California offers rebates to homeowners for drought–tolerant plantings.
Native perennials in the author’s front yard
The Grass Is Not Greener
By Melissa Grieco,
Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee
A curious thing happened on the way to summer, amongst many other curious occurrences in 2020. The grass was not greener, the late spring blooms were not as colorful, because our region was already experiencing arid conditions and parched earth due to abnormally dry weather. In fact, June 2020 may well go down as one of the driest Junes on record in New York State.
Climate change is undoubtably to blame for these early–season, drought-like conditions. Scorched lawns are normally reserved for late July and August when precipitation levels are naturally low. However, extreme weather patterns caused by the shifting climate are wreaking havoc, not only on local agriculture, but on our gardens and lawns as well.
An effective way for Rye homeowners to fortify and protect their yards from similar future dry spells and droughts, is to simply reduce the size of their grass lawns. There are many advantages to shrinking turfed areas and introducing more native plants which are beneficial to both the environment and the wallet:
<<Reduced Irrigation and Lower Water Bills>>
About half of the water we use at home is spent outdoors on landscaping. With a drier, hotter climate and longer summer season becoming the norm, maintaining a green, well-hydrated grass-scape will require ever more watering for longer stretches of the year. Additional irrigation will spike homeowners’ water bills while placing strain on overtaxed reservoirs.
In California, which has experienced long periods of drought over the past few decades, the Department of Water Resources offers rebates to homeowners for removing thirsty grass and replacing it with water-efficient plantings. Here in the Northeast, expanding flower beds and ornamental borders is also a fantastic way to reduce the size of turfed areas and accompanying watering needs.
Replace grass with an array of drought-tolerant perennials such as Wild stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), Purple coneflower (Echinacea), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), and Butterfly weed (Asclepias). These native plantings will be a magnet for local pollinators and wildlife and are bound to look more attractive than a front yard full of drought-withered, browned-out grass!
<<Less Mowing and Blowing>>
Less grass not only means less time and money spent on watering, but also means less time and money spent on mowing and blowing. Simply put, big expanses of lawn are often a real pain in the (gr)ass and wallet for property owners.
Shrinking turfed-over areas leads to lower landscaping bills as perennial beds, borders and other ground covers do not require regular mowing and maintenance. Less mowing and blowing reduces the carbon emissions, noise and air pollution generated by landscaping equipment such as gas-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers. Furthermore, cultivating a range of plantings produces a more biodiverse, balanced, and healthier ecosystem for human and non-human inhabitants alike.
Eliminate Lawn Chemicals
A smaller lawn reduces the need for the application of lawn chemicals, including synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. These toxic chemicals have been linked to cancer in humans and dogs, plus they pollute our soils and waterways.
While it is considered a fixture of American suburbia, the green and manicured front lawn, is a European import dating back to the colonial era. Most strains of grass-seed that are widely sold today, such as Kentucky bluegrass, originated in Europe or the Middle East. These non-native grasses often require the addition of artificial chemicals to thrive and stay healthy as they are not well-adapted to growing conditions here.
Removing grass and adding native plantings results in less need for lawn chemicals. Native plants have evolved and adapted specifically to the local growing conditions so they will thrive without the support of synthetic applications. In addition, native plants are vital to supporting our local pollinators and wildlife which rely on them for food and habitat.
As climate change intensifies in the coming years, Rye homeowners can render their garden landscapes more resilient by switching from turf to native plantings and ground covers. It turns out that the grass is NOT greener, especially as summer weather continues to trend ever hotter and drier in the coming years.