Monday, July 30, 2012

Our Natural Lawn

Our front lawn is what I refer to as a natural lawn. I'm not aware of any commonly accepted definition of the term, so I thought it would be worthwhile to explain what I mean, and provide some of the benefits I've seen from having such a lawn.

When I say natural lawn, I don't simply mean that we avoid using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In fact, we avoid using organic fertilizers as well, as compost or any other natural soil enhancers are, we feel, much better used in the garden than on the lawn. We do not water our lawn, regardless of how dry it might be. Hauling creek water is too much work to be wasting it on the lawn, and I am not about to use municipal water in that way. Even when we get our rain barrels in place, I can't see us watering the lawn. There is more to it, though, than just not watering or applying fertilizer or pesticides; we did  not plant any grass in our front yard. In fact, we didn't plant anything. Our entire front lawn consists of natural vegetation that propagated on its own. Some people might refer to these as weeds, but for us, they make up our natural front lawn.

You might think that a yard full of, what most would consider weeds, would look terrible. I do not find this to be the case at all, however. I would argue that when everything is at a consistent height, as it is after being recently cut, our lawn looks as good as a traditional lawn from a distance. In fact, I believe that from the road, there are few people who could distinguish our natural lawn from a traditional lawn of grass, and that during a very dry time, such as we had this past June, our lawn likely looks much better than many traditional lawns. There is one exception to this, and that is during the off-season. During the winter and early spring I find that our lawn tends to have dead areas when other lawns are completely green. This is the nature of the plants growing in our yard, and its a downside that I can gladly live with.

During the driest part of June, I drove by multiple homes with completely dead lawns. The lawn was nicely manicured, but that was overshadowed by the dry, brown grass. One of the reasons I believe our lawn survived the lack of water so well is that it consists of native vegetation that was simply better able to survive the harsh conditions than grass. After all, these plants have thrived entirely on their own, with no help from me, and in less than idea conditions.

The other reason I believe our lawn survived the dry period so well is that I avoided cutting it until I was satisfied the drought was over. There was a period of maybe 6 weeks during which I didn't mow the lawn at all. I know that lawns that are kept cut short dry out more quickly, so wanted to give ours the best chance possible at using what little moisture was available. Even during normal periods, I do not mow the lawn as often, or as short, as most people. When I use to mow it with the push-mower, I'd adjust it to its highest position. Now that I have the pull-behind mower, I set it to is lowest. I was curious about the actual height, so went outside earlier and took some measurements. It looks like my current setup leaves the lawn about 3" tall, which is about where I'd like to be. It does get uneven fairly quickly, due to different growth rates of different plants, but that doesn't bother us. We aren't concerned with having a proper well manicured lawn, otherwise we'd have to try a different approach.

I must confess, the back yard isn't completely natural. I've actually tried sewing grass seed back there twice, with only limited success. We have no topsoil in that area, because it was removed during the dozing to make a spot for the trailer, and the grass just isn't doing well in the hard clay. It is slowly becoming more green, though, so I'll just give it time. Other than planting grass, instead of relying natural vegetation to take root, I've followed the same process with the backyard as the front. If the grass doesn't start doing better soon, we may break down and just sew some wildflowers back there. That might be more enjoyable than grass anyway.

Natural lawns, as I define them, are not a good option for everyone. Some people, especially those living in cities or suburbs, may need to keep a more traditional lawn in order to meet HOA requirements or to keep the neighbors happy. For those in a situation such as us, however, I urge you to at least consider letting your lawn go native. Other than the occasional mowing, which in our case is much less than most with a traditional lawn, there is no upkeep, and therefore no cost or use of resources. The only thing that could be better is if our lawn were producing plants that we could use for other purposes, and we're actually starting to look into that possibility. I think our chickens, when we eventually get some, will certainly be happy because of the variety of insects attracted to the various plants growing in our yard.


  1. We have a natural lawn, too, much to the disgust of our neighbors. We also let much of the grass go to seed at certain times. We enjoy seeing the grasses grow chest-high or taller, and wildflowers and tree seedlings appear, which generally makes us feel like we live in a meadow. :) We always give in and mow it after a while, though, for the neighbors' sakes. Many of them have children who play nearby, so it probably isn't a good idea to create ideal snake habitat in this area. This is one of many disadvantages to having neighbors so close by.

    I'm a big fan of "edible lawns." What little I've seen of this concept in practice, it's a perfect example of beauty in utility. But we have too many animals, and our soil quality is too low, to try something like that where we currently live. This, along with the close neighbors, is one more reason to move ASAP. :P

    1. We never let the lawn get anywhere near chest high. I do let some of the border areas grow tall, but the lawn normally gets cut by the time its 12 inches tall or so.