In the Yard

The American lawn, an idea imported from Europe, came into fashion at the end of the 19th century. Suburbs made lawn space available to a large portion of the population. Improved mass produced lawn mowers made the lawn’s upkeep easier. On any given Sunday, millions of mowers buzz cut a lawn. According to a 2005 Environmental Science and Technology report, homeowners tend an estimated 40 million acres of turf. Lawn care products and services have become big business and Americans spend more than $30 billion each year on lawns. That’s some expensive grass. Fortunately, it’s easy to enjoy your lawn while protecting your budget as well as your environment.

Protect air quality

  • One easy way to protect air quality and reduce lawn mowing time is to reduce lawn size. Instead of grass, plant Florida-friendly shrubs and trees, add a flower bed or a vegetable garden.
  • Use low-maintenance turf grasses or grass/flower seed mixtures that grow slowly and require less mowing. Less mowing means fewer emissions in the air. It also means less work, more play in your yard.
  • Use reel mowers or electric mowers to reduce noise and air pollution. The EPA estimates that exchanging 1,000 gasoline-powered lawn mowers for electric mowers can potentially reduce emissions by 9.8 tons per year, which is equivalent to removing 230 cars from the highways.
  • Use a funnel when filling your lawn mower or other gasoline-powered tools to avoid spills. Tens of millions of gallons of gasoline are spilled each year while refueling lawn and garden equipment.

Protect water quality

  • Leave a buffer of dense native vegetation along streams, rivers and lakes to filter and slow run-off, shade and cool the water, provide homes for wildlife and prevent bank erosion. If the natural buffer has been cleared, replant.
  • Since lawns are usually composed of a single species of non-native grass, incorporate other Florida-friendly plants into your landscape to add a bit of biodiversity. Also, plants suited to the area require less fertilizers and pesticides that could leach into drinking water.
  • Avoid planting trees too close to septic systems. As the trees grow, their roots can crack pipes and cause wastewater leaks.
  • Reduce pesticide use. Pesticides can contaminate water through surface runoff into streams and lakes and by leaching into groundwater. The EPA estimates that nearly 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to urban lawns each year. Pesticide runoff can contaminate drinking water supplies with chemicals toxic to both humans and aquatic organisms.
  • Locate your watershed. Find out which river, stream, lake or other water body catches the runoff from your lawn.

Reduce waste

  • Leave clippings on the lawn rather than bagging them to reduce the amount of yard waste sent to landfills. Lawns can generate approximately 300 pounds of grass clippings per 1000 square feet annually. Also, grass clippings improve the soil by adding organic matter as they decompose.
  • Compost leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and vegetable food scraps. Yard trimmings and kitchen scraps constitute 26 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. Use compost to enrich gardens and to improve the soil around trees and shrubs.

Conserve water

  • Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40 percent of total household water use during the summer. To reduce the amount of water your lawn requires, look for drought tolerant grasses and ornamentals at your local lawn and garden center.
  • Use reclaimed water to irrigate your lawn. To find out if reclaimed water is available in your neighborhood, contact your utility company. Contact information can usually be found on your utility bill.
  • Collect rain to water flower beds, herb gardens and potted plants.
  • Mulch plants’ root zones to moderate soil temperature, retain moisture and reduce the need for watering.

Learn more about: Florida-friendly yards Florida’s water reuse program Your watershed

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