Sustainable Lawn Care
Rethinking Lawn Maintenance
Shaker Heights was developed during the Garden City urban planning movement with expansive green lots and low-cut lawns encircling homes. This was seen as an escape from the inner city and a retreat to more pastoral beauty and elegance. Today that dominant aesthetic is changing. Lawns have become the most expensive “crop” in America as efforts to maintain them consume a disproportionate share of human and natural resources. Here are suggestions about more sustainable ways to manage your lawns.
- Consider alternatives to a lawn or reduce lawn space by planting native groundcovers, plants or trees. You will conserve water resources, absorb stormwater runoff and help create a pollinator pathway for insects and birds. Perennial native species can withstand summer heat and winter cold and they can reseed, unlike non-native annuals that require repurchasing and replanting each year. Many resources are available online to get you started.
- Do not use pesticides or herbicides on lawns. These products may harm your health, your children’s health and your pets’ health (wildlife, too). Plus, the run off into our local waterways also causes problems. Choose organic services and products. Organic lawn care providers are easily available. If you’re doing the work yourself, organic lawn care products made by companies such as Espoma are widely sold. Organic products and services cost no more than those containing pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers and pose less danger to the environment and human and animal life.
- If you have lawn to maintain, allow it to grow tall (but not in excess of Shaker’s six-inch grass ordinance) in the spring before the first cutting. This will allow root systems to become more established and you will need less frequent watering throughout spring and summer. This saves money and natural resources.
- If clover is growing in your lawn, do not eliminate it as if it were “undesirable” ground cover. Clover fixes nitrogen in the soil and can keep a lawn green throughout summer drought conditions. Did you know that prior to the 1950s, grass and clover seed mixes were sold together for lawns? When companies that produced chemical lawn treatments could not make herbicides that did not also kill clover, they began marketing clover as a weed.
- If using a lawn mower, use a push mower as first choice (great exercise) or a battery-powered electric mower with a 100% renewably sourced electric supply. Gas-powered lawn mowers emit 20 times more pollutants per hour of operation than cars (based on standards in effect in 2011). Their engines emit the principle ingredients of smog, particulate matter that is damaging to the respiratory and vascular systems, toxic carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. Electric alternatives to gas-powered lawn care equipment can eliminate many emissions and pollutants and reduce your carbon footprint. You will be doing your part to combat climate change!
- Exchange your gas-powered lawn mower for a new electric-powered lawn mower. Electric battery-powered lawn mowers are no more expensive than gas lawn mowers. They save you money through reduced maintenance costs. They improve air quality through reduced emissions. They are safer because they are quieter and the blades rotate more slowly, throwing up less debris. Lastly, they eliminate the need to store flammable fuel and oil.
- Join the City’s new 100 percent renewably sourced electric aggregation program and use only e-powered lawn care equipment when necessary. You will be doing your part to share more sustainable land management practices in our community.
Learning to Love Leaf Litter
The Arbor Day Foundation has recognized Shaker Heights as a Tree City USA community for nearly four decades. While we celebrate our increasing tree canopy and the benefits it provides to all residents, we all know that autumn is a time when those natural benefits turn to work for homeowners. Here are suggestions about more sustainable ways to manage those millions of beautiful, colorful falling leaves.
- Allow fallen leaves to biodegrade on site, because they will improve soil quality and the insect cocoons and eggs deposited on those leaves will become part of a bird and wildlife food chain.
- If you must remove leaf litter, try using a rake rather than gas-powered machinery. Did you know that a gas leaf blower operating for 60 minutes emits as much carbon monoxide as a car engine idling for 8 hours or being driven for 15 hours? Gas leaf blowers also create air pollution in the form of fine particulate matter that can cause significant impact on the lungs. Lastly, the noise levels of gas leaf blowers, especially the type used by commercial lawn care companies operate in the range of 85-92 decibels. Hearing loss can occur in ranges that exceed 90 decibels. Raking the leaves onto landscaping beds and gardens instead can take less time and the leaves will biodegrade, enriching the soil by springtime.
- If you can’t use a rake and must remove leaves on your lawn, use a battery-powered electric lawn mower without the bag to mulch the leaves for all the reasons just mentioned. Allow the grass/leaf mulch to fall back onto the grass, biodegrading on site and enriching the soil.
- If you must remove leaf litter, compost leaves on a home compost pile, layering green and brown organic material. Much of the mulch will become compost by spring and can be used to enrich the soil in landscaping beds.
- If you cannot do any of the above, rake leaves to the tree lawn for organic waste collection by the City of Shaker Heights. The City collects loose leaves from tree lawns from October 15 until December 15 each year. From April 15 to October 15, residents should use brown paper yard waste bags for all yard waste left on the tree lawn, except brush. Last resort: use a battery-powered electric leaf blower, hopefully charged through a 100% renewably sourced electric supplier, for any leaf collection activity. It will be cleaner, quieter and will emit no ozone-forming chemicals or carcinogens to pollute the air that all of us breathe.
- Hint: join the City’s new 100% renewably sourced electric aggregation program when it becomes available and use only e-powered lawn care equipment when necessary. You will be doing your part to share more sustainable land management practices in our community.