Summer is heating up and that means many of us will be watering our lawns. If you’re tired of the constant cycle of mowing and watering and costly water bills, you may want to re-think your green space. Here are some facts to consider:
• Grass is the most irrigated plant in the country consuming about 2.3 billion gallons of water a day!
• Americans dump about 59 million pounds of pesticides onto their lawn each year, much of which goes into our waterways and poses health risks to children and pets.
• Lawn equipment (mostly gas powered) emitted about 26.7 million tons of pollutants into the atmosphere in 2011.
• Lawns provide NO habitat for bees, butterflies or the birds that feed on insects.
(Above statistics courtesy of NYTime/Climate Forward Newsletter, April 3, 2019, “One Thing You Can Do – Reduce Your Lawn” by Ronda Kaysen)
If this sounds like a problem, don’t despair. Be part of the solution by looking to those who have lived in Michigan far longer than any of us – our native plants and trees! Because they have co-existed for so long, our native plants know exactly how to support the birds, bees and butterflies that also call Michigan home. Did you know that a native Michigan white oak (Quercus alba) supports up to 534 species of caterpillars? The lovely, but non-native, Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) hosts only ONE species. You may not think of hosting caterpillars as a selling feature, but your feathered friends certainly do. A single pair of breeding chickadees must find 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young. (Statistics from the book Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas Tallamy)
But, don’t let biodiversity be the only reason to make the switch to native plants. Our Michigan flora is beautiful too, and once established, requires much less water to maintain due to the deep root systems that will also help prevent erosion. So, this year think about planting more native trees and converting some of your lawn to native grasses and flowers. (Be careful about choosing plants for your front yard that don’t grow too tall as there is a City ordinance against plants over 6 ft.) If you’re new to native plants, they can be difficult to find, since nurseries typically don’t sell them. The Kent Conservation District has a native plant and tree sale twice a year. Check it out at www.kentconservation.org/plant-sales/. Another good place to start is by joining the Wild Ones- River City chapter. You will learn more about native plants, make new friends, and get lots of free plants and advice! Visit their website at https://rivercitygrandrapids.wildones.org/.
For more ideas or information on native plants, email your Rockford Sustainability Committee (SusCom) at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can connect you with more resources.