THE idea of the lawn was imported from Europe, where climates and eco-systems
are well-suited for large areas of low-growing green vegetation.
Though very few of our native plant species behave in this way, the lawn
has become a standard feature of landscaping in North Carolina just as it has
across most of the continent.
The problem is that since lawns aren’t a naturally occurring feature, they
require the introduction of non-native species as well as the use of large
amounts of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. Fortunately, our native plant
species provide a wealth of beautiful alternatives.
Perhaps the easiest way to throw off the tyranny of the English lawn is to
create more beds and natural areas to reduce lawn space. This has the added
benefit of cutting down — pun intended — mowing time.
First, utilize what you have. The longleaf pine trees native to our area are
very generous with their needles. Rather than viewing pine needles as an
annoying hindrance to grass growth, embrace what nature has provided and
rake the needles to form beds around your trees. They’re great at suppressing
weeds! If you have an overabundance, use the needles as mulch in other areas
or share with neighbors.
Since lawn-type grasses aren’t native to our area, options for lookalike vegeta-tion
are limited. One lawn substitute is narrowleaf silkgrass, a tough evergreen
groundcover that can be cut like a lawn and produces small yellow flowers that
resemble daisies if allowed to flower. Green and gold, foamflower, blue-eyed
grass and wild blue phlox are all low-growing native plants that may serve as
lawn replacements for at least a portion of some yards. These don’t do as well in
high-traffic areas, so you may need to retain some lawn for outdoor activities and
for kids or pets to play on.
Common carpetgrass is a native grass that is heat tolerant but not drought
tolerant and goes dormant in winter. Several varieties of clover native to
Europe have naturalized in the United States. Opinions vary on whether clover
is a sustainable landscaping option since it is not native, but it adds nitrogen
to the soil and serves as a food source to both pollinators and foragers. Wild Blue Phlox
JAN MARGARET LACE ROSCOE C. 1831-38 CHRISTIAAN SEPP C. 1800
WHEN it comes to sustainable landscaping, what you put on your lawn and garden is just as important as what you put
in them. Synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers offer quick results in the short term, but their use has negative
Synthetic landscaping and gardening products use chemical compounds not found in nature, and the ecosystem isn’t equipped
to deal with them. With continued use of synthetics, naturally occurring elements in soil are diminished, depleting soil health and
requiring ever-increasing doses of additives.
When artificial fertilizers wash off into waterways, we get algal blooms and then mass die-off of aquatic species due to oxygen
depletion. Synthetic herbicides and pesticides kill indiscriminately on the microscopic level, removing the healthy microorganisms
from the soil as well as pests the same way a round of antibiotics kills the healthy bacteria in your gut as well as the infection it was
meant to treat.
Switching to organic inputs is much more sustainable for your landscape and for the local ecosystem.