When I was a kid, I would argue with my dad about the reasoning behind yard maintenance- why couldn’t we just not mow the lawn and let the plants grow!, I wondered. My dad, of course, thought that was a crazy idea because you “just can’t”. This empty reply just fueled my argument and I finally got him to admit that he mowed our lawn just for looks. Basically, because the neighbors mowed theirs and so that was just what you did!
After reading Michael Rosenzweig’s Win-Win Ecology, I realized that my dad was not alone. If fact, there have been many psychological studies on the factors causing a person to constantly maintain a “nice looking” lawn of trimmed green grass. Why do people spend their weekends with their mower? You guessed it- because of peer pressure. However, in the age of global warming, habitat loss, and the local food movements, I am hoping that the very definition of a “nice looking lawn” evolves from a homogenous green carpet to that of native plants, trees, and even veggies. It turns out I wasn’t alone either- check out the Lawn Reform Coalition for ideas of what “lawns” can be.
Not only can a variety of plants in your garden provide habitat for insects and birds, but it can also contribute to reduction of global warming, through a concept called Biocarbon. There are two main components of reducing the pollutants, including green house gases, in the atmosphere. One is to just stop constantly spewing them out by using organic methods or alternative fuel sources and the second is to actually actively try to take them out of the atmosphere or clean the air! What cleans the air? Plants and other organisms regulating ecosystem processes.
Biodiversity- or having many different types of plants, and therefore other organisms supported by these plants, regulates ecosystem services, including cleaning the soil and air around us- check out my post here for more about the biodiversity-ecosystem connection. Biocarbon is the idea that we can use living systems to suck CO2 from the atmosphere into the soil and vegetation, and, ultimately, animals, including us! This includes reducing soil tillage and creating green roofs, but also diversifying sub/urban lawns- your yard! Thus, by making your lawn a mosaic of vegetation, with many trees and different kinds of plants, you can do your own carbon sequestration. As an added bonus, growing up with a biodiverse lawn can also help reduce your allergies! Perhaps I should blame peer pressure on my spring time sneezing!