Safely Killing the Green Desert (The Lawn!)

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

Buy a copy of
The Pollinator Victory Garden!

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Lasagna Mulching

Safely Killing the Green Desert (The Lawn!)

You’ve decided to be a good ecological steward of your landscape and reduce or replace your lawn. Kudos to you on making the decision to remove the “green desert,” hopefully, replacing it with those ecological workhorses – native plants. If every homeowner and landscape pro made this simple step, we would see vast improvements in biodiversity and ecological health.

But now what? How do you get rid of your Green Desert, your lawn, in a way that protects both you and the environment?  It’s a bit more complicated that you may think.  The “usual and customary” method is often the most harmful.

RoundUp Realities

This question often comes up: “Is it safe to use RoundUp to kill the grass?”  Glyphosate-based products, including RoundUp, have been used on a massive scale in both agricultural and home landscapes. The largest selling herbicide worldwide, glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide. It is so effective that RoundUp-tolerant seeds have been engineered to allow farmers to plant RoundUp-ready crops and then spray entire fields, killing every plant in sight, except the genetically-modified crop.  This is one of the reasons that Monarch butterflies are in trouble – their milkweed host plants are being obliterated. And that’s just Monarchs – many other species are being impacted by this agricultural practice.

Once thought to be relatively benign, to all but the targeted plants, glyphosate is now thought to be much more problematic. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently determined that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans.  The CEO of Monsanto, the manufacturer of RoundUp, responded that these cancer concerns are “a distraction rather than a reality.”  An angry press release from Monsanto termed the WHO’s research “junk science.”  Hmmm….

Other studies have shown that glyphosate binds tightly to minerals in the soil, competing with plants for these nutrients. Additional research has determined that glyphosate can alter the beneficial fungi and bacteria that interact with plant roots, making them more susceptible to parasites and pathogens.  Do you really want to use a substance that negatively impacts soil structure along with soil and plant health?

Ecological Alternatives

Searching for an effective, environmentally-friendly method for grass removal can be a bit tricky.   When using organic preparations, be aware that organic may not mean benign.   Horticultural vinegar with 20% acetic acid is far more powerful than any culinary vinegar (around 5% acetic acid). Not only will this powerful preparation burn the vegetative growth of weeds it is applied to, it can cause chemical burns to your skin, and worse, may blind you, should it get into your eyes. Pity the poor creature that comes into contact with this stuff, like an amphibian with its highly sensitive skin.20-percent-vinegar

Plastic sheeting can be used to solarize (burn out) your grass, but there may be environmental consequences.  Avoid plastics which contains PVCs, as well as black plastic which is a petroleum-based product.  With any plastic sheeting, as it heats up, the temperature under the plastic can increase significantly, potentially killing beneficial microorganisms in the soil, not just the grass.  This is especially problematic in hot weather. While the soil microorganisms will return in time, the short-term impact can be dramatic.

Why not try a more environmentally-friendly approach to grass removal? Smothering your lawn with layers of cardboard and mulch (the lasagna approach) is low-impact and very successful, but can take many months. If you are in a hurry, considering use a sod cutter to remove the turf, trying your best to get the grass roots. Then, plant thickly and quickly with competitive native plants, suited to the site.

Have suggestions on environmentally-friendly methods for removing turf?

From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Lasagna Mulching – Killing the Green Desert
Photo credit: Natural Flow_Flickr

More from EcoBlog

It’s National Pollinator Week: Thank a Bee, and a Fly, and Even A Beetle

In 2006 the United States Senate designated the first National Pollinator Week as a way to recognize the importance of pollinators to agriculture and ecosystem health.  Sure, beekeepers and avid gardeners celebrate this week, but the average American is hard pressed to name even a single pollinator beyond a honey…

Read More

Remembering a Great Naturalist: A Toast to Carol Gracie

This past fall we lost one of the great naturalists of the Northeast, Carol Gracie.  Carol was not just a naturalist, but a botanist, photographer, lecturer, and author of four fantastic books:  Summer Wildflowers of the Northeast, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast, Florapedia, and Wildflowers in the Field and Forest:…

Read More

Why Locally-Sourced, Locally-Grown Native Plants Matter

Have you visited your local farmer’s market lately or picked up your weekly allotment at a CSA?   If you are a locavore, like so many of us, you might be asking some pretty specific questions of your suppliers when you are vetting your food choices, such as: Where was this…

Read More