Residential Yards Can Hurt or Help the Environment

Fragile describes Florida’s environment and habitat. It would be that way even without the influx of twenty million plus people inhabiting it year-round then add in the tourists who flock here each year for days, weeks, or even months at a time. And of those millions of people, far too many strive for the perfect yard at a great cost to the environment.

The whole peninsula sits near sea level except for spots in the Panhandle and Central Florida that rise several hundred feet above the ocean. And the land that hovers above the Floridan Aquifer resembles Swiss cheese with holes and fissures that sometimes give way to sinkholes. The stormwater runoff and retention ponds filled with toxic residues of human life filter through the holes into the water supply for millions of people.

Water—the lifeblood of human and wildlife perpetuation—faces serious peril in the Sunshine State. If you live in Oklahoma you may say, “So what?” But we’re all connected, us very united of states. When one of us is hurt, polluted, compromised the whole of us will eventually feel the impact.

Plenty of studies show that the biggest culprit to polluting our water comes from agriculture and residential homes. One of them we can do something about today—the treatment of our lawns.

Wes Skiles, cave explorer and filmmaker, spent much of his career showing how what we do on the surface impacts what lies below. And what lies below makes its way into our bodies via water.

“I want ‘yard’ and ‘lawn’ to become the next four-letter words,” he often told me when I would interview him for articles about Florida’s springs.

Jim Stevenson, a life-long advocate and protector of Florida’s springs, still fights the battle. In a recent ZOOM presentation, he encouraged us all to do our landscaping part with the philosophy of “less is good, none is better.”

Our side yard and garden

It’s something my husband and I have practiced for years. Our relaxed attitude toward our lawn actually has more benefits that the big one of saving our water. We save money and time, too.

It seems our society loves to manipulate the natural world when Mother Nature is much wiser than us. But letting her do her thing leads the way to the path of least resistance.

Our lawn looks as good if not better than our neighbors who strive for perfection. We try to tell them through example. It may be why we have people stopping at our house when we’re in the yard just to tell us how great everything looks. We attempt to educate during those moments.

Here’s some of the simple things we do to maintain our yard.

Our recently mowed front yard
  1. No pesticides—We let lawn do its own thing while being good stewards of the land.
  2. Use what you have – We rake our leaves in the fall and put them around our shrubs and trees. Then we buy pine straw ($4 a bundle) and put over the leaves to hold them in place. In the spring, we get wood chips from the recycle center and put that over the pine as mulch. Also, mulching helps reduce the need for watering and weeding.
  3. No sprinklers – We don’t water our yard. Some of the biggest users of water come from residential neighborhoods. If you plant native grasses and plants, they adapt to the weather conditions and don’t need to be watered.
  4. Reasonable grass length – We set the blades on our mower a little higher than some of our neighbors who have the blade so low it scrapes the dirt beneath the grass and looks lousy after a trim. If you leave some “hair” on the ground, it helps retain moisture and keeps it from scorching.

Our lawn may not be perfectly manicured, but then neither are we. However, we know that we have saved time and money while contributing to a healthy ecosystem.

Backyard with the sun partially shining down on our natural lawn

Published by P. C. Zick

I write. It's as simple and as complicated as that. Storytelling creates our cultural legacy.

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