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Ecofriendly lawn and garden tips

Fifty shades of green

Depending on how you care for a it, your lawn may be less eco-friendly than you thought. Read on for tips and tricks to help you maintain a sustainable outdoor space.

Back in the day, a well-manicured lawn was the pride and joy of every Australian homeowner. Front and backyards across the country were kept in pristine condition thanks to a sharp eye and hours of labour every weekend.

The arrival of petrol-powered labour-saving devices – like mowers, leaf blowers, hedge and grass trimmers and chainsaws – changed everything. What once took hours of hard manual slog could be done in a fraction of the time – and with better results. But is all that convenience costing us?

The CO2 dilemma

A nice big patch of green looks like it should be doing good for the environment, removing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and lessening the prevalence of greenhouse gases. To a point, this is what happens – grass pulls carbon out of the air and into the soil. So far, so good…right?

Well, depending on the methods used to care for that lawn, it’s pretty easy to undo the results quickly. Typical lawn maintenance activities – like using tools that burn fuel, plus the inputs that go into fertiliser production – can contribute four times the carbon emissions that grass can absorb. Watering and irrigation have obvious implications as well.

In addition, grass-bound soil steadily emits nitrous oxide, which is about 3000 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. On its own that’s alarming enough but the impact is worsened with fertiliser use, which accelerates the release of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. No matter how you look at it, growing grass gives to the environment with one hand while taking with the other.

What can you do?

There are plenty of choices you can make to help minimise any negative effects – from tool selection to behavioural changes and chemical considerations.

Choose tools wisely

While petrol-powered tools can have a serious effect on air and noise quality, the development of battery powered alternative designs means you can lessen your environmental impact.

Of course, there are still issues around the mining of materials to manufacture the batteries required to power them, as well as the end-of-life implications, including disposal and recycling. According to the CSIRO, only 10% of Australia’s lithium-ion battery waste was recycled in 2021 and it’s growing at a rate of 20% each year. This is leading industry, government and research institutions to focus on developing domestic recycling capability as a priority, so we should start seeing improvements in the short term.

In the meantime, it seems old fashioned push mowers are having a resurgence, as gardeners try to minimise the harm that comes from maintaining green space. Probably not a great solution for large lawns, but these are cheap to run, compact, quiet and easy to manoeuvre – perfect if you’ve got a small patch to tend.

Collect rainwater

This feels like an obvious one – and three years of La Niña should have made it even easier.

Of course, there are immediate direct benefits: your water bill be reduced and you can maintain your garden and lawn even when water restrictions are in place. But there are additional ‘unseen’ advantages when you reduce reliance on mains water – it decreases stormwater runoff, lessens the need for dams and desal investment and reduces government infrastructure running costs, benefiting the broader community.

There are plenty of options when it comes to rainwater harvesting systems. Do a quick search online or start with your local hardware outlet and talk to an expert – there are literally hundreds of tanks to choose from, along with all the accessories you need. Depending on your location and exact circumstances, you may be entitled to a government rebate, so check local and state government websites for more info.

Create compost

Composting is a double duty greening activity, helping reduce waste by using food scraps to create an eco-friendly fertiliser. It’s as easy as grabbing an outdoor compost bin and filling it with organic waste – kitchen scraps and leftovers, garden trimmings and grass clippings. Just chuck it in, put the lid on and let nature do its’ thing.

Compost bins come in a multitude of styles, shapes and sizes. Do some research to find out which option will best suit your needs.

Go easy on the chemicals

The pursuit of the perfect lawn can be a tough game but using fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides will ultimately make things worse. Lawn can become dependent on the chemicals that are harming them, leading to disease that needs another chemical to fix the problem. The use of blanket pesticides kills off all the beneficial insects needed to keep your garden flourishing. In other words, it’s a slippery slope.

Where possible, remove unwanted plants and weeds by hand and use natural insecticides and oil sprays to keep pests at bay. Ladybirds love aphids and mites – two of the garden’s biggest pests. To attract ladybugs, plant dill and coriander and make sure they have access to a well-watered garden (they’re thirsty little critters). Every garden is an ecosystem and it’s all about finding the balance that keeps everybody happy.

Grow groundcover

There’s no rule that says you can’t replace lawn with an alternative groundcover like moss or clover. Just us nice underfoot, both options tick the aesthetic boxes but require far less care. Some groundcover plants thrive in sunshine and others in shade, so check out options at your local garden centre, where you can get advice on the best alternatives for local conditions.

While we’ve had a long love affair with lush green lawn, it may be time to have a rethink and plant something a little more in keeping with the Australian climate. By opting for native plants and grasses, you’ll not only support the natural ecosystem, but probably save yourself hours of time on the weekend as well…a win/win situation!

Other green garden tips

  • Use native plants only – invasive planting causes wreak havoc on the local ecosystem. Introduced species cause problems with pests and biodiversity is impacted. Local fauna can’t use the plants as food or habitat, which threatens their survival.

  • Opt for organic – if you’re using mulch (and you should be), then go for an organic variety that incorporates lots of different natural materials, like wood chips, grass clippings and other plant materials. These will decompose, providing additional nutrients. Cheap mulch often contains non-biodegradable matter, which offers absolutely no benefit to your garden.

  • Install a vertical garden wall – the perfect solution if you’re after an expanse of green but can’t justify the lawn any longer.

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