Give Your Lawn an Environmental Make-over
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
For some homeowners, this emerald carpet is a dream come true. But from an environmental point of view, what it takes to maintain a typical lawn is a nightmare.
A lush lawn needs water. But as droughts are becoming more frequent and last longer, watering lawns is an extravagance we can ill afford.
To keep lawns green and weed-free, people use chemical fertilizers and herbicides, none of which are good for the environment. These chemicals find their way into ground water and into nearby lakes, rivers and streams. They are toxic to humans, fish and wildlife. They're also toxic to the microorganisms that are essential for healthy soil.
Gas-powered lawn mowers and blowers produce emissions that contribute to climate change. Electric options are better, but if electricity in your region is generated by burning fossil fuels, emissions are still an issue.
All that said, there are reasons to have at least a patch of green in many yards. Kids and pets need a place to play. Unlike paved surfaces, lawns are cooler in summer, and help prevent stormwater runoff in winter. Green spaces absorb sound and reduce noise pollution.
How can you enjoy the benefits of a lawn without the environmental downside? There are several lawn alternatives that can work in the Pacific Northwest. Of these, probably the most reliable is microclover.
You are probably familiar with its cousin, white clover, which grows taller and produces an abundance of white flowers. Microclover is shorter, produces fewer flowers, and because it isn't as tall, needs mowing less often.
Other advantages of microclover include:
It's drought tolerant and will stay green in summer in Seattle, when lawn grasses go dormant without regular watering. Depending on the weather in a given year, you won't have to water much, if at all, to keep your microclover lawn looking green.
Clover is a legume, a type of plant that is capable of drawing elemental nitrogen from the air and converting it to a form that can be taken up by plants. This means that you won't have to fertilize your lawn anymore.
If you've ever tried to dig up a patch of clover, you know that its root system forms a dense mat. That mat acts as weed barrier, eliminating the need to use herbicides.
Microclover produces tiny, white flowers that are popular with pollinators, like bees and butterflies. With pollinator species in decline, due in part to loss of habitat and overuse of chemicals, planting microclover helps support them.
You don't have to tear out your existing lawn to plant microclover. It grows very well in combination with the fescue and rye grasses in typical Seattle area lawns. Overseeding with microclover will fill in bare spots and blend in with existing grass.
Here's how to get started. In spring, dethatch and aerate your lawn. Sprinkle seed over the lawn, especially any bare spots. One to two pounds should be enough to cover 1,000 sq. ft. of bare ground. Add a thin layer of compost over all. Water it in. It takes 7 - 14 days for the seed to geminate. Make sure it doesn't dry out while it is getting established. When you mow, keep the mowing height at two inches or above to avoid scalping.
Enjoy your new, environmentally healthy lawn!