ecosystem regeneration

Kill your lawn, to bring life to your yard

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Lawns are the most costly agricultural product in the USA, using more fertilizer and chemical treatment than any other major crop including corn and soy.

On top of that, they’re the largest consumer of water, especially in arid regions that can’t naturally afford to keep green lawns all year.

And all of this for what? Grassy lawns don’t give us any food, they do almost nothing for the soil since their root systems are very shallow and create compaction beneath, and they’ve only been common in our culture for a short time.

They originated in the gardens of English and northern French royalty as a display of opulence where the rainy climate doesn’t require watering. A lawn essentially used to say, “I have so much land and servant labor that I can afford to grow nothing.” 

seems pretty innocent right?

That’s why I encourage everyone to kill their lawn. Not to leave dead earth in your yard, but to make space for more abundant and beneficial life.

There are so many plant options that are appropriate for the water resources of your area, the food needs of your family, and the health of the wildlife in your ecosystem. By choosing plants that are right for your context, you’ll also cut down on maintenance drastically. 

Now it might seem counter intuitive that a regenerative skill might focus on how to kill something, but by making way for more resilient and diverse life, the small death of your lawn can lead to more abundance overall. 

Though there are many ways to remove the high maintenance grass on your lawn, modern methods often require using harmful chemicals or removing all the topsoil in the process too, so I won’t even talk about those.

Instead I’ll outline two methods that will either build healthier soil in the process or at least leave the topsoil intact when the grass is gone

Regardless of your climate or bio-region, there’s a healthier, lower maintenance, and lower consumption alternative to a lawn. 

You can even start small by just removing the outer edges of your lawn or a few patches to see how things go. Even by just reducing the size of your lawn you’ll see big improvements in the health of your yard.

By replacing your lawn with one of these options you won’t be at constant war with your grass in an attempt to keep it clean and pretty either. 

You’ll instead be regenerating the health of your yard by improving the soil, increasing the drought tolerance, food and medicine output (both for yourself and local wildlife and pollinators), and increasing the biodiversity all at once.

So let’s get started

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Method 1
Sheet mulching

mulching over the grass

This is my favorite method, because it actually improves the soil while getting rid of your grass by building layers of organic matter that will decompose in place. The key is to make sure that the bottom layers of cardboard overlap and don’t leave any space for grass and weeds to grow through. 

  • Lay down overlapping layers of cardboard or newspaper (10 sheets thick if using newspaper). You can get tons of material for free in recycling bins.
  • Wet it down so it doesn’t move or fly away.
  • Put a minimum of 6in (15cm) of mulch or compost over the top and water it again. If you use compost you’ve just created no-dig garden beds and can plant veggies right away!
  • From there it will take at least 2 months for the grass to die and care should be taken not to pierce the cardboard/newspaper layer lest the grass grow up through and become a problem again
  • You can either plant straight into the mulch or leave it over winter to break down and feed the soil.
topping up with leaf mulch
adding manure fertilizer

Method 2
Solar burn

With this method you’re scorching the roots and weed seeds in the top layer of your lawn. Though you’re not building any organic matter or top soil, the advantage is that you don’t need to bring in a lot of material or do a lot of work. After two or three months you’re left with a “blank slate” that you can plant whatever you want into. 

hard to survive under there
  • Wait for hot sunny weather
  • Cut the lawn as short as you can
  • Water it thoroughly (you can leave it dry too, but it takes longer)
  • Cover it with black plastic with the borders weighted down to keep it in place and prevent ventilation
  • Leave it there for at least two months

With your grass out of the way here are 5 options for better things to do with the space. There’s a short description of each with links for directions and resources on how to get started.

  • Plant a meadow 

Meadows are just native grasses and forbes. Since they’re much much more resilient and adapted to your local conditions they need almost no maintenance. Meadows will also include wildflowers and habitat for local insects and wildlife so just be aware that you’ll certainly encounter all kinds of critters that weren’t there before. Chec

  • Seed a rain garden  

Rain gardens have been gaining in popularity as people come to realise all the benefits they can bring to your yard and waterways. It’s worth doing some research about what local plants are best to use in your area, but the idea is that you find plants that will filter rain runoff before it gets washed away in drains and gutters. Rain runoff can carry a lot of surface pollutants from streets, parking lots, roofs, and sidewalks. By filtering the water in what is essentially a mini wetland, you can prevent those contaminants from getting into lakes and rivers. You’ll also feed the beautiful semi-aquatic species and wildlife they attract at the same time.

  • Create native habitat 

Native habitat can be a lot of things depending on the climate and ecology where you live. If you simply leave your space to be taken over by nature, it will being a slow succession creating native habitat on its own. If you design and build it more consciously, you can install features like bird and bat houses, insect hotels, and other inviting shelters for your favorite inhabitants. Providing certain food sources, water access, and protected areas are sure to attract new guests in no time. 

you can use recycled materials to make a wildlife hotel like the one above

  • Grow a food garden  

People often criticise veggie gardeners by saying that produce is cheap enough that growing your own isn’t much for savings. What they fail to see are all the other benefits aside from the delicious food you’ll harvest. Gardening is exercise, therapy, entertainment, education, and reconnection all at once. You’ll also save much more than just your food bill as you reduce transportation costs, healthcare bills, and more in the process.

  • Establish a food forest  
so many layers of food

If you have access to a bit more space and want to create an entire ecosystem that will feed you, food forests are worth looking into. With between 7-9 layers of a forest that can be cultivated you can produce a lot more food by taking advantage of the vertical space and all the perennial varieties that need little maintenance once established. You’re also guaranteed to create wildlife habitat and an whole interconnected ecosystem as a side benefit too.

For a great step-by-step instruction guide to another method called “Back to Eden” gardening, which focuses on low maintenance, diverse, native species, and soil health, check out this guide as well.

If you enjoy regenerative skills like this one, check out our dedicated Discord Channel. There you’ll find tons of other learners and teachers who are sharing their knowledge, experiences, and even challenges and troubles. It’s a great way to connect with like-minded people who are passionate about leveling up their skills for a regenerative future.

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