Bring back the beautiful native insects, birds, and mammals that our lawns usurped

To the Editor:
I received a letter from an unknown neighbor today that said: “Please mow your lawn! It’s a disgrace to the neighborhood!”

The assumption is that I am doing something wrong in letting my yard grow long when the one who is using chemical fertilizers, treating the lawn for insects, and mowing the lawn to a perfect two inches is the one who is committing the crime: a crime against nature [“Your lawn would really rather be a meadow,” Altamont Enterprise editorial, June 22, 2022].

“It’s time to stigmatize the classic over-watered, over fertilized, over-mowed American lawn. Lawns are the No. 1 irrigated crop in America. They need to die,” says Grist magazine. They go on to say the 63,000 square miles of lawn in the United States, an area the size of Georgia, cost $63 billion (estimates vary) and is a major polluter.

The companies that sell the fertilizer, the insect sprays, the seed, the fancy mowers, the edgers, and  the polluting leaf blowers want to keep you believing that it is your duty to buy and use these products so as to not disgrace the neighborhood.

In case you haven’t heard, nature is dying and there is an exciting opportunity for us to create what Doug Tallamy calls “a homegrown national park” if this land can be converted back to nature to promote the health of pollinators and wildlife rather than poisoning it and excluding it almost completely.

The big problem with lawns and exotic plants is that they don’t do anything for our insects and our insects are dying. When insects die, birds die.

Burning bush, the horrible Barberry, privet, ginkgo, boxwood, hydrangea, and peony are poor substitutes for the plants nature designed to nurture wildlife. Learn about what you can do for native bees (not the imported honeybee) and butterflies and bugs and birds.

You can discover nature in your own backyard like millions of people are doing once they become informed and start to see the lawn as a waste of valuable space.

Buying native species plants rather than the imported plants that are sold at most garden centers is a good start. Wildlife has evolved with these plants and these plants are their food.

Even cultivars are hybrids and not as nurturing as native species. Plant native bushes that provide pollen in the spring when they bloom and later produce berries to eat.

Some plants are “host plants” to butterflies that rely on one or two plants to feed their caterpillars. Some native trees support hundreds of different kinds of insects.

Tall grasses sequester carbon and their seed is eaten by rabbits and birds. If given half a chance, wildflowers will appear in your yard or you can plant them.

You don’t need to go to far off places to be with nature. Insects like wild areas in your yard to live and rest. They live in leaf litter under trees: Those leaves are supposed to be there.

Of course ticks are a concern but they too prefer the wild areas and you can mow paths where you need to walk. So many lawns aren’t even used by the people who labor over them.  They are just for show. Plant something deer and groundhogs can eat.

Let’s create the “homegrown national park” and bring back the beautiful native insects, birds, and mammals that used to have a home here before we got hung-up on lawns.

Joan McKeon


More Letters to the Editor

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.