Julien: Less lawn equals more wildlife

Posted 5/14/20

Here in Phoenix our summer months are not known as gardening weather but there’s important work to do in the yard this year --- remove your lawn.

You probably already consider this every …

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Julien: Less lawn equals more wildlife


Here in Phoenix our summer months are not known as gardening weather but there’s important work to do in the yard this year --- remove your lawn.

You probably already consider this every time you mow that Bermudagrass in the summer or overseed with ryegrass in the fall.

Now’s the time to make a change for the better and by fall you can begin to reap the benefits of less water and energy usage, a healthier planet and a beautiful yard.

Lawns are a poor return on investment. They use a tremendous amount of water which evaporates quickly from their shallow root systems.

Their dense root systems even repel water which contributes to flooding during rain events rather than allowing the water to percolate into the soil. During these storms, overapplied fertilizers run off into our waterways affecting wildlife especially fish and amphibians.

Removing lawn is hard work but can be done by those without green thumbs with no need to call a landscaping company. Some cities even offer rebates of up to $2,000 to make the conversion.

Check out publications by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Maricopa Master Gardeners for converting turf to xeriscape. Follow the directions carefully and by the end of summer you will be ready to fill in the exposed dirt with a beautiful palette of native plants or edible garden beds.

Native plants are an excellent return on investment. They use less water and are adapted to the heat. Planting an array of different native plants provides different textures, heights, colors and fragrances. None of this is lost on the local urban wildlife.

The more variety you plant, the more variety of wildlife you can attract: lizards, birds, native pollinators like bees and butterflies. All animals that are stressed by the increasing heat caused by drought, heat island effect, and climate change. Imagine being a one-inch long butterfly traveling a mile for food and shelter --- a string of backyards are a welcome corridor to rest, eat, and raise young.

Phoenix-based horticulturist Christina Carlson encourages clients to choose native plants, “There’s a native plant for everyone --- a flower color, size, or distinct look to suit any homeowner’s taste and add curb appeal. As Phoenix gets hotter due to climate change, native wildlife need native plants more than ever but we humans benefit too. Trees planted anywhere on your property provide shade. Planting on the south and west sides of the house can significantly reduce cooling costs. And many of our native trees will require no supplemental irrigation after being established. That’s a win-win.”

Mary Phillips, of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gardening for Wildlife program, warns against using astro-turf.

“The only benefit is you don’t need to mow it but otherwise it still requires fossil fuels to produce and water and weeding to keep it looking good. And worse, it provides no benefit to wildlife. We recommend planting nature instead," she said.

Removing your lawn can offer better returns on your home value, the health of local wildlife and the health of the planet.

Keep in mind that while you have influence in your own backyard, you influence our elected officials too. Tell Sens. McSally and Sinema to take bold action for the benefit of our nation and the entire planet. And if you don’t get a response, take out your frustration on that Bermudagrass.

Editor's note: Nikki Julien is the outreach director for the Arizona Wildlife Federation.