Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are Grass Lawns Overrated?

We've been experimenting with a new thing at our home this summer - a dead lawn! Just look at the wonderful progress we've made on killing off the grass.

But why... Is this the lazyman's approach to "lawn care"? The latest form of a "no-mow" lawn? No, we are in fact prepping the front yard for a sustainable revival of sorts.

While we are a bit lazy on yard maintenance, and I certainly do not like to mow (especially in August when hay fever allergies set in), the real reason for this unique approach is that we are killing the existing turfgrass lawn and rotting it out with compost on top of it, in preparation for a more natural (and drought tolerant) landscape.

We're going to replace this area with plants that have deep root systems that are native or adapted for the natural amount of rainfall Chicago receives. Once established, the landscape should require no extra water, and only occasional seasonal maintenance (as opposed to weekly mowing). Our biggest challenge will be finding plants that perform well given the abundance of shade.

Traditional lawn turfgrass has very shallow root systems (ever see sod?). When wet, the roots lock up preventing extra rainwater from infiltrating into the ground. This creates "ponding" or soggy lawns, and causes excessive stormwater runoff. On the other hand, native plants have deep roots that go down 6 feet or more to tap into the Earth's moisture. These plants grew all over the prairies of Illinois, and as the plants died or were burned off in natural fires, their root systems became deep-rooting fingers of compost. Over decades and eons, these composting roots evolved into some of the best soil and farmland in the United States.

In addition to returning some of this land to its natural sustainable use and using less water, our goal is to give a nice prairie-type of landscape setting for Humphrey House, which should fit well with the arts and crafts feel of the home. Now all we need is a good plan.


Chris said...


Sandy said...

I love it when people turn their front yards into what they were meant to be! :-)

Joshua Robertson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshua Robertson said...

That's great to see you're doing this. I wish that grass had never gotten to be the lawn covering of choice. I can't wait to see the final result and get some inspiration for my landscaping.

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