One Land: Can we change a habit?

Submitted by Urling Searle, Greenwich Sustainability Committee

How we care for our lawns and properties

When gazing across a freshly cut lawn on a warm summer afternoon you may notice yourself more aware of the natural world around you. In many ways our lawns create the lens from which we view and interact with our surrounding landscapes. Choosing how to care for and proportion this green space determines the diversity of life we come to be familiar with and care about.

Much is being written about the recent dramatic loss of biodiversity and the impact this is having on local ecosystems and ultimately human health. It seems every year a new insect pest or invasive plant poses a greater threat to familiar trees, shrubs and plants and across the country respected scientists, local governments and concerned citizens are urging homeowners to be mindful of how they manage their properties.

Our backyards make up a critical mass of the natural systems we depend upon for clean air, clean water and healthy soils. In the past there were enough surrounding wild places to do this for us but they are no longer intact. How we steward our properties will determine what benefits these landscapes will be able to offer us in the coming decades.

A wealth of compelling evidence exists linking the ongoing use of toxic pesticides to unnecessary illness in pets and people. Lawn chemical runoff causes well documented damage to waterways and implores us to question our common lawn practices and consider a more holistic approach.

The term holistic emphasizes the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts. In looking at lawn care this implies that a lawn is not simply a stand-alone entity but part of a larger whole and can strengthen or weaken its surrounding ecosystem. This interdependence can be seen in the familiar sight of robins darting about a lawn looking for the thousands of worms they will need to feed their young.  No rest for these busy parents! And in the new nest that appears almost overnight and the warm glow of fireflies on a summer evening.

In adopting a more holistic approach to lawn care you provide conditions that support deep rooted grasses that require few, if any, chemicals and far less water. It begins with a soil test to evaluate a lawn’s chemical makeup and with that understanding a program of seasonal care incorporating practices such as overseeding, amending, spot treating and longer less frequent watering begins. Deep rooted fescue grasses are included in seed mixtures as they require less mowing and crowd out weeds. Mowers are set at 3” or above to allow small clippings to be added directly back into the lawn to feed the very roots of the grasses they were cut from. Fall leaves are mulched into small pieces using a mulch mower that allows them to become food for the soil. For more detailed information have a look here –

The use of organics encourages microbial life and small insects to thrive allowing songbirds and pollinators to flourish. Healthy living soils support healthy lawns without the need for expensive chemicals, thus creating a landscape more aligned with a natural high functioning system. 

Today is a great time to make a call to your landscaper, reach out to a neighbor or visit a favorite nursery and think about a shift in how you care for your lawn and steward your property. Consider more diverse pollinator-friendly plants that flower throughout the season and require little care. Native grasses, trees and shrubs create a more resilient landscape. You may begin to shift your aesthetic to one welcoming additional life in place of rigid order. One that is functional and beautiful and supports a more diverse spectrum of life, a wider web of living organisms.

Throughout this One Land series we have offered alternatives to current common practices in support of a more biodiverse home landscape. Simple actions such as the planting of an oak tree and native flowering shrubs set the stage for rapid restoration and healthier neighborhood landscapes. Native grasses and flowering perennials offer beauty in winter as well as summer and invite more life into your yard. When you trade lawn for plantings you introduce focal points and visual interest, and with additions such as native ground covers, you bring beauty to often neglected dry and shady areas. 

In shifting how we approach the care of our properties, each of us can effectively join hands with our neighbors to improve the natural systems of the landscape we all call home. Our children and grandchildren will thank us.

For more information on holistic lawn care please visit –

To learn more about what lives in your soil watch this remarkable film with your family. You will be amazed.

To find a local organic lawn care company visit –

See also:

One Land: Trees Are the Lifeline of the Landscape

One Land: The grass isn’t always greener. How our obsession with lawns turned toxic.

One Land: Soil is the Foundation of a Living Planet

The Alien Invaders in Our Own Backyards: How invasive plants are taking over our native landscape