I had the wonderful opportunity to take a nature walk at a local park, which included hiking through grassy fields and along beautiful areas of wildflowers. These fields are allowed to grow naturally; they are not manipulated by the input of chemicals to eliminate plants that are not grass, the more common scenario when it comes to residential yards.
Society sends the message that lawns should consist of only grass, and many companies that sell or spray pesticides and fertilizer guarantee the “perfect lawn” at a low cost. I have had many people ask me how to create an “only grass” lawn without pesticides; I am not sure why we feel a pressure to conform to this practice and the short answer is simply WHY? Similar to other societal pressures, to achieve the “perfect lawn,” we manipulate our outdoor environment (nature) even if it causes harm to the environment.
What are the negative impacts of engineering lawns to remove many natural plants (often termed weeds)? The loss of native, natural plants is significant. Many of these plants serve as food for animals and insects, such as bees. The ongoing decline in the bee population threatens agriculture, as one in every three bites of our food is pollinated by bees. Wild bees (as opposed to honey bees) pollinate flowering and fruit trees, along with many other plants that the ecosystem requires. And, the ecosystem processes enhance soil, water and air quality. Bumblebees are wild bees that are highly efficient in the pollination process. In fact, several species are now commercially managed to more effectively pollinate crops. However, some bumble bee species are in distress. The rusty patch bumble bee is now listed as an endangered species in the US after a drastic drop in population of ~90% over 20 years. Other species have experienced slower declines.
Stressors associated with the bumblebee decline include poor nutrition from the loss of native plants and pesticide exposure. Traditionally, grassland prairies provide the nutritionally dense, safe forage for bees. As more of this land has been converted for purposes of agriculture, manicured lawns and commercial use, particularly in the Midwest, bumble bees and other helpful insects lose their food source. This land change also exposes bumblebees and other creatures to the pesticides used in agriculture and lawns.
It is useful to reflect upon our decision to do whatever it takes for the perfect lawn and reconsider the need to have lawns consisting of just grass, which is not the natural, sustainable choice. Skip the pesticides, embrace the native plants and leave the watering up to Mother Nature. Alternatives to grass include native plants and gardens. Let’s revive habitats for the bees and other creatures of the earth.
From Psalm 148, “Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!”
Julie Peller PhD, is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in: Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work