Gardening

Skip a session of lawn mowing, blowing and weed whacking. Here’s why.

Did you happen to read the United Nations report on climate change? I only glanced at it, but frankly, Alaska gardeners know it is happening. After all, we marvel over being able to now grow tomatoes outdoors and giant pumpkins, when before things got warmer and the season longer, we couldn’t.

I know some readers are rolling their eyes and thinking, “Here comes another Lowenfels rant.” Hey, mock oranges, Southern vegetables and new varieties of Lower 48 fruits are what global warming stands for. Go ahead and roll your eyes, but you know I am right. All you have to do is look around.

Many remember when they built the visitor center at the now-melted-back Portage Glacier or when the mountain ranges most of us look at from our main windows had snow year-round. Some know the marsh along Turnagain Arm used to scream with the calls of pipers, snipe, ducks and geese. This September on opening day, duck hunters won’t even show up.

It’s not just that melting glaciers and snow are filling in the marsh. Remember when every Alaska car had to have an oil heater? Remember when the snow crunched and ice only appeared during that January thaw?

I can literally count the number of mosquitoes I have seen this year on two hands. What is with that? And, of course, we all are witnessing with sadness the spruce trees turning red, as we grapple with replacement decisions in our own yards.

Simply put, and it has become simple, global warming is not something waiting for those living in 2035 to take action on or that some future Paris accords are going to solve for us. The time is now, and individual actions are the place to start. We gardeners need to each start walking the talk. Now.

Let’s start this week by NOT mowing lawns (unless you do it with a push mower). In fact, let’s lay off all the gasoline-powered machines we have come to depend on to maintain our lawns: blowers and weed whackers. Changing yard care practices really is part of the solution; it’s easy to act on and a must for all gardeners, not just Alaskans.

Let me be clear. I am not asking readers to stop mowing and blowing and weed whacking forever, just to skip one session. I ask for two reasons.

First, so you can consider the stats. Those tractors and walk-behind hydrocarbon engines I am asking you not to use this week are big, big contributors to the problem. One hour of mowing was shown in a 2001 study to have the same carbon footprint as a 100-mile car trip. The amount of gasoline spilled just filling mowers in the U.S. is bigger than the 11 million gallon Exxon Valdez spill. Gasoline lawn mowers are big polluters and add to global warming.

And using a gas-powered leaf blower is much worse. According to a 2016 study by the EPA, an hour’s use of a typical backpack leaf blower is equal to carbon monoxide coming from the tailpipe of a car operating for over eight hours! Yikes! Of course, anyone who uses one knows this by the stench.

The second reason to skip a mowing is sort of like the rationale for the annual conversion to daylight saving time (which we do not like). Let’s collectively cut a week’s worth of input to the global warming problem. Unlike daylight savings, I think you will like the change.

If this was a Lower 48 column, I would also ask you not to fertilize, but real Alaskans don’t use chemical fertilizers. We are saving a tremendous amount of hydrocarbon, nitrous oxide, methane and CO2 production as a result. And, thankfully, when we do mow in Alaska, we already leave our clippings (not yet a common practice in the Lower 48). This helps add a tremendous amount of carbon to the soil.

Let me add that more and more Alaskans are converting to electric- or battery-operated mowers, blowers and whackers. To me, this is the bridging solution to less or no lawns, or at least use of ornamental grasses that don’t need much mowing.

Finally, once we resume mowing, we need to rethink the advice we follow. I hope I already have you mowing only when the grass needs it and not simply once a week as a lawn service does. And forget the advice to only mow ⅓ of the blade at any given session. I’ve been experimenting, and so far I haven’t killed our lawn by taking it way down, say ⅔ off. The big advantage to me, and for global warming, is that it takes several weeks before another mowing is absolutely necessary.

Mind you, I won’t mind if I do kill the lawn. Annual red clover, here I come. Or we have some pretty nice, tall, weed grasses growing on its uncut borders that I wouldn’t mind walking through if they were to somehow, miraculously, take over. Then there would be no mowing, blowing or whacking.

[Related: You can fix your nasty-looking lawn, but there are alternatives to grass]

So Alaska gardeners, let’s institute NMST (no mowing savings time) by not mowing, blowing or weed whacking for a week (or however long you would normally go between clippings). There is plenty of weeding, harvesting and enjoying in not mowing to go around.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Harvest: Come on. Why do you let stuff sit there. Harvest and eat or preserve. Or, give to someone that needs it. Remember Plant A Row also includes harvesting that row.

Potatoes: The longer you wait, the more sugar and starches they will have.

Kohl crops: I know lots of cabbages rot in gardens. These attract slugs and, now, snails. If you don’t want them, don’t plant them next year, but get them out of the garden so they don’t attract next year’s problem.

Spent flowers: Often the seed heads are as pretty and more interesting than the flowers. Collect some for displays, just remember many will open and spill seeds when they dry,




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