Ecology + Design

Why You Should Skip Your Fall Lawn Renovation & Go Ecological

It’s officially Fall, and in the traditional landscaping world, that means prime time for lawn renovations.  Most grass species used in American lawns – Kentucky Blue Grass, Perennial Rye Grass, Fine Fescues and Tall Fescues – are cool season grasses.  Cool season grasses grow and look best in the temperature range of 60 – 75 degrees F. During our hot and humid northeast summers, when temperatures get into the 80s and 90s, lawns usually suffer.  This is when you see brown, burnt lawns or lawns dominated by weeds. Excessive heat, drought, compaction and improper fertilization practices stress cool season grasses in summer, reducing their growth rate and allowing opportunistic weeds to take over.  August and much of September are simply too hot and dry to renovate your lawn if it has begun to suffer – the grass won’t grow! Aeration, top-dressing and re-seeding must wait for cooler fall temperatures.

Year after year we see the same seasonal patterns and pour more money and resources into reviving heat-stressed, cool-season lawns. Is it really worth it? Sure, lawn can serve a purpose for play, pets and gathering, but it has become far too ubiquitous in our landscapes. One of GJL’s main tenants in ecological landscaping is to reduce your lawn area! When we stop obsessing over a flawless carpet of green, and really examine how much water (the most irrigated crop in the US!), chemicals (2.4 million metric tons of fertilizer!) and gasoline (600 million gallons for mowing/trimming alone!)go into maintaining our “perfect” American lawns, we can poke holes in convention and design something better.

Many of our clients come to us to do just that.  They are tired of the endless cycle of lawn maintenance and want to contribute more positively to their environment.  We’ve ripped out entire front lawns for pollinator-supporting perennial gardens. The final design varies, necessarily, based on site conditions and character, but we always hear the same feedback. Our clients are thrilled to have ditched their one-dimensional, static lawn for something that evolves throughout the year, that brings color to their landscape, and creates a dynamic habitat for bees, butterflies, birds and more – and a great outdoor classroom for children.

These kinds of landscapes are incredibly productive.  We choose our plant palette with the permaculture term “stacked functions” in mind – how many benefits can we derive from one plant or plant community?  What will sequester the most carbon, provide nectar, pollen or berries, and supply shelter to the multitude of organisms we share our slice of the planet with? The planting possibilities are endless, but our native trees, shrubs, perennials and vines all contribute more than imported Eurasian turf grasses.

Maybe you’ve been struggling to get one area of your property to grow lawn that never seems to work. We’ve designed many woodland rain gardens in areas such as these, where grass always seemed bare, damp and scraggly. We take advantage of the hydrology and use it as an opportunity to collect, treat and let percolate storm water that would otherwise become runoff.

So, this fall, instead of scheduling your standard lawn renovation services, consider your landscape. Is it highly functional, productive, beautiful and evolving? Does it better the environment or negatively impact it? Take a step in the right direction and consider reducing your lawn area with an ecological landscape design this fall.

Call us to discuss your ecological landscape design project:  914-560-6570.

Kathryn Saphire

VP of Landscape Development & Marketing


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