All posts by UUCNH

Some Thoughts On Renovation

Green Living Tips: Some Thoughts on Renovation
By Jen Fontaine

Many people are planning to get to long-deferred projects in their home once the excitement of the New Year has passed. It’s worth thinking a little now about plans, since a bit of early research can lead to satisfying, creative results in 2018.

So this week’s “Green” ideas are just a few random thoughts that you might find interesting, drawn mostly from the sources listed below. Look for more focused tips on individual projects in later entries.

One good idea: think about using existing space before building new additions.  An attic might be converted to create new bedrooms; or rooms can double up, serving two purposes (many of us know this, as we have ‘offices’ that turn into guest rooms when needed).

Consider salvaging stuff instead of discarding it.  Maybe that light fixture that’s no longer looking right in the dining room could be used in a downstairs family room?  This one resonates with me because of my own experience in Holland years ago.  The exterior walls of our home there had to be entirely rebuilt to enhance their strength.  But there was nothing wrong with the bricks, so we re-used them in the ‘new’ walls: I can’t imagine a wall using new bricks coming anywhere close to the amazing look we got from these old ones.

Or just donate the old materials: to a friend who is handy with refurbishing old cabinets, or to Habitat for Humanity, or any local business that can breathe new life into old things (antique shops, salvage yards and more).  These can find new homes for your unwanted items, as well as giving you a place to browse for ‘new’ pre-owned items of your own.

Floors and other structural features can be made especially eco-friendly, as well as attractive, by using reclaimed wood (oh, on that floor: remember to avoid adhesives that contain toxic substances). 

Kitchen cabinets can be upgraded and given a ‘new’ look by refacing them, replacing the doors and drawers, but leaving the basic cabinet structures in place. “Passive solar design” is an interesting concept:  it involves using concrete floors and thick interior walls that soak up heat during the day and release it at night. 

It seems that MIT students have done some work on roof color:  black roofs absorb heat, light-colored ones reflect it.  So the solution:  tiles that change color depending on the outdoor temperature (this according to houselogic.com, listed below).

For another innovative idea from the same site, consider a substance called “terrazzo,” made of recycled glass cast into a concrete slab; the illustration on the site looks beautiful.  A choice like this can make for great conversations as well as a sustainable, durable and attractive counter top (if also expensive!).

This list barely scratches the surface of ideas, practices, and products we can all think about.  We’ve not even mentioned HGTV’s list of options for materials: composite decking (made from wood waste and recycled plastic), paper-based countertops, bamboo plywood, rubber mulch, eco-friendly synthetic grass, natural linoleum, soy concrete stain, recycled plastic carpet, and more, all of which can be found on their website (hgtv.com).

One last idea that should appeal to everyone: one site suggested making your home comfortable and inviting—to encourage all who live there or visit to feel at ease, and to be more likely to have the energy to think about environmental practices!

If your project is big enough to require professional help and you’re not sure where to turn, some sources offer directories of builders that follow environmentally sound practices. These include the U.S. Green Building Council, and websites like http://thebeam.com and http://moderngreenliving.com.  Meanwhile, do approach any new architect or contractor with research in hand.

Finally, there are a whole range of degrees (shades?) of green. Budget can be a factor, as well as aesthetics and other issues, like any environmental cost of transporting ‘green’ products. 

A few sites to explore:

If you have a specific question or plan that you’d like highlighted, some experience or idea of your own to share… or for any comments about sustainable living, please send your thoughts to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Holiday Gift Ideas

Green Living Tips:  Holiday  Gift Ideas
By Jen Fontaine

A couple weeks ago, this Green Tips feature mentioned a few gifts that can help the planet while spreading the word on environmental issues;  these included memberships in your favorite environmental group, and ‘adoption’ of an endangered animal (there are many options in both categories).  This week’s goal is to round out that list and offer a few more suggestions. 

