Your Lawn Might Contribute to Global Warming. Here’s How To Build Eco Friendly Backyards

Men Watching His Lawn While Seating on His Grass Mower

Urban gardens have always been considered good for the environment. Perhaps you have even invested time and money in creating the perfect lawn in your backyard. 

What you probably didn’t know is that researchers from the Appalachian State University in the USA highlighted that lawns might actually contribute to global warming. 

Indeed, in a study published in the Journal of Environmental Management, Dr. Chuanhui Gu and his team demonstrated that a hectare of lawn releases up to 3.75 kg (8.26 lbs.) of nitrous oxide and between 697 and 2,443 kg (1536.62 – 5386 lbs.) of carbon dioxide a year. 

Both gases are known for producing the famous greenhouse effect, so you might want to think twice before seeding that good-looking turfgrass. 

Global warming aside, lawns damage the environment in many other ways.

Luckily, eco friendly backyards can successfully replace the lawn; they can look amazing and are an eco-savvy choice.

Lawns have been considered carbon sinks for decades. So, how did they become harmful to the environment? 

Although it seems complex, the explanation is simpler than you could imagine. 

Lawns were born in Europe, more precisely in England. There, the temperate climate and fertile lands allowed for simpler maintenance of turf grasses. In fact, lawns in Europe don’t require much fertilization and needed minimal watering. 

Initially, they even provided food to the sheep grazing them, as gas-powered lawn mowers didn’t exist in the 16th century. 

Back then, lawns were a symbol of wealth and social status, and they only became available to the masses in the 19th century. Albeit consisting majorly of grass, lawns are an important part of the English and European gardens. 

Embellished by native species of plants, trees, and flowers, lawns make sense on the Old Continent. 

Things are slightly different in America, where they only began to become popular in the postwar era.

Indeed, creating and maintaining a flawless English lawn in the USA comes with important consequences at an environmental level.

Homeowners and landscapers started to replace the native species of grass, plants, and trees, with imported ones. According to some studies, lawns currently displace the native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day

This displacement comes with two important consequences. 

The first one regards the extinction of the natural habitat. Lawns emerging in urban, suburban, and even rural areas create sterile, chemically-filled environments that provide no food nor shelter to the native wildlife. 

A lawn may seem pretty, but at a closer look, you’ll notice the lack of life. No weeds, no bugs, no biodiversity whatsoever. Just plain green grass mowed to perfection. 

The second problem regards the maintenance of the lawn. The soil in the USA can rarely provide the necessary nutrients turf grasses and imported plants need. These plants are also subject to diseases, which means the use of more fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. 

Dry soil in the time of drought

Furthermore, they can become invasive, suppressing the native species and depriving wildlife from proper nutrition.

That’s not it; according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine and published in the Geophysical Research Letters, turf lawns release greenhouse effect gases through fertilization, contributing to the global warming.

Moreover, the toxic chemicals contained in herbicides and pesticides will eventually end up in the water, contaminating the fish we eat and water we drink. 

Keeping turf from turning brown in areas where turf isn’t supposed to grow also contributes to wasting water. 

Besides, you must also consider the noxious gasses released by the machines employed to maintain your lawn. 

Indeed, keeping your lawn at a reasonable height means burning fossil fuel if you’re using gas-powered lawn maintenance tools.

All these practices not only contribute to global warming; they also damage the ecosystem as a whole and may contribute to the extinction of many native species.

What Are Eco Friendly Backyards?

Considering the potentially negative effects of lawns, building an eco-friendly backyard could be a great alternative. Your property will still look amazing, but it will need less maintenance and will contribute to the diversification of the natural habitat. 

In research conducted by the University of Texas regarding the ecological approach to a sustainable lawn, scientists have found that simply switching to a mix of native grasses could substantially reduce watering and eliminate fertilization. 

This process would slow down lawn growth and reduce mowing frequency. Consequently, it would reduce water waste and the carbon footprint.

Eco friendly backyards are, therefore, those backyards that create native ecosystems instead of sterile, artificial ones. 

In fact, a study published in the Canadian Etymologist highlights that weeds and native plants are the most popular source of food for indigenous pollinators. Native plants also increase the butterfly and bird populations in urban areas. 

With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why switching to an eco-friendly backyard is the only solution we have to preserve biodiversity in the urban and suburban areas.

Types of Eco Friendly Backyards

Eco friendly backyards is an umbrella term that covers all types of sustainable landscaping. Practically, you have two options:

1. Natural Landscaping

Natural landscaping, also known as habitat gardening or native gardening, replaces the manicured lawn with plants including trees, shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers indigenous to the geographical area  where you live. 

