Local Food Web

Protect It, Build It, Use It

Lawns don't feed anyone.

You can do better than a green desert. We can help.

By Ian Rose
Published December 27, 2019
Categories: Gardening, Lawn to Garden

Q: What's Green and Brown and Does Nothing For You?
A: Your Lawn

It can be hard to admit, but let's have a little tough love here. Your uniform green lawn is a problem.

Lawns may seem natural. They're green, after all. They're alive. But they're also a monoculture, with just one species where there should be many. Nature hates monocultures, which is why it keeps trying to re-invade your lawn with pioneer species, otherwise known as weeds.

Go out and sit on your lawn. Look and listen. Watch the birds, insects, and other wildlife, and watch where they go. You'll see pretty quickly that the grass is the place they spend the least time. It's the flowers, trees and bushes at the edge of your lawn that attract and shelter life. The lawn itself is pretty quiet in comparison. There's nothing inherently wrong with quiet, but we prefer life.

The good news is, your lawn wants to be more diverse.

Those pioneer species we talked about - those weeds - are always knocking at the door. All you have to do to let them in is, literally, nothing. Whether you realize it or not, you're putting a lot of effort into keeping your lawn a monoculture - weeding, spraying harmful chemicals, and watering a grass species that needs so much water because it's not adapted to exist where we put it. The first step to a healthier, more diverse yard is just to stop forcing it to be otherwise.

Now, I can hear the arguments starting already. You can't just let your yard go wild. You want it to look nice. You have neighbors. Not only that, maybe you have an HOA that sets rules for yard maintenance. We aren't suggesting that everyone can just let their yards go wild (though for some, it's a great experiment.) If you want both diversity and aesthetics, it will take a little more effort, but I promise, it'll be worth it.

Where to Begin?

The first thing is to list and understand those limitations we talked about earlier - your aesthetic preferences, neighborly expectations, and even legal requirements. Like any project, knowing what you want out of it before you start saves a lot of time and headache along the way.

It's also useful to gauge your own level of anxiety about the project, as well as that of everyone who shares your property. Change is inherently difficult for us, and there's nothing wrong with admitting it. Be honest, and if you're feeling especially nervous about this change, start slow.

One easy place to start is the edges. If you're not ready to get rid of your entire grass lawn, think about a border on one side that could be replaced with a hedge or a garden bed. It might not seem like much, but even adding one flowering or food plant to your yard can have a big impact.

As we build this site, we'll have all sorts of tips for converting your lawn to a garden, whether your goal is to grow food, attract wildlife, add color to your yard or all of the above. We'll add those links to the end of this article, so stay tuned, and if you have any questions about this kind of project, you can always ask us on Twitter at @LocalFoodWebs or by email at staff@localfoodweb.com.

Most of all, I hope we've given you something to think about. There is so much more possible for a yard than just grass, and I hope we've planted a seed of an idea, whether you start right now or not.