?
Start Replacing Low-Traffic Areas
Places that don’t get much foot traffic are a good spot to reconsider simple grass. Native plants are much more helpful to wildlife, and they’re already designed to live in kind of soil you have. In dry areas, most native plants are also drought tolerant, which reduces your need to water. Since you’re already living in a dry environment, this can only be a good thing!
If these low-traffic areas aren’t really a visible part of your yard, you could consider letting nature take them back over. If that’s not your thing, a groundcover can also work. It’s not hard to plant or grow, but the many kinds of flowers ground covers provide can attract beneficial insects.
Don’t Go Nuts on Removing Weeds
It’s nearly impossible to get rid of all the weeds that pop up. Instead of constantly pulling them, try to accept that some variation is important, both with your yard and with your garden. Constant weed pulling is a lot of extra work, and many of the weeds won’t actually have a negative effect on anything. In fact, many weeds that grow are actually edible. Pulling them is just tossing out some free herbs! Letting a few extras pop up increases your plant diversity and helps keep your garden healthy.
Make It Look Good
A plain lawn is something any Tom, Dick or Harry can manage. But creating a beautiful, artful space that uses flowers, fruit, vegetables and trees to emphasize the space is not an easy thing to do. It takes skill, knowledge and time to create a cohesive outdoor space that meets the needs of your family and the animals. You don’t have to go so far as to create a safe haven for deer or anything, but trees and bushes will provide good nesting spaces for birds, while berry bushes will offer up some food. Flowering plants, especially the vegetables, will attract bees and other pollinators, including butterflies!
Add Something Special
A garden is a great thing to have, regardless of the kind of garden you choose. One thing you can add that always makes a big impact, however, is a water feature. With the right landscaping, a water feature can change the whole feeling of your yard. A small pond is the perfect place for frogs and toads to hang out, which helps keep down the mosquito population! It can also attract wildlife, being a great place for birds to bathe and rabbits to grab a drink. You might even get to see bats swoop down for a sip at dusk.
Overall, a garden creates a place for animals and insects, which adds life and color to your yard. the only downside to having a garden instead of a lawn is that you have to put it in first.
Bobbi Peterson loves writing and regularly posts on her blog Living Life Green. She’s also a freelance writer, green living advocate and environmentalist. You can find more from Bobbi on Twitter.