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The Changing of the Guard…In Our Yards

Many of you might recall what being a “responsible” citizen and community member looked like back in 1953…back when lawns were perfectly mowed, fertilized, and weed-free. History tells us that gardens and landscaping were once limited to those with land, money, and free time. However, times are a changing. A homeowner in 2023 is more likely to shrink their forever green and “perfect” lawn, plant natives, and create a more functional, purposeful landscape. This has become a necessity rather than a choice. A landscape that is sustainable and supports life, sequesters carbon, feeds pollinators, and manages water is one that is responsible and shows your neighbors and friends that you care about the health and well-being of your community.

As explained and taught by Doug Tallamy, American entomologist, ecologist, conservationist and professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, there are four functions or goals that every homeowner’s landscape and yard must perform to produce a healthy and viable ecosystem that we all need.

They must:

1) Support a diverse community of pollinators throughout the growing season. 2) Support and provide for the local food web. 3) Manage the watershed in which they lie. 4) Capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere where it is wreaking havoc on the Earth’s climate.

How well a landscape accomplishes these goals depends on how well we, as backyard stewards, choose and install the plants on our landscapes.

Traditional lawns fail at achieving these four goals. If we plant most or all of our property as lawn, none of these goals will be met. Grass is an ecological wasteland. Lawns degrade the local watershed by discouraging infiltration, facilitating stormwater runoff, and adding nitrogen, phosphorous, herbicides, and insecticides to the nearest stream or river. Today’s cultural standard for lawns supports no pollinators and does not nourish the insects that enable birds, reptiles, amphibians, and many mammals to reproduce. And when it comes to carbon capture, turf grass is our worst plant choice.

Native plants, however, succeed at achieving these four goals! We can help our yards become healthy, productive, and purposeful by planting the plants that are good at supporting pollinators, good at capturing energy and sharing it with our local wildlife, and good at holding carbon, allowing it to remain in the soil instead of finding its way into the atmosphere. We can also choose plants with large canopies that soften the impact of pounding rain and shade our homes from the sun and heat. Their large root systems encourage rainwater infiltration and thus hold tons of water on site after a storm event.

How cool is it to think that we can create and build ecosystems, feed our local pollinators, control runoff and flooding, and capture and remove carbon all in the landscape of our small yard! There are 20 million acres of lawn in the United States. Can you imagine if everyone just took a small part of their lawn and converted it to productive native plants and purposeful space? The path to a sustainable way of life is a must and not a choice any longer. Let’s embrace the changing of guard and welcome in a new, positive, healthy, and responsible landscape into our yards!

For more information on less lawn and more natives and on creating a more sustainable landscape, including a free LakeScapes yard consultation, please contact Conservationist Carol Markham at the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy at or 716-664-2166, ext. 1005.

Article and photo by Carol Markham


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