September 22, 2018

The other kind of green lawn

Observer courtesy photo by Luc Reid Using a lawn for gardening or planting fruit and berry bushes can be more beneficial and better for the environment than maintaining grass.

Observer courtesy photo by Luc Reid
Using a lawn for gardening or planting fruit and berry bushes can be more beneficial and better for the environment than maintaining grass.

By Luc Reid

It’s a funny thing that something as colorfully green as a lawn can be made much “greener” by using the space differently. Lawns typically take more than their fair share of energy and water to maintain. They provide little food or shelter for wildlife and aren’t much help protecting us from extreme weather. Having green space in which to play and relax is a big benefit of living in a place like Williston, but if you have more lawn than you need, here are six ways to reduce your lawn work and turn it into something greener.

1. Chemical-free

A healthy lawn doesn’t need chemical fertilizers or weed killers to survive, and lawn chemicals contribute to global warming and to water pollution, both in Williston waterways and downstream in Lake Champlain. When we use fewer lawn chemicals or switch to friendlier alternatives, everyone’s water is cleaner.

2. Electric and reel mowers

Like electric cars, electric mowers use less energy to achieve the same result as gas mowers, but they also mean no exhaust and less noise. We recently switched to an electric mower at our house, and the extra quiet has been wonderful. Electric mowers are more reliable than gas mowers and need less maintenance. They’re available in both push and riding versions, and the push kind can be either battery-powered or, if you don’t have a big lawn, corded.

On a small lawn, you can use a reel mower (the kind with no engine). These are even quieter and more reliable. They take more effort to push, but that means they also provide better exercise.

3. Gardens

Adding or expanding a vegetable garden provides healthy, environmentally friendly produce for your family, and the taste of food fresh from the garden can’t be matched. Gardening can be a relaxing hobby even for newcomers if you can make the time to spend outside here and there in the summer.

4. Fruit trees and berry bushes

For years I pictured having an apple tree in my yard when I finally settled in one place, but when I did settle down, I found out that apple trees are especially prone to pests and diseases, making it very difficult to have good apples without spraying. I was surprised, though, at some of the other fruits we can grow in Vermont, including apricots and plums. Some of my friends around town have blueberry bushes that give quart after quart of delicious blueberries every summer once the bushes have had a few years to settle in. If you’re willing to pick the fruit and then freeze it, can it, eat it, or give it away, fruit trees and berry bushes are a spectacular way to make better use of unneeded lawn space.

5. Rain gardens

A rain garden is a special planting of water-loving plants, carefully located to help water soak into the ground more quickly in soggy or flooded conditions. Rain gardens improve water supply and quality and help handle extra water in big storms. UVM has a free guide on rain gardens at uvm.edu/seagrant/sites/default/files/uploads/publication/VTRainGardenManual_Full.pdf.

6. Go wild

Of course, the easiest way to let go of unneeded lawn is to let it go back to its natural state. You can urge this along or improve the result by planting suitable native plants or trees in the area. For example, if you have a spot on your lawn that gets too wet, a willow tree planted there will happily dry it out for you. Other options include fast-growing pines or birches, fruit or nut trees, flowering trees and shrubs, and plants, like serviceberry bushes, that encourage local wildlife.

Sustainable Williston (SustainableWilliston.org) works on issues like clean energy, water quality and planting trees. Current group projects include collaborating on the new Town Plan and the Birth Tree Project, which celebrates children coming into Williston families with the gift of a tree to plant. Meetings are the first Wednesday of each month at 7:15 p.m. at the Dorothy Alling Library.

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