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Sustainability: Having a Lawn and Saving the Environment, Too

Your dear old Aunty has a very focused philosophy about yard and garden care: Do nothing. If you can’t do nothing, do as little as possible.

What does that mean at Chez Siberia?

Well, it means things like the following:
1) We mow the lawn as little as possible during the hot summer months, taking the position that ‘what is above the ground is what is below the ground’ – the more there is on top, the more roots there are below, which is really a good thing if you are having a hot dry summer.
2) We compost everything that is not meat and put it on the garden and dig it in in the spring.
3) We mulch everything we can – our township has a woodchip generation and composting facility where we can go and fill up as many garbage cans as we can – we mulch all the beds and paths to hold in moisture and keep down the weeds. All the weeds (except for wire grass and bind weed) get composted.
4) If it is really dry and hot, we run a hose from the sump in the front basement out to the garden and deep wet the soil in the morning. Using sprinklers on the garden is basically a waste of water.

You notice that I do not mention herbicides or pesticides. We don’t spray. At all. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, as terminally cheap people, we do not spend money on stuff that we don’t have to. We feel that making the soil strong with compost and cover crops helps garden plants fight off bugs and diseases, so spending money on chemicals to spray or throw on the garden is a waste of money.

Second, the chemicals that are out there now are truly horrific stuff. As much in the way of chemicals as American farmers use, believe it or not, American homeowners use 10 times as much on their lawns and gardens. When it rains, all of that stuff ends up running off the plants and soil and into creeks, rivers and streams, where it is picked up by fish and amphibians. US Geologic Survey statistics indicate that contamination of this sort can be found in 96% of all fish taken in major rivers in the United States.
Homeowners Guide

Also, we don’t water the lawn. According to the EPA, American homeowners use an amazing amount of water just trying to achieve green grass. Given climate change, we really should change our situation, as national estimates hover in the 9 BILLION gallons of water being used A DAY just for lawn watering in this country.

Now, far be it from me to shake the finger at people who love their lawns and who blanch at the thought of a broadleaf weed sticking its head above the turf. I do understand that most people out there are not like us. And I also understand that many people live in communities or developments that basically require having a lawn and keeping it a certain height.

I’m a big believer in the use of ground covers.
They save water and usually suppress weeds. So you don’t need to water or spray. Also, because they are not a lawn, you don’t have to mow – so you save gasoline (and Carbon monoxide contamination as well. What’s not to like?
For help choosing the right ground cover for your yard, see this list
Ground Covers

Now, if you want to know what our ground cover of choice is here at Chez Siberia, I have to tell you that it is the humble (though colorful) hosta. You can find hostas in blue-green, yellow, green, white and combinations of those colors and every height from almost microscopic all the way up to massive tropical specimens 6 feet tall. With that sort of diversity, you could replace an entire front lawn in 4” hostas of one color or make patterns in varying colors and heights. In the old days, hostas were seen as strictly a semi-shady or full-shade plant (and certainly, if you have a of shade in your yard to cover, hostas are a very effective way to go), but there are plenty of hostas that can handle sun and here at Chez Siberia, we have hostas growing on the south side of our house, in full sun and no matter how hot or dry it gets, they perform like champs. I cannot recommend them enough.

We are long past the point where people can do things in their outdoor environment which will impact everyone in their areas and downstream. With ground covers, you can have your green between the house and the street, and save water and the environment at the same time.

(photo of hosta ‘blue mouse ears’ is courtesy of www.hostasdirect.com)

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