A movement that has gained popularity in recent years is starting to pick up speed. Here's the scoop on why and how Americans are rejecting lawns in favor of native meadows.
"Lawns are a colonial, classist, supremacist holdover that undermine our health and wellbeing through intensive, toxic management of a wildlife-denying monoculture which further estranges us from our home places and best selves."
-Benjamin Vogt, Monarch Gardens
Here are the facts: American lawns consume 20 trillion gallons of water, 90 million pounds of fertilizer, 78 million pounds of pesticides and 600 million gallons of fossil fuels annually. Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked to cancer, 13 to birth defects, 21 to reproductive disorders, and 15 to brain damage. A $60 billion industry, lawn grass is the cheapest landscape to plant and the most expensive to maintain. From equipment to chemicals to seed, lawns require knowledge, time, money, and resources. They are a traditional hallmark of success and conformity.
Almost all of our native insects are specialists, requiring specific plants to complete their life cycles. With less than 3% of America's tallgrass prairie still intact, this means insect populations have plummeted, and along with them the songbirds who rely exclusively on them to feed their young. We are losing biodiversity at an alarming pace - there are 50% fewer birds than there were 40 years ago!
The sun is setting on the American lawn, due to a new understanding of the harm it causes both to our health and the environment. It is a slow movement and not widely accepted yet, so you need to be prepared for pushback from HOA’s and/or the city. People are naturally emotional and defensive when you step out of line so you’ll need to be ready to listen, explain, and compromise. Your choice to convert your lawn to meadow MUST be intentional and educated. If you are not working smartly with a plan and a goal, then you are being lazy and ideologically polarizing for no reason, which isn’t helpful or neighborly.
Don’t be influenced by social media suggestions like “No Mow May”. This is just going to look weedy quickly, allow invasive and aggressive weed species to flourish, and not really benefit any native pollinators. Dandelions and clover aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t native and they aren’t a substitute for true naturalization.
Native plants can accomplish incredible things for both us and the species we share our environment with. Their complex and layered root systems can help hold back erosion and reduce stormwater runoff. They can assist in cooling structures, and even remove toxic substances from soil, air, and water. When you are ready to take the leap, be sure to seek advice and come up with a solid plan. "Native" does not translate to "no maintenance". You will need to understand your plant communities and the role succession has in developing them over time.