Do You Really Need A Lawn? This Will Help You Decide!

After reading an article in Garden Making magazine* regarding Ontario’s 2009 ban on cosmetic pesticides, it’s obvious the debate between pro-pesticide and anti-pesticides will continue for awhile. As will the concern, not only for our personal lawns but for the many parks and public lawns that we have grown used to being beautifully green, manicured and weed free.

We can manage to maintain our own property by manually pulling out weeds by the root if we have time and are physically able. But what about the green spaces we have grown to love and that are meant for people and children to play on? No city or municipality has the budget for this type of weed control.  I think we need to accept that the weeds are here to stay and as a trade off know that it is best for the health of our children, pets and even wildlife going forward.

What exactly is a pesticide?  It is an umbrella term that includes many different products that, as Health Canada puts it, target any “injurious, noxious or troublesome insect, fungus, bacterial organism, virus, weed, rodent , or other plant or animal.”

Insecticides kill a bug when it ingests or touches the product. One of the greatest home owners concerns regarding the use of insecticides is grub control. The most effective environmentally safe tool available to us is Nematodes. They are microscopic parasitic worms that eat the grubs below the surface. They also eat weevils, cutworms and sod worms.

Herbicides fall into 2 groups:

Selective Herbicides, when used properly, kill specific weeds and leave other plant material alone. Corn gluten is an environmentally safe pre-emergent herbicide which kills the seeds from weeds.  It won’t damage the lawn or soil because it is non-toxic. It can be effective against crab grass and dandelions as well as reduce the germination of curly dock, knotweed, lambs quarters, pigweed, and plantain. Its biggest down fall is that it also attracts rodents who love to feast on the corn. If using, apply immediately after purchasing, don’t store it for future use.

Non-Selective Herbicide products kill anything green it touches. High grade vinegar or acetic acid is an environmentally safe option useful for weeds between pavers and is as effective as removing manually.

What does all this mean for those who just want a low maintenance yard? Well it does mean more maintenance and maintenance with some environmentally safe but less effective products.

What other options do we have? I’d like to think that more garden and no lawn is a reasonable trend of the future. I know this sounds counterintuitive to low maintenance but believe it or not gardens are becoming easier to maintain that lawns.

The key as usual is a planned, better designed garden which involves planting the right plant in the right spot. It also means more hardscaping (larger walkways and patios allow for greater living space) and a good coverage of mulch.

Here is a great example:

replace lawn with garden
Summer 2008. Full-size garden installed to replace existing lawn.

In 2008 we removed the existing yard from this home and installed this walkway and full-size garden to replace a lawn and applied a generous covering of mulch to help with weed control and water retention.  Plants are spaced well for future growth. The homeowners (really good friends of mine) are not gardeners and were busy with their 3 daughters and therefore wanted a low maintenance solution to their front yard. This is a well traveled street and many thought we were crazy.

Here it is the following spring:

garden to replace lawn
Spring 2009.

And an unbelievable 2 years later in 2011:

garden to replace lawn
Summer 2011.

And covered in snow in February 2013:

garden to replace lawn
Winter 2013.

Aside from watering the hydrangeas when they have wilted on a very hot week, a good pruning of shrubs once a year and an application of mulch every other year, there has been no further maintenance required.  They also have no grass in their back yard.  Their only regret with the front is not doing the boulevard which continues to be a challenge.  Although I think we will tackle that soon… hint hint!

Doesn’t this sound nice? Take a look at more pictures of other lawn free spaces I have designed. Is it your turn this year?
*Source: Garden Making magazine, Spring 2013, pages 59-62, The Great Pesticide Debate.

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