Greenery, especially healthy greenery, is a source of pride for many people with houses that have lawns and backyards. However, many common maintenance practices are harmful to the environment. This article will discuss sustainable things that one can practice to ensure that their backyards, lawns, and other outdoor spaces are sustainable and environmentally friendly. Changing how one treats their front lawns and backyards and even abandoning the idea of the ‘perfectly manicured’ lawn can turn the greenery on their property into carbon sinks, something that absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces.
The standard lawn and backyard that people are familiar with are turf lawns, a non-native concept that’s popularity has contributed to a monoculture that is not ideal for wildlife or the environment (Stall-Paquet, 2022).
Lawns and Backyards
The lawn of a person’s home is often seen as a representation of the person. Perfectly manicured lawns have been a symbol of uniformity in neighbourhoods, while others often look down on poorly maintained lawns. To achieve these lawns, fertilizers and pesticides are used. However, fertilizers and pesticides have harmful chemicals in them. Fertilizers have nitrogen and phosphates in them that can impact the environment through sublimation and runoff into the water streams (Mosheim & Nehring, 2019). The 40 most used pesticides are linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive effects, and other diseases (Beyond Pesticides, 2017). Chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers contribute to air, soil, and water pollution and can also be toxic to non-targeted organisms, like birds and humans. Lawn maintenance also requires regularly watering the lawn, with many individuals accidentally overwatering.
If one still wants to keep the maintained lawns that require fertilizers and pesticides, they can opt for products labelled as environmentally friendly or organic or make their own. People can buy insecticidal soaps or microbial insecticides for pesticides (MindsetEco, 2022). They can also use at-home methods, like garlic water, soap water, vegetable oil, and tomato leaf spray to keep pests away from their lawns and plants (Markham, 2016). For fertilizer, people can use kitchen scraps, tree leaves, mulch, coffee grounds, eggshells, or banana peels (Kanuckel, 2016).
Outside of keeping the maintained lawns, people can transform their green spaces into something more unique. Those against or tired of the look of turf lawns can plant ornamental grasses, moss, wildflowers, or clover (Sorensen, 2022). Any greenery that does not require excessive watering or fertilizers for growth is better for the environment, including flower beds and native-grown gardens (Loughrey, 2015).
Backyards are treated similarly, with people using excessive amounts of water, pesticides and fertilizers so that their backyards look manicured. Instead, one should opt for planting a vegetable garden in their green space. Using soil, homemade fertilizers and pesticides, and some planting seeds (either store-bought or harvested from existing produce), a person can effectively change what would have been a useless carbon source into a food-producing carbon sink.
Those without backyards and lawns
Individuals living in condos, apartments, basement rentals, or any other type of property without access to a backyard or lawn can also be more environmentally friendly using greenery. Having succulents in your indoor space can help with climate change as succulents suck up carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and produce oxygen (Raza et al., 1995). For those with balconies, they can start a small edible garden. Using compost from food waste, old egg cartons, and even plastic containers (for replanting), a person can use their available open space to benefit both themselves and the environment by improving the air quality and producing vegetables and herbs (Batista, 2022). Individuals can also start their own mason jar herb garden, like what was taught at a recent Sustainability On My Mind Workshop.
Batista, C. (2022, July 21). How to create A sustainable backyard. The Eco Hub. https://theecohub.com/sustainable-backyard/
Beyond Pesticides. (2017). Lawn pesticide fact sheets. Beyond Pesticides. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/resources/lawns-and-landscapes/overview/hazards-and-alternatives
Kanuckel, A. (2016, April 11). 8 best homemade natural garden fertilizers. Farmers’ Almanac – Plan Your Day. Grow Your Life; Farmers’ Almanac. https://www.farmersalmanac.com/8-homemade-garden-fertilizers-24258
Loughrey, J. (2015, October 5). Eco-friendly lawn & grass alternatives – garden design. Gardendesign.com; Garden Design Magazine. https://www.gardendesign.com/eco-friendly/lawn-alternatives.html
Markham, D. (2016, July 7). 8 natural & homemade insecticides: Save your garden without killing the earth. Treehugger. https://www.treehugger.com/natural-homemade-insecticides-save-your-garden-without-killing-earth-4858819
MindsetEco. (2022, June 8). 9 natural & Eco friendly pesticides your plants will love [2023 update]. MindsetEco. https://mindseteco.co/eco-friendly-pesticides/
Mosheim, R., & Nehring, R. (2019, October 30). Fertilizers & pesticides. Usda.gov. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/fertilizers-pesticides/
Raza, S. H., Shylaja, G., & Gopal, B. V. (1995). Different abilities of certain succulent plants in removing CO2 from the indoor environment of a hospital. Environment International, 21(4), 465–469. https://doi.org/10.1016/0160-4120(95)00033-h
Sorensen, J. (2022, May 12). 10 easy, low-maintenance lawn alternatives. Elemental Green | Dream Discover Design; Elemental Green. https://elemental.green/10-low-maintenance-lawn-alternatives/
Stall-Paquet, C. (2022, May 12). The case for leaving the perfectly manicured lawn behind. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/life/home/the-case-for-leaving-the-perfectly-manicured-lawn-behind-1.6449477