Four Tips for a Climate-Friendly Yard

America’s largest irrigated crop isn’t corn or soy—it’s grass. Lawns cover more area than Georgia, and their upkeep deepens the climate crisis.

This article is part of a special series from our fall 2019 climate issue on how you can level up your actions against climate change. Visit the full Climate Action Guide here

Tidy turfgrasses might be fixtures of the American landscape, but ecologically speaking, they're bad news. For all the water, gasoline, and chemicals we use to keep our lawns looking fancy, they provide little value for wildlife and contribute to our overall carbon output. 

The good news? Managed correctly, even small yards can combat climate change while providing precious habitat for creatures that badly need it. Try these tactics to curb emissions:

Kill the grass. To make room for climate- and bird-friendly habitat, you’ve got to lose that thirsty monoculture. Here’s one way: Cut the grass as short as possible, cover with cardboard, dampen, add five inches of mulch, and wait two months before planting anything. Or just rent a sod cutter.

Plant native species. Plants adapted to your region don’t need fertilizer or much water. They also provide valuable food and habitat for birds while pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. Plus, strategically siting trees and shrubs around your home can halve cooling costs in summer and similarly shrink your winter heating bill—and all the emissions they required. Find the right plants for your area, and learn where you can buy them, through Audubon's Native Plants Finder program.

Go fertilizer-free. Synthetic fertilizers take a huge amount of energy to produce. They also typically provide more nitrogen than plants need, and microbes convert that excess into nitrous oxide, which, like CO2, traps heat in the atmosphere. Organic fertilizer is a little better, but using all-natural, composted materials is best. 

Forgo gas tools. Hedge trimmers, edgers, leaf blowers—all these fuelburners spew carbon emissions and air pollution that are bad for, well, everyone. Many companies make electric versions that work just as well and are better for the environment (especially if you install those solar panels). Feeling really motivated? Don’t forget basic hand tools, which get the job done, only require your own energy, and rarely need costly repairs. 

For more tips, check out our five-part series on how to make your yard bird- and climate-friendly.