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Meadows: An Eco-Friendly Alternative To High Maintenance Lawns

Manicured Lawns are Resource-Intensive

Blog0812_MeadowsThere was a time when a perfectly manicured lawn was the pride and joy of every homeowner. Men and women spent hours carefully mulching flower beds and mowing the grass. And for what? These over-watered, pesticide-ridden yards turned out to be nothing more than a money-sink. Although they looked nice, these kind of yards are almost too perfect to touch, nothing is edible, and local wildlife often take the hint to stay away.

Not only are manufactured lawns sterile and boring, they're also a huge catalyst for waste. According to the EPA, an American family of four can use 400 gallons of water per day, and about 30 percent of that is devoted to outdoor uses. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for almost one-third of all residential water use, totaling more than 7 billion gallons per day.

Meadow Ecosystems are Back in Style

According to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, however, natural lawns may be coming back into style. Much like youth hairstyles during the 60's and 70's, all the cool lawns are going shaggy in an attempt to recreate meadow ecosystems in urban settings.

Depending on the region, meadows feature long grasses, tall wildflowers, birds, a plethora of insects, and small creatures like rabbits and foxes. Meadows are naturally self-maintaining, which means that if planted correctly, they'll look good throughout the year without a lot of mowing or weeding.

Meadows are flowering and at their best from mid-spring to summer," reports WSJ's Anne Marie Chaker. "To keep things interesting in the dead of winter, meadow designers say it's important to plant grasses, which offer movement and texture when nothing is flowering."

The first step to planting a meadow is to find out which plants are native to your region's open areas. A meadow in Oregon is likely to contain different plants and flowers than one in Tennessee, and the whole point is to recreate the low-maintenance display that occurs naturally in nature. (Tip: The National Wildlife Federation has state-by-state listings of native plants that are beneficial to wildlife.Click on the red flower that says "Native Gardening.")

If you're interested in planting a meadow instead of a grass lawn, the WSJ article has some easy tips. Be warned that neighbors don't always like the idea, and it can take up to three years for your meadow to become fully developed. However, once a meadow is established it should never need water or fertilizer, and should only need mowing once a year.

Beth Buczynski is an environmental writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. Follow her on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

Photo credit: insideology

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