The Inhabitat site below offers quite a range of choices; one category that looks promising is the idea of ‘giving’ your time…. If you are handy with some skill, like knitting or photography, you could dedicate a gift of ‘time’ making use of those skills; take a portrait of your friend or favorite family, for instance.  Even easier, with no special skill required: donate an afternoon volunteering for your friend’s favorite community activity; this could be fun, companionable, and good for everyone involved.

As another way to avoid the buildup of holiday-generated ‘stuff,’ you might consider hosting a game party, or treating your friends to movie tickets or enrollment in a craft or art class; or membership in an outdoor club, or a bike tune-up to help them enjoy the spring season when the cold weather lets up. Or consider giving something re-gifted or recycled.  Uncommon Goods or Etsy might be places to explore for ideas.

Many gifts could be useful in preventing food waste (mason jars, glass refrigerator containers, re-usable containers for snacks). If you have a gardener on your list, consider checking out garden supplies, seeds, or attractive garden pots.  Food gifts are always welcome, and home-made ones add a cozy touch to the holiday.  Baked goods, dry soup recipes prettily layered in a nice jar, the possibilities are almost endless.

Finally, search for Fair Trade or sustainable practices in the businesses you shop with; numbers of businesses now promote clothing, jewelry and household goods made by local artisans in places around the globe. There are too many sources to do justice to here (as in the other categories above); but it’s worth citing the Green America site below, which features their organization’s top ten finalists for the Summer 2015 round of Green America’s People & Planet Award (each were cited for specializing in recycling in some way). To name only one example,  the American-based company RocknSocks was repurposing cotton scraps from textile manufacturing to make its products, and was planning to begin recycling their own returned and damaged socks to give them a new life as “sock creature” toys.

The last list is slightly outdated; and some don’t give a clear note of when they were updated, so a word of warning is in order: some links could be hard to access.  But all that I’ve found make interesting reading, and can be inspiring—so happy exploring!

Some sources:

If you have a Green Tip, a story, an idea, a comment or question, please send them to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Festive Holiday Meals

Green Living Idea:  Festive  Holiday Meals
By Jen Fontaine

Still in the holiday spirit, this week’s Green Living thoughts relate to those great festive meals we’re all looking forward to for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and New Year’s Day.  There are a number of ways we can all keep the planet’s health in mind as we enjoy festive fare. Many of these will look familiar—but it’s nice to have reminders.

Since the holidays are about holding on to, or re-creating, traditional ways. it’s nice to turn to some organizations that promote the wisdom of these ways. Heritage Foods U.S.A. seems to fit the bill, as they promote foods raised by traditional means.  Farms that raise animals sustainably and humanely, using traditional methods, need to sell their meat and other products through special ‘buyer’s clubs’ or other outlets, since their animals grow in natural ways, and they take longer than animals grown in industrial contexts that use questionable practices to maximize profits.  One farm offering a buyer’s club locally can be found at http://www.burnsheritagefarm.com.  The national Heritage Foods site is listed below. In any case, choose an organic turkey, and look for sources with the most humane, sustainable practices.

Of course, there are many ‘green’ meal ideas we all can use–things that fit easily into our normal shopping and cooking routines. For a start, even if you don’t have a garden of your own, try to choose locally grown produce: there’s quite a selection still available: apples, pears, winter squash, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, broccoli, cauliflower, and late-season greens. Shop at winter farmer’s markets or stores that specialize in local produce; many farm-based stores are open until late December. Or look for labels telling where any product is from, and whether it is organic. If you’re unsure about making a local product into something interesting, just search online for recipes that include that ingredient. I’ve not included specific food recommendations here, but the last source below offers some interesting recipes for healthy holiday meals.

Use everything you cook: Americans apparently waste about a quarter of the food prepared for Thanksgiving dinners. There are many steps we can all take to help reduce that figure. Freeze leftovers in convenient amounts, or give them to your guests in glass containers (rather than plastic or aluminum foil) to take home. Even (organic) vegetable peelings, and leftover meat and bones, can be simmered into a delicious soup, for those light meals we all crave after a holiday feast. Just compost or recycle anything that’s appropriate and that you can’t use. 

