Looking at Your Lawn Through a Different Lens

by SC Reporter Teresa Vazquez

Jenny Evans

With limited natural resources it’s important to look at residential lawns through a different lens— reevaluating traditional gardening practices and transforming them into native lawns.

“Practices from many, many, many hundreds of years ago have started to influence or have influenced the way that we garden today and what we do in our landscape,” Jenny Evans said. “And I think a really good question to ask ourselves is why? “

During her presentation at CROW’s Speaker Series Lectures on March 2 Jenny Evans shared new ways to look at lawns, how to mold a yard into a space to conserve natural resources, and why it’s important to do so.

Jenny Evans is the manager of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Native Landscapes & Garden Center and the Native Landscapes & Adult Education director.

Evans started her presentation with an aerial view of Cape Coral where more than 50 percent of the land was designated for residential development, affecting water usage and the conservation of natural resources.

This can be understood with a look into the origins of current gardening practices. Walled gardens, or boundaries between lawns, originated as a way to keep the “wild” out of personal gardens. This has affected wildlife and resource usages.

Grass has been used to create these boundaries for years. This practice began for different reasons: safety, sports and agriculture. Nowadays, Evans said grass carries more of an aesthetic value than it occupies a practical purpose in a person’s yard.

The point is not to get rid of grass completely, said Evans, but rather opt for a better alternative: polyculture grass. Polycultures grass is the combination of various grass species that in many cases does not require irrigation or fertilization—conserving resources—unlike typical monoculture lawns.

“All you do is mow it. Mow what grows,” Evans said. “If you allow that to happen, you will have a much healthier [lawn].”

It is important to look at lawns differently in order to aid in conservation. Evans suggests people look at their lawns as ever changing, not instant, not sterile, and “as plants as more than yard furniture.”

They should focus on plants, like native plants, that add value to their lawn in order to avoid plants resembling yard furniture from a wildlife standpoint. In addition, it is important to view lawns as fertile areas where native insects, birds and other wildlife can grow.

“If you take native plants out of the out of a certain spot, and you put it in ornamental plants that are non-native, [it] results in significant bottom-up reductions of energy available for local food webs,” Evans said.

Plants are the bottom of the food web, said Evans, their health directly impacts wildlife like the Coontie plant and the Atala butterfly. In the 1950s, the atala was thought to be extinct as a direct result of the production of starch using the coontie plant.

Economically, native lawns are also preferred. A study analyzed four insect services—pest control, pollination, and wildlife nutrition— that are estimated to provide at least $57 billion in service.

“I think that there is a better and a higher purpose if you start to rethink what your yard is for,” Evans said. “There could be a better and a higher purpose for some of the things that are happening in your yard.”

Those wishing to help environmentally can focus on: choosing the right plants and attracting wildlife.

Choosing the right plants entails providing shelter and nesting areas for wildlife by having plants of different heights available for animals with different preferences, explained Evans. Additionally, people should only plant the appropriately sized plant for a location.

Trimming plants to fit an unnatural size can take stunt their aid in cultivating the environment. Proper pruning methods for trees and shrubs is essential for the success of a native yard. When possible it’s best to let them grow, creating natural corridors for wildlife to travel to and from.

Chemical such as pesticides should be reduced or eliminated for the safety of the wildlife which will attract wildlife, said Evans.

Evans lectures offered a new perspective on gardening in SWFL. CROW Executive Director Alison Hussey said the lecture highlighted the conservationist nature of Sanibel.

“We as keepers of our own domain can help share our space with the animals you,” Hussey said. “We often think we’re trying to make sure that we don’t invade their space, but wouldn’t it be nice if they felt comfortable in our backyard.”

The next lecture will be on March 9 and will cover “The Story of Ospreys.”

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