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Maryland Lawn Grasses, Nonnative and Ubiquitous, or “Paulie, You Broke My Heart”
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by Betty Brody | 2007

A lovely green lawn doesn’t have to come at the expense of fertilizers, pesticides, or hours of gas-fueled mowing.

When I lived in New Orleans, I convinced Paulie (a pseudonym), a Refuge Manager at the Bayou Sauvage, NWR, to stop mowing the small lawn at a park in the refuge tended by my bird club.  The lawn quickly became habitat for a myriad of wonderful wild flowers, insects, spiders, reptiles, crayfish, and more.  However, Paulie was concerned that visitors to the park might be harmed by “critters” in the taller grass, and the Refuge resumed mowing, destroying the habitat and most plants and animals living in it.

The May, 2007 issue of Consumer Reports contained an article entitled, “How to Fix the Top 10 Lawn Problems,” with a subsection, “Growing great grass.”  The “fixing” and “growing great” that this article advised entailed a lot of tedious physical labor and watering, and applications of fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and rodent poison.  The next article, “Mowers & Tractors,” recommended a number of gas mowers and electric push mowers ranging from $200-470. 

Globally, the consumer lawn and garden industry is an almost $7 billion business.  Revenue for Scotts Miracle-Gro Company alone, for its fiscal year ending September 30, 2006, was $2.7 billion.  U.S. demand for lawn and garden products is forecast to be $9.1 billion in 2010.

Lawns displace valuable natural habitats; they also require lots of water and polluting fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.  And, quart for quart, 2006 gas lawn mower engines, which have no catalytic converters, contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars.  Electric mowers, though they don’t give off emissions, must be charged with electricity, the creation of which, in Maryland, is mostly from coal and does give off harmful emissions.

But wait . . . you needn’t have a lawn at all.  You can replace your lawn with low maintenance native bushes, trees, and ground covers.  Native plants survive best because nature has selected them, over ages, to survive in the climate, soil, and plant community where they are growing.  For in-depth information on reasons to “go native,” read The Landscaping Revolution: Garden With Mother Nature, Not Against Her, McGraw-Hill/Contemporary; reprint edition (2002) and Building Within Nature, U. of Minn. (2006), by Andy Wasowski and Sally Wasowski, authors of nine books about gardening and landscaping with native plants.

Begin by learning what plants are native to your area and making a garden plan.  If you live in Howard, Prince George’s, or Baltimore County, the National Wildlife Federation (a nonprofit conservation organization protecting wildlife in America) will, free of charge, send a well-trained volunteer to view your lawn and advise you how to replace it with native vegetation.  To make an appointment with a volunteer, contact the N.W.F. Habitat Steward® program at habitatstewards@NWF.org.  Also, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Bayscapes program will soon have information on its web site, www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/bayscapes.htm, on how to make a garden plan, and the site currently has valuable information on native plants. 

Further, you can buy native plants, and probably get planning help, at the nurseries listed by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection and the Potomac Conservancy: www.montgomerycountymd.gov/Content/DEP/Rainscapes/nurseries.htm, and at nurseries listed by Bayscapes:  www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/BayScapes/bsresources/bs-nurseries.htm#PA.

You might get some native plants free.  Many native seeds are already in your lawn, and different seeds might arrive in the air or in the other ways nature transports seeds. If you set your mower at four inches, you can mow less, and wild ground cover will take hold.  In that wild ground cover, you might also have non-natives, which you should remove. 

Some non-natives are deemed invasive because they spread rampantly and overtake native species; examples are mile-a-minute, multiflora rose, lesser celandine, and English ivy.  For a more complete list of invasives, see: www.mdinvasivesp.org/list_terrestrial_plants.html.  If you live in a less urban area, you can transform your lawn into a natural meadow by mowing only once, in late winter.  In no case should you have “noxious weeds,” non-native plants forbidden by the Maryland Weed Control Law, such as plumeless thistle, musk thistle, shatter cane, and johnsongrass. 

For more information on replacing lawns with native plants,see  www.stolaf.edu/depts/environmental-studies/courses/es-399%20home/es-399-04/Projects/Schwarten_Project/revolution/revolution.htmlhttp://www.for-wild.org/landscap.html ; www.for-wild.org/land/tufts_op.htm.

For information about plants native to Maryland, visit www.mdflora.org/about.html, the Maryland Native Plant Society.    

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