Lawns may appear ‘nice and neat’, but manicured lawns like we see all over the UK are not that beneficial environmentally, due to the sheer upkeep of mowing, fertiliser, herbicide and pesticides etc needed to keep them looking pristine.
In fact they can often have a negative effect, both environmentally and financially.
This is where it can be tricky, as there is a negative perception that an unmowed lawn is unkept, whether at home or on the streets. But in reality, it can make a thriving and much needed habitat for the local wildlife, and leaving it will make the grass stronger.
Lawns cover a huge space in Wigan Borough, our gardens make up the largest managed space, and grass verges make up another 60 hectares. So it may seem a mundane thing to focus on, but it could make a huge difference.
If you want to bring more wildlife to your garden, but you’re not ready to ditch your lawn altogether, here are some ideas to help bring some more life to it.
The good news is that it doesn’t take much effort at all, in fact it should be easier and cheaper than the current upkeep, and it doesn’t need to be all or nothing approach.
Stop using chemicals
Fertilisers don’t help to make a good soil. They make the soil so rich that the grass will grow, but it’s too much for most other native flowers, and the grass becomes too overwhelming for them to make progress.
Try and refrain from fertiliser, manure or compost – they will all be to the detriment of any flowers that could be hidden in the soil and waiting to grow.
Importantly pesticides are almost massively detrimental to bees and other pollinators. they’re shown to kill bees by the thousands with even a tiny amount.
Pesticides don’t discriminate, if they kill the chosen ‘pest’ they will kill or harm most others nearby.
In time often the pests can even each other out, one will grow in population, but then something comes along to eat it, and so it continues.
When you start with flowers and bees and insects, it’s the very bottom of a much wider chain, by killing these species at the bottom we’re harming all the larger animals that rely on them, birds, hedgehogs, frogs and it just continues.
Using chemical fertilisers and pesticides for purely cosmetic use is extremely expensive and wasteful and harmful.
Don’t weed too heavy
This is the old phrase “a weed is only a plant you don’t want” but when we’re talking gardening for wildlife, most plants that are growing naturally are wanted, whether it’s bees, butterflies, catepillars, and much more! And again, by feeding these little ones, then the birds and some larger mammals have more food too, it travels up the ecosystem.
Hold back on the weeding, especially clovers – bees love them!
Dandelions are a foe to a lot of people, but being an early flowerer, they are vital for the insects to get some of their first feed for the year.
Dandelions can become a bit of a nuisance as they naturally spread, so if you want you can weed some, it doesn’t need to be an all or nothing approach.
It’s also key to avoid weed killer, it’s shown to be harmful for soil and earthworms. If you want to get rid of anything, especially deep rooted nettles and docks etc, it’s best to get it out at the root to avoid large damage.
Stop mowing so frequently
This is so easy! But maybe the hardest for people to take on board. It has so many benefits, it’s worth trying.
“Longer, healthier lawn makes it more resistant to pests, weeds, and drought events” – a recent study showed.
It can be hard to resist when you’re used to keeping it fairly pristine and short, but not mowing will actually keep it healthier looking.
Often grass doesn’t have many variety of species, but over time, seeds will fall onto the soil and already there is most likely a diverse range of wildflowers beneath the surface waiting to grow!
Try holding off for a month (or more) this year, and see what springs up. There may be plants already present, for example, daisies, speedwell, selfheal, buttercups and cowslips.
Not only will the flowers provide much-needed nectar for bees, butterflies and pollinators, but the long grass will provide shelter for many other kinds of animal.
If you’re ready to let go of the lawn a bit more, sow some wildflower seeds in Autumn or Spring.
It’ll be a work in progress for a while, as the grass will be very dense. But in time there will be a lovely mixture of the flowers that have grown naturally, plus your extra wildflowers that are great for bees, insects and small creatures alike, with the added beauty of flowers.
You’ll have greater success if your wildflower mix includes Yellow Rattle, coined “the meadow maker” they bind to the existing grass, stifling it a little, and so it helps the other tiny delicate shoots to grow better. All our seed mixes include this!
Buy scattering some seeds You’ll have a wider variety of flowers than if you just leave it, but I would always recommend using a UK native species. We have an in-depth guide to creating your own mini meadow at home here
All of the above points apply to larger public grass areas and grass verges.
And less mowing of grass verges as well could actually be very positive economically as well as creating important habitats.
The study also showed that when public grass was mowed less, they needed to spend about 36% less money over the year to maintain the grass. With similar studies in different cities in Canada and Europe showing the same results.
With grass verges, the proximity to the road can cause damage to bees and pollinators due to pollution, noise, disturbance but the benefits of letting the grass grow stil generally outweigh any negatives.
So when selecting an area to sow seeds, you’d prioritise areas further away from the road, but you may as well let it grow naturally near the roadside anyway to see what rare and beautiful wildflowers might pop up.
There are fantastic guidelines from Plantlife on grass verge best practice for insects and wildlife.
Just pick where you want
With these ideas, it’s not all or nothing. If you really walk on your lawn a lot, or if you have kids who do. Then you need to be practical.
So if you want to try, just make a section or increase the borders, it needn’t be the whole space.
It can actually look cool and on purpose, if you mow up to the wild patch, it looks deliberate and it’s a nice statement.
Or you can mow a path through aa wildflower lawn, so you can still walk through a gap with ease. This also looks really cool.
Hopefully, this post will help inspire you to start preening your grass a little less, and letting nature creep in a little more! You can take it as little or are far as you want.
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