For some gardeners, lawn care becomes drudgery about this time of year.
But there are other criticisms that can be leveled against lawns, especially the ''ideal'' lawn.
Altogether, lawn care gobbles up millions of gallons of gasoline each year as well as millions of tons of fertilizer, much of which is washed into and pollutes waterways. The typical lawn is also drenched with pesticides to knock out grubs, chinch bugs, leaf spots and crabgrass.
In fact, more pesticides are added per acre to lawns than to any other land.
Today's lawn is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the middle of the 19th century, lawns consisted of wild grasses and wildflowers maintained with the swing of a scythe four or five times a year or with grazing sheep.
Then the lawn mower was invented. Our lawns now add up to over 7 million acres -- an area many times the size of Rhode Island. To keep this acreage green, weed-free and no more than a couple of inches tall costs us over $5 billion per year.
Of course, lawns do have redeeming qualities. Right after mowing, a fresh scent fills the air. Everything looks pretty and neat. A lawn makes a nice surface on which kids can tumble and to knock a croquet ball around. Public lawns, such as a town ''green,'' provides places to eat, read and meet friends. Also to stroll.
There are ways to balance the good and the bad of lawns. Start by treating your lawn correctly. Grow a grass adapted to your site. Mow regularly to the recommended height. Because grass clippings contain nutrients, less fertilizer is needed if you leave them where they fall. A mulching mower does this most effectively. Do not apply chemicals routinely. If you must water, do it deeply and infrequently.
Also consider alternatives to a lawn. Ground covers such as dark-green euonymous or succulent sedums grow well in the sun. In shade, try English ivy, myrtle or pachysandra.
Another option is to change your ideal for a perfect lawn. Let ''weeds'' like clover and ground ivy mingle with your grass. A perfect lawn can be boring.
A final possibility is to allow part of the lawn to become a meadow of taller grasses splashed with orange oxeye daisies and butterfly weeds, purple asters and thistles, and yellow goldenrods. One or two mowings a year is all that's needed to fend off the invasion of woody plants.
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