The choice of native flora brings many benefits. According to Audubon, creating a natural landscape has: 

  • Ecological and habitat benefits: Indigenous plants provide a suitable habitat for native species of pollinators, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. Due to the abundance of local plants that can be used, natural landscaping also provides variety in gardens. They can also form ecosystems with fungi and microbes necessary to the harmonious development of the garden. 
  • Maintenance benefits: Indigenous plants are habituated to the local climate, soil conditions, pests, and animals. They require few or no soil amendments, little irrigation, and usually no herbicides and pesticides. This makes habitat gardens sustainable and environmentally friendly. 
  • Aesthetics: Unlike imported evergreens, native plants usually bloom in a rainbow of beautiful colors. Besides the beauty of flowers, you will also witness the seasonal color changes from pale green in spring to yellow or red in fall. 
  • Health benefits: Lawns require profuse amounts of fertilizers and pesticides; in fact, an acre of traditional suburban lawn contains on average ten times more chemical pesticides than an acre of farmland. Pesticides not only destroy biodiversity; they can be harmful to humans and pets too. However, growing native plants require little to no pesticides, so your backyard will become a healthier place for you and your family. 
  • Environmental benefits: Besides combating pollution, many native plants combat climate change by storing greenhouse gases. Native long-living trees, including oaks and maples, are the most effective at storing carbon dioxide, fighting global warming.
  • Water preservation: Native plants also help you save water by requiring less of it. Since they are adapted to the local environmental conditions, they usually require no irrigation. 

Natural landscaping usually integrates seamlessly into the local landscape; however, you can also opt for a wildflower garden or rain garden. 

The former attempts to recreate a prairie and consists of native grasses and flowering plants. These gardens usually benefit the local wildlife and act as a shelter for butterflies, insects, and even small mammals. In rural areas, wildflower gardens may also attract larger wildlife including deer, so keep that in mind and integrate some deer repelling plants in your landscape if you want to avoid unwanted visitors.

The latter has the role in absorbing rainwater from gutters and is ideal for plants that thrive in humid environments, as long as they are native plants. 

Undoubtedly, natural landscaping can provide you with an enchanting, educative backyard where life thrives. This type of backyard is more exciting for children too and provides a healthier environment where to grow your offspring.

On the downside, such a backyard may not be particularly suitable for playing some outdoor games, and depending on where you live, the selection of native plants could be restrictive.

2. Xeriscaping

According to the Nevada County Resource Conservation District, xeriscaping refers to water-wise, climate-appropriate gardening. 

The practice, developed in the late 70s, shares some common principles with natural landscaping, but it’s different from it because it emphasizes the selection of plants for water conservation purposes. Thus it accepts the use of non-native species.

Often associated with ugly desert-like landscapes, xeriscaping can be quite colorful and is not incompatible with the European style gardening or natural gardening. 

Indeed, when properly designed and implemented, xeriscaping can help you create an eco-friendly backyard; it can significantly reduce maintenance, and it is estimated that it can reduce water use by up to 60%. 

As highlighted by the Habitat Network, xeriscaping has seven fundamental principles: 

  • Superior landscape design and planning: Create a diagram of all landscape areas, including lawn zones, flowerbeds, trees, and shrubs.
  • Limitation of lawn to appropriate, functional areas: You can have lawn areas as long as they serve a functional purpose. Choose climate-appropriate warm-season or cool-season grasses based on the local climate.
  • Climate-appropriate plant selection: You can use both native and non-native plants as long as they are climate-appropriate. For instance, if you live in California, you could integrate many Mediterranean plants into your landscape. Native plants are often preferred though.
  • Extensive mulching: Mulching helps keep soil temperature lower and prevents the evaporation of water. At the same time, it also acts as a barrier against weeds and pests. For a truly environmental friendly backyard, turn grass clippings into mulch when you’re mowing the lawn.
  • Efficient, non-wasteful irrigation: Xeriscaping requires to group the plants based on their water requirements, for efficient irrigation. You should place the plants that require moderate water in drainage areas, low-water plants in dry, sunny areas, and shrubs and perennials in moderately sunny areas. Turf requires the most water, and a drip irrigation system could be your best bet to minimize water waste.
  • Soil amendments for water conservation: You can amend soil water retention by using compost. However, you should always consider the climate, type of soil, and plants in the area where you live. Some species, including cacti, might prefer gravel soils instead of water-retaining soils.
  • Proper landscape maintenance: While xeriscaping reduces maintenance, it doesn’t eliminate it. You should still mow and fertilize the lawn and occasionally prune the trees, shrubs, and perennials. For a truly eco-friendly backyard, turn all vegetal material into compost, so you can always use organic fertilizer for your lawn.

