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August 8, 2012

Sustainable lawns grow roots in metro Detroit

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

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A wild yard can include native plants found in Michigan woodlands, such as white trillium.

Homeowners who are tired of traditional lawn turf or just want a more eco-friendly yard may have some greener options ahead.

Fred Kaluza, secretary of the Southeast Michigan chapter of the nonprofit Wild Ones, said his group of around 35 active members wants more people to turn their lawns into natural landscapes with native plants.

He said his own front yard has been converted almost entirely, and his goal is to gradually expand the native vegetation and diminish the ordinary lawn.

“Restoring the vegetation is really key,” he said. “Once that gets incorporated, it is part of a colony, a real community of native plants.”

Kaluza said Michigan has historically been a wooded area, but the suburban lawn is a product of the 20th century.

“People who live in nice homes wanted to mimic English aristocracy,” he said.

Kaluza said most lawn grasses are not native to Michigan, and they are environmentally unsustainable in the long run. Kaluza said they drain resources, require pollutants and pesticides, and only benefit worms and grubs.

In contrast, a natural outdoor landscape with features like cattails and compass plants makes a home for birds, butterflies and insects, he said.

In order to produce a more eco-friendly lawn, Kaluza said the first step is education.

“We encourage people to get out and research the options,” he said. “You go out and find out principally what kind of habitat their (land) is. Once they’ve determined what they want to do with the land, (in) a lot of cases, people want to restore their property to the way it was before.”

But Kaluza warned that setting up a natural lawn is different from just deciding not to mow the grass. Dandelions and many other non-native weeds provide no benefit to the ecosystem, he said.

Kaluza acknowledged that “there’s kind of a stigma associated with vegetation,” and some cities and homeowners associations are opposed to nontraditional lawns.

“People still have to be respectful of city ordinances,” he said. “Native plants are available in all different heights.”

Even if your neighborhood looks down on filling a lawn with natural vegetation, homeowners still have options for making their lawns more environmentally friendly.

Dale White, manager of Uncle Luke’s Feed Store, said his business specializes in selling organic and natural solutions for lawn care needs.

For instance, he said he sells organic fertilizer made from manure and plant proteins that is friendlier to the soil than synthetic fertilizers that he said can cause chemical burns and forced growth.

“You just apply (organic fertilizer) like you would any other lawn care product,” he said. “It needs rain, water, and of course, moisture to get it moving.”

Although he said organic materials tend to be slightly more expensive than synthetic products, organic items have a customer base. White said his business’s organic and fungicidal weed prevention products are popular in early spring.

“It’s derived from a corn-based material,” he said. “You can literally eat it.”

To learn more about Wild Ones, visit www.wildones.org. Uncle Luke’s Feed Store in Troy can be reached at (248) 879-9147.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.