by Sam Killmeyer
With the federal declaration of the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River; the largest reservoir in the country, Lake Mead, at a drastically low level; and our second-largest reservoir, Lake Powell, at 33% capacity, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the climate crisis.
So, in today’s blog post, I want to scale things down to the tiny ecosystems outside our front doors – our yards, balconies, and windowsills. It’s time to move away from our cultural dependence on green, manicured lawns and be more creative with how we use our space! Not all of us are homeowners (I rent and part of my lease requires I water the grass…), but there are plenty of actions, small and large, we can take in our local communities to fight climate change through better land management practices.
Learn a few ways you can use your yard to fight climate change, and if you’re interested in innovative ways to use the land to fight climate change on a larger scale, check out the work that our Regenerative Agriculture and Local Foods Systems Committee is doing!
Replace Your Grass With Native Plants or Xeriscaping
Did you know that replacing a lawn with drought-tolerant plants can cut your water use by over 80 percent? Each year Americans use nearly three trillion gallons of water to maintain their yards, but many cities in the west offer rebates for transforming your yard to be more water-efficient. For example, Fort Collins Utilities has a Xeriscape Incentive Program and Denver provides rebates for shifting to higher-efficiency sprinklers.
Many people don’t love the idea of xeriscaping because they think of it as rocks and cactus, but much of Colorado is grassland, not desert, and there are so many different ways to create a sustainable yard. If you are someone who has property and the means to do so, converting turf to native plants is a time-intensive process, but yields a landscape that is happy, healthy, and easier to maintain. Here’s the general process:
- Decide on your goals, budget, and timeline. Try starting with a small area that you can learn from and expand on later.
- Kill and remove turf. Don’t just stop watering and let the yard die. You won’t get a fresh start, you’ll just have a dry space full of thistles and crabgrass that your native plants will have to compete with. Instead, try mowing your lawn as close to the ground and smothering it with some sort of mulch over the winter. You can also dig it up with a tiller.
- Decide on what you want to plant! Here are some great options:
- Native prairie grasses
- Perennial flowers like asters, sunflowers, or black-eyed susans
- Shrubs like autumn amber sumac or blue-chip junipers
- Low-maintenance groundcovers like carex glauca, lily turf, or dymondia
If you’re inspired and ready to replace your grass, it’s best to start the process now, in the fall, and then plant in early spring so that your plants can get established before the summer heat!
Plant A Pollinator Garden
No matter how small of an outdoor space you have, you can attract pollinators! Try planting some of these flowers in a garden bed or pot:
- Echinacea, sunflowers, salvia, antelope-horns milkweed, or indigo bush
Try to plant a variety of flowering plants that bloom at different times of the year. You can also support our pollinator friends by putting in water features for them to drink from or rocks to rest on.
If you have only a tiny space, try hanging a hummingbird feeder. You may start to have visitors like broad-tailed or rufous hummers. They’re both beautiful guests at your window and amazing pollinators!
If you have the space outside, composting your food scraps can be done relatively easily. You can purchase a compost tumbler, use a bin, or simply pick an area of your yard that you’re ok with making into a compost pile. Whatever you choose to do, keep your compost moist, turn it often, and soon you’ll have rich soil – and have kept all that food waste out of the landfill!
Incorporate Long-Lived Plants
You can think of each tree, shrub, and native grass in your yard as a carbon sink, breathing in CO2 every day and sequestering carbon. While planting a boxelder in your yard isn’t going to stop the systemic issues causing climate change (100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions…) it’s still better than a large grassy yard!
Trees are the most efficient at draining CO2 from the air, followed by long-lived shrubs, woody perennials, and native grasses with deep root systems. If you live in an area threatened by fires, native grasses are the best way to go, since they will provide less fuel for the fire and regenerate much more quickly.
A big part of eco-friendly gardening is keeping as much moisture as possible from evaporating. If you have flower beds, a garden, or even potted plants, it’s a good idea to use mulch. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy wood chips, any of the following will work:
- Grass clippings, straw bales, shredded paper, pine needles, leaves, or Christmas tree shredding
You can also likely find free wood chips from your city when they clean up downed trees after a storm or from local tree services.
Use Your Hands
If you are able, try to do as much of your yard work and gardening by hand. People power is a renewable resource! Try to avoid tools that are powered by fossil fuels. Many gas-powered leaf blowers and lawnmowers use a two-stroke engine, which burns a combination of gas and oil. This emits a wide range of air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and hydrocarbons.
If you can, try replacing your gas-powered mower with a push model. Or find electric tools. They’re more expensive, but if you’re persistent on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace, you may be able to find a used one.
Make Friends With Plants
It might sound cheesy, but a big part of becoming a climate activist or continuing the fight is falling in love with the earth. Tending plants – whether at the scale of a giant yard or a windowsill herb garden – is a great way to become closer to the earth. Taking daily care of plants deepens your relationship to the more-than-human world, and it’s also an excellent form of self-care.
Want To Do More?
Building a green, fossil-free future is going to take a collective effort and a multi-faceted approach. Here at 350, we welcome people of all backgrounds, experiences, and skills, so if you’re ready to take your climate activism beyond your yard, contact us today or donate to our team!