It is easy to understand, therefore, that if you aim to maintain manicured lawn areas for backyard games, xeriscaping could be a more appropriate choice.

How To Build Eco Friendly Backyards?

Changing behavior is often difficult. Perhaps you’ve worked hard to achieve the perfect lawn, so replacing it with a meadow or prairie might not sound appealing. 

However, you can build an eco-friendly backyard by combining the principles of natural landscaping with those of xeriscaping while maintaining an aesthetic similar to the traditional lawn. Here are a few tips to help you in your quest:

1. Choose Native Flora

Native plants are essential for the biodiversity. Source of food and shelter for insects, butterflies, and small mammals; they are also acclimated to your local conditions and need minimal maintenance. Because they usually require no pesticides and herbicides, native plants, including wildflowers, also help you create a safer landscape for your family.

2. Replace Turf With Ground Covers

Turfgrass is a staple for well-maintained, manicured lawns, but there are many alternatives that maintain the well-manicured aesthetics while reducing water waste and carbon footprint. Depending on where you live, you can opt for evergreen moss, clover, creeping perennials, and even ornamental grasses if your lawn doesn’t have a functional purpose.

3. Reduce Mowing

If you really don’t want to give up the turf, at least limit your mowing sessions. Leave the grass grow taller, as taller blades will retain more water. You should also turn grass clippings into mulch or add them to the compost pile instead of discarding.

4. Harvest Rainwater

Let the xeriscaping principles inspire you and reduce city water consumption by harvesting rainwater. You can use it to water your landscape as well as the vegetable garden. There are many solutions, such as harvesting in rainwater barrels, cisterns, or rain chains. Regardless of which harvesting method you choose, this practice will help you reduce your water footprint and save some cash on your bill.

5. Eliminate the Use of Chemicals

Standard lawn care involves using large amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. However, these substances don’t add any nutrients to the soil. An organic fertilizer, such as compost or manure enrich the soil with important nutrients that will make your plants grow stronger and more vigorous. Regarding pests control, native plants attract dozens of insects and birds that usually feed on aphids, scale, and other organisms that may attack your plants.

6. Use Permeable Paving

Besides harvesting rainwater, you can also use permeable paving instead of the traditional type. Permeable walkways and driveways drain rainwater directly into the soil, minimizing watering even more. In areas known for heavy rains, they also help prevent localized floods which often affect the wildlife.

7. Increase Biodiversity

Xeriscaping or natural landscaping is a huge first step towards creating an eco-friendly backyard, but you can increase biodiversity even more by providing insects, butterflies, and birds with the right shelter. Nest boxes, feeders, and a birdbath are just some elements that can make your backyard more fun to look at and more wildlife-friendly.

8. Use Wood Composite Lumber

In an eco-friendly backyard, the choice of materials is as important as the choice of the plants. If you want to build a deck or wooden walkway, use wood composite lumber instead of standard lumber. The former is made from recycled plastic and reclaimed lumber, is eco-friendly, it looks just as good as the real thing, and it will last longer.

9. Choose Local Materials

If you really can’t give up real wood, at least choose wooden products and materials sourced locally. This will help reduce the carbon footprint and will also support local businesses. Just make sure all wood comes from sustainable sources.

10. Recycle and Reuse

Eco friendly backyards go hand in hand with recycled and reused objects and materials. For instance, you can use an old chest of drawers to create original planters or upscale your garden furniture with a fresh coat of paint instead of replacing it altogether. Pavers made from recycled concrete, as well as pots and fencing made from recycled wood and plastic, are environmental-savvy choices that will look amazing into your sustainable backyard.

Down To You

Eco friendly backyards come with a wealth of benefits. They can help us reduce the greenhouse gases footprint, save resources, promote biodiversity, and are ultimately healthier. An eco-friendly backyard also has an educational value and is more fun for the kids to play into. 

From xeriscaping that allows the incorporation of a lawn into the landscape to natural landscaping and habitat gardening, you have plenty of options to choose from. 

Whether you decide to embrace change or stick to the traditional lawn is down to you; remember, though, that our offspring’s future is in our hands, and an eco-friendly backyard could be a good start to shaping it brighter.

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