Your lawn isn’t as green as it looks

One green city

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

There isn’t an ecological disaster in your backyard. Your yard is the ecological disaster.

The pristine suburban green lawn may seem harmless, even wholesome. But it’s actually an example of a monoculture. A typical lawn has one species of grass that drains nutrients from the soil. There are few or no native grasses or flowers for pollinators to feed from. Most lawnmowers are powered by gasoline. All the water the grass sucks up drains urban aquifers.

In nature, ecosystems thrive when there’s biodiversity, multiple organisms living in the same spaces. Not only are lawns intentionally inhospitable to both animals and other plants, but the flat surfaces don’t provide much shelter for rabbits, squirrels or mice. We purposely dig up or use weedkiller on anything that disrupts the pure green yard.

In 2019, the World Economic Forum cited loss of diversity as one of the biggest threats to humanity. While an individual lawn is a drop in the bucket compared to the biodiversity loss in the rainforest, there are 6.2 million lawns in Canada.

Natural lawns, which involve replacing sod with native plants and grasses, could introduce biodiversity into the city, create a habitat for pollinators, absorb carbon and save water. But the City of Winnipeg doesn’t allow certain plants to grow higher than one metre.

Currently in Winnipeg, you can be ordered to tame your natural lawn. If they deem your yard “too wild,” the City will send crews to do it for you and add the services to your taxes. In 2022 alone, the City sent nearly 400 notices for grass and weed violations.

When there’s already so little one can do to positively impact the planet, why is the City making it even harder to reduce one’s carbon footprint?

As climate change makes the planet hotter and drier, some southwestern United States state and municipal governments are paying homeowners to replace their grass with landscaping that requires less water. The Sacramento County Water Agency is offering a rebate of up to $1 per square foot, up to a maximum of $2,000 per household.

In 2021, Manitoba had one of its worst droughts in recent history. The city of Morden was on the verge of a drinking-water shortage and banned watering lawns and filling swimming pools.

In the future, it’s likely to only get worse. Due to climate change, we can expect more frequent droughts in the Prairies.

Allowing Winnipeggers to have naturalized lawns is the first step the City can take to preserve water, create carbon sinks and provide habitats for pollinators.

The second step would be to adapt a similar policy to southwestern US states to incentivize planting native grasses that need less water. The second step is definitely the harder sell. But city councillors could likely be persuaded to allow naturalized lawns if the public demanded it. It would cost the city council basically nothing to stop sending out violation notices and allow citizens to diversify their yards.

Allyn Lyons is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg and Red River College’s Creative Communications joint-degree program. It’s pronounced uh-lyn lions.

Published in Volume 77, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 24, 2022)

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