How to make your yard (and your neighborhood!) more nature-friendly.

The Modern-Day Lawn

The “ideal” yard with vast stretches of uniform grass is technically green — but only because grass is green. In reality, a pristine lawn is a monoculture that does little to support insect or animal life. In addition, keeping up that monoculture often means using noisy gas-powered tools that pollute the air (a single gas-powered lawn mower emits as much pollution in one hour as driving a car for 45 miles) and the overuse of pesticides is hazardous for both people and pets, can contaminate local waterways through runoff, and kills beneficial insects. 

 

What’s the alternative?

A nature-friendly yard features native plants that support insects like bees and butterflies. It may mean having less lawn, mowing less, or not at all, or leaving some leaves on your lawn every fall. 
 
A more nature-friendly yard doesn’t have to be all or nothing. That is, you don’t have to replace your entire lawn with native plants or stop mowing altogether. Instead, small steps can make a big difference. 

 

Steps You Can Take

Here are some steps you can take to make your yard more nature-friendly:
  • Mow less frequently. For a while, environmental advocates were promoting “No Mow May” to make sure bees had plenty of food early in the season. That has now changed to “Low Mow May,” which means mowing just once or twice.
  • Use less polluting tools. Small lawns don’t need a riding mower. Can you switch to an electric mower or an old-fashioned reel mower? One study noted that a half-hour of yard work with a two-stroke leaf blower produced about the same emissions as a 3,900-mile drive in a pickup truck.
  • Plant native species. From flowers to bushes to trees, native plants provide food and habitat for more native species, whereas non-native plants offer less natural benefit. For example, a keystone species, the oak tree supports more fungi, insects, birds and mammals than any other North American tree genus. Remove non-native species to make room for beneficial plants.
  • Leave the leaves. Leaves provide food and shelter for insects, bees, butterflies and more. Though a thick layer of leaves can damage your lawn, a thin layer will break down over the winter. Mulching leaves can be particularly harmful to cocoons and insects. Leaves make excellent mulch for flower beds!
  • If you do use chemicals on your lawn, use them sparingly and be cautious of using them on slopes and lawn edges, where runoff is more likely. Also, consider using compost or organic lawn chemical alternatives.
  • Native species of grasses require less maintenance, meaning fewer chemicals will be needed.
  • If you use mulch, make sure it isn’t too deep — it can smother both the plants you’re trying to protect and insects like ground-nesting bees.

Want to learn more?

Books:
“Nature’s Best Hope” by Douglas Tallamy
“Lawns Into Meadows” by Owen Wormser
 
Online:
-Homegrown National Park: homegrownnationalpark.org
-Garden for Wildlife from the National Wildlife Federation: gardenforwildlife.com
-Saint Kateri Conservation Center: www.kateri.org 
-Pollinator Partnership: www.pollinator.org
The website includes regionally specific “recipe cards” with easy-to-follow guidelines for creating home pollinator gardens.
-The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation: xerces.org

 

Local Resources

Audubon Society of the Capital Region: www.capitalregionaudubon.org
The local chapter will provide consultations for native plantings for birds and pollinators.
 
Wild Ones Capital Region: capitalregionny.wildones.org
This group promotes the use of native plants and natural landscaping to heal the Earth one garden at a time. Under the resources tab on their web page, you can find the names and locations of local nurseries that sell native plants.