Sunday, July 18, 2021

Kill Your Lawn, Grow "Weeds."

Over the past few years, my view of lawns has shifted from just apathy to total disdain. 

I've never been a "lawn guy," I've never really cared enough to dedicate much time, effort and resources to my grass. Sure, I *tried* and had done some stuff... watering, fertilizer, de-thatching, aerating, overseeding, etc, which, when I actually list it out, seems like a lot, but I was only barely interested and didn't do all of these things often enough or consistently. My lawn's appearance matched my efforts, but it was usually "good enough," and I was fine with that. The weeds were green, the grub patches weren't too bad, and I had better things to do. And while I wasn't a dedicated grass guy, my OCD made sure that what I did have was usually neat and clean.


Then, more and more articles came out that really highlighted the problems with modern lawns. 

From an environmental perspective, lawns are horrible. People with huge lots just dumping water and chemicals into the soil while growing a plant that offers no benefit to the ecosystem whatsoever. Then, the army of gas powered tools used to maintain these lawns adds another layer of negative impacts to the environment. And don't even get me started talking about commercial and municipal properties that are similarly watered, fertilized, and maintained, all for no good reason. 

When I see one of my neighbor's yards with pure green grass, but with little signs indicating that some chemicals have just been applied, so kids and pets should stay off, I think "what the hell are we doing?"

Now, don't get me wrong, I think *some* grass is okay, and certainly I'm not advocating for a total elimination. If you, like me, have a yard for the enjoyment of yourself, family, or pets, then yes, the grass is good, but I'd say that the vast majority of homes that I see never have anyone out enjoying the yards, and not every square foot.


If everyone would just reduce the size of their manicured lawns, that alone would reduce the resources dumped into environment for the most prolific, but useless, crop in the US.

As I stand now, I'm working to eliminate as much as my lawn as possible, and I'm doing so in a couple of different ways. First, I'm planting vegetables. IF I'm going to put time and watering into my yard, I might as well get food in return. There's a "grow food not lawns," movement out there, and I'm on board.

Next, I'm just letting parts of my yard just grow. What's growing you ask? Well, that's an interesting question. Some would say that "weeds" are growing, but I think that highlights the perceived duality of lawns; there is either grass or weeds, thus if something isn't grass, it's a weed and it's bad, and should be eliminated.

But, turns out, there are really no real "weeds" per se. The generally accepted definition of a weed is that it's something that's growing where it's not wanted, regardless of the species. A dandelion in the middle of an expanse of green Kentucky Bluegrass could be considered a weed, but so would a tomato plant, or a sun flower, or rose bush. According to Wikipedia, the term "weed" has no botanical significance.

As I've learned more about the plants that are considered weeds, I've come to realize that many of these plants have value and have beauty and are way better than turf grasses. 


Now, the only line in the sand that I draw is in whether or not a plant is native or non-native/invasive. The topic of non-natives/invasives is one that I won't get into here, but needless to say, my next phase of yard transformation will be in not only working to eliminate the aggressive invasives (some Oriental Bittersweet growing in the border of my yard), but the non-natives that we purposefully planted like my hydrangeas and Butterfly bush.

So, as I've left parts of my yard to just grow, it's been interesting to see what has cropped up. These are all plants that most would consider weeds, but they have names and potential uses.

Here's a list of some of what I'm growing:

American Fireweed

https://eattheplanet.org/fireweed-love-it-or-hate-it-a-bold-and-versatile-herb/



Broadleaf Plantain

https://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/broadleaf-plantain-a-wonderful-weed-zbcz2007



Common Purslane
https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/herbs/powers-of-purslane/


Corn Speedwell
https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/veronica/arvensis/


Horse Weed

https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/horseweed-erigeron-canadensis-useful-plant-or-noxious-weed



Lady's thumb, also known as smart weed or red shank. 

https://www.ediblewildfood.com/ladys-thumb.aspx



Sow Thistle, but this one has me wondering...
https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/sonchus/oleraceus/
I can't really tell if this is an invasive or not. It's not on the MA list.

https://www.mass.gov/doc/invasive-plant-list/download



Virgina Pepperweed

https://watchingforwildflowers.com/tag/virginia-pepperweed/



White Goosefoot

https://insteading.com/plants/wild-spinach/



Wild Carrot also known as Queen Anne's Lace.

https://www.livescience.com/21496-5-edible-garden-weeds.html

NOT to be confused with hemlock.

http://ravensroots.org/blog/2015/6/26/poison-hemlock-id



Wood Sorrel

https://www.wildedible.com/wild-food-guide/wood-sorrel


That's just SOME of what's growing and what I've had the chance to identify. I've got more invasives to eliminate (creeping charlie, etc), and more native wildflowers to scatter in, but ultimately, my yard will be a combination of native habitat and food production. 

I'm going all in, and if you are even remotely interested, I can NOT recommend Doug Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home, enough. It's a "must read," for anyone ready for a philosophical change in the way that we "manage" our yards and the ecosystems beyond.