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How Did We Become Lawn Junkies?

Are you finding the personal grit to look at climate breakdown without privileging slingshot responses?  Are you seeing society as a contract between current and future generations? Many of us are battling to have a life of significance, while wondering, truly, what can one person do?

For folks who have property, big or small, a readily available, almost miraculous and meaningful project exists, one that addresses two of our big challenges: increasingly extreme rainfall and increasing heat. The project I’m thinking of, could:

  • reduce flooding (and insurance costs) in our neighbourhoods
  • increase cooling moisture during long hot dry heatwaves
  • extend the life of our valuable storm sewers (delaying future tax increases for lining or replacement)


The measure I am proposing achieves multiple important benefits, but let’s focus on these significant impacts, while building our personal legacy.  There are no permits, specialized skills, or big bank accounts required, just a choice to make an effort. This is a project we can implement in stages or all at once.

Here goes folks: it’s time to reduce or eliminate some of the 6.2 million Canadian turfgrass lawns. Those beautiful, green lawns that we see, are the culprits in some of our municipal tax, insurance and public infrastructure increases. Hang in Lawn Junkies!  We are, thankfully, capable of responding to new information.

How many hundreds of acres of turf grass do we have across our townships? Typical lawns look like manicured golf greens with short, non-native grass plants, crowded so tightly together that nothing else can root and little rainwater percolates downward.

Pouring rain runs off those tightly packed short blades of lawn, flows down the street towards our storm sewers; then, untreated, flows, via the Eramosa, Speed, Nith, and Conestogo Rivers, into our treasured Lake Erie. I say ‘untreated’ but that may become a gift of the past; Bradford taxpayers, for example, have to treat their runoff rain water.

Imagine going underground, to consider the heavily compacted, short turf roots below the soil, seen when digging in a typical lawn. The  falling rainwater that does catch in the compacted grass blades, may not be able to percolate much due to the equally compacted roots, thus hydrating only the top few inches of soil. Even after extreme deluges, the soil a foot below a manicured lawn is sometimes bone dry, parched, and unprepared for summer droughts.

Tightly packed lawns prevent nature’s nourishing debris from being absorbed and provide a non-native habitat to support non-native insects (i.e. Japanese beetles).


Stay with me. Consider the millions of gallons of rainwater that fall in an average year, in the Waterloo Region, and consider the increases that are projected.  All that glorious, runoff rain, if sequestered deep within the soil, might be a precious resource during the long hot dry spells to come. As runoff, it simply increases taxes and insurance costs. Did you ever notice how enlightened self-interest can add to our contract with future generations?

So, Lawn Junkies, let’s summon our inner grit. Do some research and find a lawn-free look that might be adaptable for your place. Perhaps keep a small grassy area for kids, pets, BBQ, or a lawn swing. Maybe have a sweeping grass path (easy to mow!) that gives access from the front to the back of the yard and is good for lawn darts or playing catch.  Maybe plant a native evergreen as the focal point of an expanded bed (it will eventually provide food and winter shelter for birds. Woohoo!).  Maybe at first, let a section of grass just grow, developing deeper roots that will take moisture further into the soil. Always, always, always choose native plantings at the nursery, not alien, naturalized, or cultivar species. We might start simply with one area, or one new native planting. Creating a courtyard would be a blast. I successfully tried sheet composting to eliminate a large area of lawn without digging.  Let your inner innovator rip, first in thought, then in deed.


How to kick the lawn habit:


·       join a native gardener Facebook group,

·       start reading up on permaculture that will help with planning,

·       find horticultural groups that focus on native plants and lawn reductions,

·       find a native plant source nearby.

This spring

·       start expanding existing gardens with native plants, by a foot or so each year


We might create a life of significance as we harvest that rainwater for a precious cooling/moisturizing resource during the killer heatwaves of summer.  Instead of a manicured lawn that tells everyone what good neighbours we are, let’s have our townships covered in creative low/no lawn properties that speak to our contract with future generations.




Written by The Green Neighbour

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