Embracing backyard conservation


My husband came home after hanging out on the deck of a friend’s house. In the course of hitting the highlights, he mentioned that his friend’s yard was perfect.

“It was lush and green, not one weed in sight,” he said. “He calls the weed killer company three times a year. I can never invite him here,” he sighed, as he shook his head sadly.

Ouch, that stung a bit. And then I looked around through perfect-yard-guy eyes. “You’re right,” I said.

Let me preface this article by saying we live at the end of a long driveway. Our yard is not visible to passersby on the road. Other than visitors, only the two neighbors who share our access see our yard — and they wrote us off as “quirky” a long time ago.

It was May 4 when we had the yard conversation, and “the boy” had just mowed for the first time of the season. I use the term loosely, as I asked him to dodge violets, spring beauties and bluets.

I told him not to mow the side or backyard because we had nests of bluebirds, shrikes, cardinals, robins and wrens around the perimeter. I wanted to leave it tall so they could have better hunting there (kind of like the Serengeti, I guess).

Those little bird babies need a lot of food, and the bird parents seem to find it as they constantly swoop and hop through our yard. Nature is all about diversity, and I’m not one to stand in its way.

Grass makes up the majority of the vegetation in our yard but is by no means the only flora. There are no ordinances where we live, so I get that not everybody can be as “wildlife-friendly” as we are, and lush green grass is certainly more aesthetically pleasing than the mess we have.

Tips for a great lawn

Backyard conservation doesn’t have to be as extreme as my example — there are simple backyard conservation practices that can be adopted that won’t make you public enemy No. 1 in the neighborhood.

Based on Backyard Conservation: Lawns and the Environment, a collaboration between Scotts Miracle-Gro and the National Association of Conservation Districts, here are some suggestions:

1. Choose a fertilizer that is phosphorus-free unless a soil test shows a need for this nutrient. Your local soil and water conservation district can give you information about soil testing, and some may process them for you (we do here in Holmes County).

2. The best time to feed your lawn is spring and fall when the grass is actively growing.

3. Set your mower at its highest setting. Taller grass is stronger grass. It builds deeper roots that enable the plant to find water and nutrients and better withstand periods of heat and drought.

4. Use a mulching mower, so that grass clippings can be returned to the soil.

5. In the fall, mulch the leaves that fall on your lawn using your lawnmower. Leaves will break down and enrich the soil.

6. Storm sewers lead directly to streams. Never dispose of clippings or pet wastes in or around storm sewers.

Plant for pollinators

In addition, planting a variety of native trees and shrubs are an excellent way to provide food for butterflies, bees and birds. Just because the local greenhouse sells it doesn’t make it a native — do a bit of research before buying

Planting for pollinators has really gained momentum in the past several years, and many plants are marketed to that purpose. Select plants that flower and bear fruit at different times of the year. And of course, adding bird feeders and fountains will attract all sorts of winged creatures.

Suggested plant lists and other backyard conservation activities are highlighted in Backyard Conservation, which can be found by searching online for “NRCS backyard conservation” or call your local soil and water conservation district for more information. Read the Holmes SWCD blog posts at holmesswcd.com, and follow us on Facebook for current conservation news.


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Michelle Wood is the program administrator for the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a graduate of Mount Union College with a degree in communications, and has been involved in natural resources and agriculture throughout her career.


  1. The taller you let your grass grow the less it costs to maintain. I don’t water, fertilize or aerate at all. Those actions also help weeds. I also only mow a few times a year. Many people are obsessed with having a “healthy”, sterile, short, weed free lawn. That takes an unnatural amount of water, chemicals and mowing. The constant noise and emissions from frequent mowing is an unnatural part of spring and summer. 7″ grass with an electric 34″ wide DIY triple weed whacker mower drastically reduces all of the above. Hang it on the wall when done. Even better, switch to moss in shady areas and never mow, water or fertilize again. Try Ecolawn. It is more hardy and grows very slowly so far less mowing , watering and fertilizer.


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