Baby Steps

By Mary Ellen Ellis | July 6, 2022
Image by KarenHBlack
by Mary Ellen Ellis
July 6, 2022

I didn’t grow up learning how to garden sustainably or being taught the gardening practices that are harmful to the environment. My shift in this direction has been gradual. I’m grateful for the fact that awareness of the issue has grown and that there are more resources available than ever. These are some of the small steps I have taken in my own garden. 

Sustainable Lawn Care

Like most people who grew up in the suburbs, I long understood that a perfect green monoculture was the ideal lawn. There should be no weeds, no moss, no patches of dirt, and as few insects as possible. 

Today, I still have a turf lawn, but I reject the idea of sanitized perfection. I don’t water the grass at all. Unless we have an unusual amount of rain midsummer, my grass browns, goes dormant, and stops growing for a few weeks. 

I also don’t use any pesticides or herbicides. This means my lawn is a patchwork of grass, moss, violets, and clovers with a smattering of dandelions, but I’m find with that. In the spring, I wait to mow for as long as possible. In the fall, I mulch leaves and mostly leave them in place. 

Over the years, I have also eaten away at the space covered by grass. I have created new beds out of corners and areas around trees where the grass was thin anyway. This creates a more diverse ecosystem. 

Wild Corners

Leaving areas of the garden uncultivated is also generally antithetical to suburban gardening. Many neighborhoods and homes boast perfectly landscaped yards and gardens with nothing wild left. 

I choose to support the abundant wildlife in my neighborhood””deer, foxes, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, birds””by leaving some corners wild and untamed. These weedy, shrubby, overgrown areas provide habitat. They offer cover and shelter mostly. In fact, I’ve found fawns in spring curled up safely in these corners taking midday naps. 

Native Plants

I can’t brag that I have a totally native garden, but when I put in new plants now, I choose native species. Michigan has so much to choose from when it comes to perennials and flowers: bee balm, New England aster, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, Dutchman’s breeches, Joe-pye weed, and so many more. There is no reason to turn to non-natives. 

Native species are just as attractive as non-native plants. They provide food and habitat for local wildlife. They don’t require much watering or other type of maintenance. 

Sustainability is a responsibility I believe gardeners have. While the pressure to have a perfect lawn and landscape remains in many places, attitudes are shifting, and conscientious gardeners are leading the way. 

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