Breaking up is hard to do

Published September 1, 2022

By Tom Campbell

Back in the “bobby-sox 60’s” era Neil Sedaka recorded the song, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” I thought about it in contemplating a break-up of my own.
Let’s talk grass! Not that kind, although I suspect we will be debating that soon enough. The grass I’m talking about is the green stuff in our yards. The American Dream has been to own your own home, including an attractive house and yard. You seed, fertilize and water your yard so your piece of heaven will look like a lush, green carpet. Unspoken when you signed the mortgage was the obligation that Saturdays would be devoted to cutting and edging that grass.
After 50-plus years of living this dream I’m ready for a breakup. This notion began some months ago when I realized that in spite of all the money I spend, my yard has many bare spots. Then I got my monthly water bill, an amount almost double my first monthly mortgage payment. In addition to the irrigation is the mow-blow-and-go weekly lawn service and the company that periodically sprays fertilizers and chemicals on the lawn. And the yard still doesn’t look that great.
I was mentally ready to split with my grass, but questions arose. What is a lawn good for anyway? Can I still belong to “the club” if I break up with my lawn? What will my neighbors say? What other options are there?
The largest crop in the U.S. is not corn, cotton, soybeans or even sweet potatoes. It’s lawn! There are roughly 40 million acres (roughly 2 percent) of the land mass in our lower 48 states covered with grass. In Eastern North Carolina farmers are converting crop lands to turf farms growing varieties of grass then shipping it all over the country. Other businesses specialize in fertilizing and regularly treating the grass with chemicals to kill weeds and encourage healthier lawns.
The US uses more than 9 billion gallons of water a day irrigating the stuff. We are literally breaking the bank to grow grass then, paradoxically, mowing it down. And grass is not even good to eat, unless you are a goat or a cow.
There is a growing movement to declare war on lawns. I read about a community that boldly declared “No Mow May” to see if they had the fortitude to let these formerly precious lawns literally go to seed?
I sought help from The Google and learned about something called “Xeriscape,” sometimes called zero-scape. It’s a process that eliminates or reduces the need for irrigation, primarily by reducing the percentage of a yard devoted to grass. In its place people substitute mulch, drought-resistant ground covers, plants and bushes and hard surfaces, like small-sized rocks. There are many trees that, once established, require little or no irrigation. I started noticing that many others are already adapting this approach to their yards and guess what? Their yards are still attractive.
The State of North Carolina has useful publications and articles to help you in your quest. You can also get some great ideas and instruction from some YouTube videos that are readily available. One gardener we watch put Astroturf in her backyard where she wasn’t xeriscaping. I’m not ready to go there yet, but it is looking more and more attractive.
2020 was the sixth warmest year on record in North Carolina, 2021 was ninth and this year will likely rank in the top 10. Further, our state normally averages 48 inches of rainfall per year, but 65 percent of the state has been dealing with drought conditions this year, a condition worsening since February.
Here’s my spin: We need to wake up to the reality that climate change is real and learn to deal with warmer weather and sporadic rainfall amounts. That demands a change in attitude about our yards.
If you aren’t ready to give up your grass you might consider a type of grass better suited to warmer temperatures that doesn’t need so much watering. Zoysia and centipede are two types that fit the bill, but understand they turn brown in winter months. You might also allow your grass to grow taller, setting your lawn mower blade at 3 inches or higher. Water less frequently, but when you do, be sure to water turf more deeply.
At our house we’ve decided to develop a plan and gradually implement Xeriscaping in order to reduce the percentage of yard devoted to grass, especially since some of it isn’t growing anyway.
With careful planning each of us can reduce the demands we place on our water and sewer systems, decrease our dependency on chemicals and reduce labor and overall costs, while still having attractive homesteads.
But like I said, breaking up is hard to do.