Green Ideas to Save the Environment and Money
By Cindy Price
A few months ago my husband and I made a controversial decision. We decided not to fertilize our yard.
While our neighbors were out spreading fertilizer and weed killer, we decided not to use either one. We reasoned that fertilizing would only make our grass grow faster, and we would have to mow it more often.
Plus, living close to a natural waterway made us concerned about chemical runoff and its negative effects on the environment.
So we didn’t fertilize our yard. Now that we’re in the heat of summer I can report that not fertilizing hasn’t hurt our yard at all. Our yard is just as green and the turf just as plush as our neighbors’. The healthy grass has crowded out most weeds, so only hand-weeding is needed to keep a manicured look.
Here’s why not fertilizing worked: Two years ago we quit the lawn service and began mowing the yard ourselves so we could use the mulching feature on our lawn mower.
Mulch mowing means you don’t bag the clippings. Your mower chops the grass clippings into tiny pieces which are then deposited back into the turf to be recycled as nutrients. The grass clippings are about 80% water, so mulch mowing also hydrates your lawn. Mulch mowing saves you time on lawn maintenance and money on lawn bags, fertilizer, weed killer, and watering.
It’s environmentally friendly too. About 75% of material going to landfills is yard waste. Keeping grass clippings out of landfills and recycled on yards is a green and economical practice. If your mower doesn’t have a mulch feature, check your owner’s manual or consult a lawnmower shop to see if you can change out your blade so you can take advantage of this easy way to keep your yard truly green.
Not fertilizing this year also gives us time to research a greener way to feed our yard with organic tea and other green alternatives instead of using harsh chemicals. Scientists believe fertilizer and herbicide (especially atrazine) running off from yards and farms into waterways cause hormonal effects on fish, affecting reproduction and sexual maturity. In one British study, the fish captured for research from one river were all female – not a single male fish was collected. The implications of this finding are not completely understood, and studies are continuing.
While mulch mowing helps to hydrate your lawn, watering is still necessary in the hot summer. Hand watering gives you the best control, but if you have a built-in irrigation system, make sure all spouts are aligned correctly and not directing water wastefully on sidewalks or streets.
Check your downspouts too. I rerouted two downspouts, which were emptying precious rainwater uselessly in the driveway, to my landscaped beds. I used some length of unused dryer vent tubing that had been sitting uselessly in the garage. I wired one end to the downspout then stretched out a length through the adjacent bed. I punched holes along both sides so the rainwater would disperse through the bed. Then I covered the tubing with mulch. The white vent tubing isn’t seen and the mulch doesn't wash away while I am using rainwater to irrigate my beds. The water still drains away from the house like it's supposed to, only now it is routed through beds. You can also purchase flexible spouts at home improvement stores that you can use to reroute downspouts to more effectively use precious rainwater.
Like many houses in the Houston area, our roof was guttered only in the front. Instead of adding gutters for the narrow side areas of the yard, I built beds that were wider than the eave of the roof. These beds receive runoff from condensation from the roof almost daily. Ferns and other shade plants thrive here with little watering from me.
Another water-saving idea is to run soaker hoses along the beds and cover them with mulch. Using soaker hoses is a double recycling effort – the hoses are made from recycled rubber and they save water by putting the water directly on the ground, not in the air where it can blow away or evaporate.
Soaker hoses are also useful for keeping the ground around foundations watered to help prevent foundation cracks. Cover soaker hoses with hardwood mulch instead of pine. Hardwood mulch is less likely to wash away in heavy downpours. Lining the outside of your beds with river rocks will take the heavy downpour coming off the roof. Take care not to make the beds higher than the house weep holes, or get mulch into the weep holes.
An alternative to gutters are Rainhandlers (www.rainhandler.com) which deflect rain several feet from the house, watering your yard instead of channeling the water away. Rain barrels, attached to downspouts to collect rainwater, are making a comeback with water-mindful gardeners.
One of the unexpected results from not using fertilizer and weed killer is the presence in our yard of the biggest toad I have ever seen. Most nights or early mornings I see him hopping across our grass. I know he’s doing his job eating bugs and slugs and keeping our yard pest-free. And I know I’m doing my job by protecting our environment.
Narrow areas of yard, such as that between sidewalks and the street, can dry easily and require frequent watering. Replace grass in these sections with a ground cover that requires less watering. Or tile over these areas with outdoor pavers. Check with your homeowners association first.
Encourage your homeowners association to allow more water-saving solutions such as less St. Augustine grass and using more xeriscape (drought resistant) plants.