Many lakeshore owners picture their ideal yard being lush, green, mowed grass straight down to the edge of the rip rap right along the lake. Maximum lawn equals maximum enjoyment, right? Well, we at the SWCD are here to challenge your idea of a perfect lake lawn (a little challenge is good in life, right?)! There are a lot of benefits to having a nice, mowed lawn straight to the lake: lots of room for activities for one, and the best unobstructed view of the lake, and the approval of your neighbors whose lawn rivals that of the white house (how do they do that?). But we want to take a look at some of the negative consequences of having a mowed lawn that stretches to the lake, as well as some of the benefits of planting native grasses and flowers along the shoreline (what else did you expect from us, this is our job!).

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The Ideal Lawn

The Ideal Lawn

April 14, 2020 by

Many lakeshore owners picture their ideal yard being lush, green, mowed grass straight down to the edge of the rip rap right along the lake. Maximum lawn equals maximum enjoyment, right? Well, we at the SWCD are here to challenge your idea of a perfect lake lawn (a little challenge is good in life, right?)! There are a lot of benefits to having a nice, mowed lawn straight to the lake: lots of room for activities for one, and the best unobstructed view of the lake, and the approval of your neighbors whose lawn rivals that of the white house (how do they do that?). But we want to take a look at some of the negative consequences of having a mowed lawn that stretches to the lake, as well as some of the benefits of planting native grasses and flowers along the shoreline (what else did you expect from us, this is our job!).

                One of the biggest consequences of a mowed lawn straight down to the lake is the impacts on water quality, which in turn has impacts on us and on the wildlife around us. When we have a lawn mowed short all the way to the shore, we have very little slowing down all of the water that runs off of our roads, roofs, and driveways, carrying all those pesky pollutants that degrade water quality, making our lakes less swimmable and not able to host good and healthy populations of fish. As lakeshore owners, don’t we want to live on a lake that we can swim and fish in? While we’re talking about fish, let’s think about other wildlife too. That mowed lawn grass looks great to us, but to the birds and bees and bunnies, it looks like a giant wasteland, with no food or shelter or protection from those annoying birds. And let’s not forget about all of that time you spend actually mowing your lawn; if you’re anything like me, you would much rather spend that time reading on the deck or out in the boat!

                Rather than mow our whole lawn of invasive and non-native Kentucky Bluegrass, we can plant some of it into native grasses and flowers that need much less maintenance, provide food and habitat to our neighboring critters, and help protect water quality. And we don’t argue that this is far, far from the ideal image of a green mowed lawn straight down to the lake, it really does grow on you! But let’s touch on the benefits before we get to the aesthetics and what your neighbors might think. One of our favorite images to use in presentations is a picture of the roots of Kentucky Bluegrass compared to the roots of our native grasses and flowers. Our lawn grass has roots that only go down about an inch, while our native roots go down 10-20 feet (or more in some cases!), and these long roots do an excellent job not only of providing a path for water to infiltrate down into the ground rather than run off, but the plants material aboveground slows the water down and allows it to soak in. This process allows the pollutants to filter out of the water, leaving what eventually gets into the lake clean and clear. We all know clean and clear lakes are the best to swim in, and the fish like it too! And while lawn grass looks like a wasteland to our pollinators and wildlife, a native planting looks like a good old buffet, with lots of good things to eat and drink and plenty of places to hide and rest. And once our plantings are established, the only maintenance required are an occasional weeding and the occasional burn (which sounds super fun to us, but there are other ways to accomplish the same results if the idea of fire close to your house makes you squirm).

                We definitely understand that a native planting is far from the ideal image that society has ingrained in us of a lush, bright green, mowed lawn. We have quite a few landowners who come in worried about what their neighbors will think, and we get that! You don’t want your neighbors to think you gave up caring and now have a lawn full of weeds! But we’ve found that a little education goes a long ways. Explaining that your planting is doing great things for the lake and the surrounding environment and pointing out that this purple “thistle” is actually a bee balm, and that yellow “spurge” as actually a coneflower goes a long ways towards changing the attitude of what a perfect lawn should be (and if they remain adamant that your lawn is full of weeds we can use our professional expertise to tell them!). And we want to point out that you don't have to convert your whole lawn! Even a garden bed here and there is good for pollinators, and a strip along the shoreline is all that's needed to help protect water quality.

                Our mission statement at the Soil and Water is to protect the resources that were left in our care. For us, this means protecting our lakes and streams and leaving them in good quality for our kids and grandkids to enjoy, as well as future generations of fish and other critters. We like challenging the social status of an ideal lawn, because we know the benefits of a prairie planting and because we think they are so much prettier with the bright, showy flowers and long, graceful grasses. We enjoy seeing the wildlife that enjoys the planting, and we take comfort in knowing that the falling rain won’t be washing any pollutants into the lake. So as long as we’re around, we’ll promote native plantings, no matter how much the neighbors hate it. And while this measly little blog post is unlikely to change your mind about how great your lawn is, we at least hope it encourages you to think about what you can do to improve the lake you live on.

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