“Our care for the Earth is the same as our care for one another.”
Pope Francis, Laudato Si
DITCH YOUR LAWN (and make the Pope smile)
Would you like to cut down on the chore of mowing? How about conserving water and creating habitat that’s better for butterflies, wildlife—and you?
I’ve felt for some time that the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides—and endless watering—to keep grass green and “perfect” is the wrong choice. Lawn chemicals pollute our environment and clean water is too precious to waste on non-native grasses that crowd out Minnesota plants that butterflies and wildlife need.
After the fascinating “Water is Life” panel discussion on March 19th, I spoke to panelist Dwayne Stenlund about how to turn a yard into a wildflower garden.
Dwayne recommends that you choose a portion of the yard to transform; it’s a lot of work and you don’t have to do it all at once. First, mow down the existing grass or plants as close to the soil surface as possible. Then cover the ground with 2 inches of loose leaf and grass clipping-derived compost. This will kill the plants underneath (by in-place composting) without requiring the use of toxic herbicides. Plus, the mixture will retain moisture and add organic matter filled with a diversity of microorganisms.
Obtain Minnesota native wildflower and grass seeds from a local supplier. The bag of seeds you receive may not look like enough for your yard—but it is! If you want, you can add sawdust or clean sand to the seeds to bulk up the mixture and make the seeds easier to uniformly distribute.
Sow the seeds in your layer of compost. Lightly rake them in to discourage animals from devouring your seeds. Make sure to water them well. They will need about 6 gallons of water per square yard—equivalent to about one inch of rain—per week, until they’re established. (Native plants typically require a lot less watering than bluegrass and fescue lawns.)
A diverse mixture of wild flowers (10-20 species) and grasses (3-6 species) will flower and go to seed over the growing season, from summer to fall. You can collect the seeds and use them to transform another portion of your lawn into wildflowers the following year. In this way, you can gradually expand your wildflower garden. (Of course, you can also make the change all in one year or hire a company to do it for you). In the mean time, you will be rewarded with increased visits from butterflies, bees and birds.
I asked about the controlled burns that I see corporations and museums stage for their wildflower prairies every couple of years to keep them healthy. Dwayne says that’s not necessary (and not very safe) for a homeowner with a smaller garden. You can simulate a burn by mowing the yard once every year or two to achieve an effect similar to a controlled fire (slow oxidation vs rapid oxidation).
Replacing our lawns with wildflower gardens is just one way we can help to care for the Earth, as Pope Francis asks us to do in his encyclical, Laudato Si.
prairieresto.com (native seeds and plants; or they can do the whole installation for you)
landscapealternatives.com (native plants)