How to Ditch Your Turf for an Eco-Friendly Yard

In Articles, Home by Susanna Parker1 Comment

In less than two weeks my husband Palmer and I will be closing on a house. It’s our first home that’s truly ours, and we couldn’t be more excited! Adding to our enthusiasm is the number of ‘green’ upgrades the previous owners installed, including brand new windows, energy efficient appliances, and rain barrels. Score! The only thing that’s really missing is landscaping – they put in a few raised beds against the house and fence, but the front and back yards remain large, plain expanses of lawn. And as we’ve mentioned before, a dense lawn is not the best option for an environmentally friendly yard. Those tough root mats prevent water from infiltrating the soil, increase stormwater runoff, and require a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to maintain.

So what’s a young couple to do? We’ve got a few ideas…

Our (future) front yard is a nice size, but very boring. There used to be a large tree there (the stump still is) but nothing else. The raised beds that the previous owners built are empty, and everything else is just grass. But not for long! The very first thing I want to do is fill those raised beds with native perennials. Since I live in Maryland, I need plants that are suited for Hardiness Zone 6B. (Hardiness Zones help gardeners and growers determine which plants can thrive in their area, based on the average annual minimum winter temperature.) Better Homes & Gardens has a series on regional gardening – so I’ll plant based on what they recommend for the Northeast. Bonus – the plants they recommend are all native to the area, so I don’t have to worry about planting invasive species!

Our next step will be to spruce up the yard a bit, and get rid of some of that turf cover. We’ll handle this in two ways – first, I want to install a pollinator garden. Specifically, a hummingbird garden! My parents have had hummingbird feeders in their yard my entire life, and I love seeing those tiny, jeweled birds fly around. But if we’re being honest (and I would never lie to you) I don’t think I’m responsible enough for a feeder. And I don’t want hummingbird deaths on my head! So instead we’ll plant a garden. We’ll get to support our pollinator population, reduce the runoff from our yard, and (hopefully) see some hummingbirds! Next, we want to build some more raised beds for food gardens. We’ll start small and see how it goes (neither of us exactly has a green thumb), and if we’re successful we’ll keep adding beds.

We won’t have to do as much with the backyard. There are two big shade trees and shrubs on both sides of the house. And we do want some yard – we’ll be adopting a dog later this summer, and a big fenced yard would be great for exercise. Plus, we want our future kids to have nice big space to play in as well! But the yard is sloped, and we’re concerned about runoff, so we have a few ideas to implement. First, we’re going to mow less. Part of that is because I insist on a (wo)man-powered push mower and therefore Palmer insists that I do the mowing. But more importantly, letting grass grow to 4 inches or above actually prevents that dense mat that causes runoff. So. Long grass, here we come! Second, I want to put in a rain garden at the bottom of the yard to catch whatever runoff we do generate. This won’t happen immediately (house buying and rain gardens are expensive!) but its something I want us to plan and budget for. Good news though – Montgomery County’s RainScapes program offers incentives to homeowners who install runoff-mitigating landscape, like rain gardens, bayscaping, and rain barrels. Rock on!

So those are our plans – they won’t all happen at once, but eventually we hope that our yard will be a beautiful, eco-friendly oasis. To learn more about ‘green’ yards, browse through the Summer and Gardening tags, and watch Lori & John’s latest short: Farmers Markets, Gardens, and CSAs. And (to throw in a plug for myself) keep an eye on my blog – I’ll be keeping track of our progress with images, explanations, and resources. Yet another reason for me to be excited and stay motivated!

Susanna Parker

Susanna is a blogger, amateur crafter, and all-around awesome person. When not in front of a computer, she can be found enjoying the heck out of local food and craft beers.

To visit Susanna's website, click her byline. To read the rest of Susanna's posts on Sister Eden, click her tag at the top of the post.

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