By Bonnie Kirn Donahue

Extension Master Gardener

University of Vermont 

There is nothing better than a freshly mowed lawn. Or is there?

While lawns are lovely, versatile spaces for walking, running, playing, picnicking and gathering, lawns have drawbacks. For example, many people typically mow their lawns at least once a week, taking lots of time in summer that could be used for many other more enjoyable activities. Gas-powered lawnmowers also contribute significantly to air pollution, even more so than driving a car.

Manicured lawns can be monocultures, which lack ecological value. This means that large areas of our properties are made up of just a few plant species, which in turn serve only a few insect and animal species. Adding diversity in our landscapes will provide more benefits to the beneficial insects and wildlife that share these spaces with us.

Luckily, there are things we can do to address this.

First, mow your lawn less often (every 2 to 3 weeks). Reducing the frequency of mowing will free up time in your schedule. Use this extra time to observe your lawn and get used to its new look.

Another idea is to switch to an electric lawnmower, which will reduce the amount of emissions each summer. Check with your local electric department to see if it offers rebates for purchasing electric-powered lawn equipment.

If you're up for an experiment, try reducing the amount of area that you mow. Take an analytical walk around your property. What parts of your mowed lawn do you actually use, and what parts do you mow that serve little purpose?

Experiment with these little-used places first, letting the grass grow longer this summer. At the end of the season, think about whether or not you miss that area as lawn. You can always change your mind later.

Allowing your lawn to turn into a meadow does not mean that you will never mow it. Meadows need to be cut back every 1-2 years to prevent woody plants from getting established.

To go a step further, consider converting your lawn to a bee lawn. Native flowers are critical to the health of bees and pollinators. Flowering plants that are usually considered weeds in lawns, such as white clover (Trifolium repens), are actually excellent plants to encourage pollinators. 

Take a moment and pause near a patch of white clover or other wildflowers, and you will see incredible insect activity. This liveliness is what we should strive for in our cultivated landscapes. You can find additional ideas for bee lawns and other native pollinator plants on the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener Garden Resources page at http://go.uvm.edu/pollinatorhabitat.

While beneficial insect activity is important for our landscapes, insects such as ticks can negatively impact our lives. If you convert your lawn to meadow space and wish to walk through it, plan ahead and mow wide pathways (5-6 feet) to reduce the likelihood of contact with ticks.

Be sure to cover up with light-colored clothing, apply an insect repellent to the outside of your clothes and always check yourself for ticks after being outdoors. More information can be found at http://go.uvm.edu/ticksafety.

Although mowing our lawns in the summer seems like a given, why not look at this task in a different way. Imagine what it would look like if instead of having an expansive green carpet, we looked out at a carpet of native flowers instead?

PUBLISHED

06-23-2020
Master Gardener