If you’ve bought too many cans of milk or other ingredients for your holiday recipes, consider donating the extras to a local food bank (that’s easy at UUCNH, as there’s a regular cupboard set aside for donations to the North Hills Community Outreach food bank).  Buy ingredients (especially dried beans, fruit, etc.) in bulk when possible to reduce packaging.  Purchases made this week for Thanksgiving could produce welcome ‘extras’ for Christmas. Consider serving on durable dishes as well, instead of using disposables.

Finally, if you’re having a crowd in for the holiday, you can save on your budget as well as helping the environment by keeping your thermostat turned lower than usual; the heat generated by cooking and the guests may contribute a lot to making the house cozy and warm.

Happy Thanksgiving!! 

Please keep in touch; send tips, stories, requests or comments to jennfontaine@gmail.com

Holiday Decor and Greetings

Green Living Tips:  Holiday Décor and Greetings
By Jen Fontaine

As the holidays approach and so many of us are looking forward to making the ever-shorter days as festive as possible, this is a good time to think of ways to make your holiday choices green ones. The Green Living Tips for this week will concentrate on home decoration and greetings; look for future entries on gift-giving and festive meals.

Most of us will want to make our homes feel welcoming and warm. That might start with a tip from last week, boiling cinnamon, cloves and allspice. But other scents, too, can be festive: use a few drops of pine oil or other favorite fragrance to make your home feel warm this holiday season.

Of course, many of us will be decorating our homes this season, and here, too there are many ‘green’ ideas.  Use LED decorative holidays lights, for instance—one study by the U.S. Department of Energy claims that we could save two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, or more… enough to power 200,000 homes for a year!

If you put up a Christmas tree, consider choosing from a farm that uses sustainable practices.  Or consider a living tree (but remember, these can only be kept inside for a short time).  Another idea:  start a family tradition:  plant one tree in the spring to replace the one you may have cut down in December.  Vintage aluminum trees are an easy, tree-saving alternative as well; but beware of artificial green plastic trees, which may contain harmful PVC).  And speaking of toxic issues, we all need to be careful of plastics or other things that might look lovely but be dangerous; one example is spray-on snow, which contains acetone or methylene chloride.

When decorating the tree, think of exploring for ornaments at a thrift store rather than buying new ones. Or make some ornaments from materials in your home, making it a family or group tradition; or use a bit of paint to give old ornaments a new life. Old cards can also be made into ornaments; just cut out an attractive pattern, punch a hole in the card and add ribbon. You might enjoy reviving an old custom and stringing cranberries and popcorn; then just add these to your compost or feed them to some wild visitors in January.  Hunt for green decorations in your back yard:  bush stems loaded with berries or dried flower arrangements can bring warm cheer to your home.

If you’re looking for a wreath, consider picking up a wreath form, then decorating it yourself with scraps of cloth, pine cones, or any colorful items you have around the house. And whether or not you have children with you this year, it can be fun to use scrap paper by making snowflakes that can be hung in windows or strung onto a line (The Planet Aid site below gives a link to directions for this and other ideas, such as the “Ugly” holiday Sweater). 

Eco-friendly Hanukkah menorahs can be made from a variety of products, or can be found online. One site below recommends a Sammamish-based “Celebrate Green” campaign, which shows menorahs made from materials as diverse as flower pots and even potatoes. That site may not be available now; but I’ve included another below that is brimming with great photos and ideas. Whether for a menorah or just a decorative touch anywhere, consider using beeswax candles: they burn cleanly, and use no materials derived from petroleum.

Holiday cards that you receive can also contribute to the décor by just being taped along a convenient shelf.  But if you send cards, think of sending out a smaller number this year: the Digital Media Arts College site below (which features several interesting statistics) claims that the 265 billion Christmas cards sold every year in this country could fill a football field ten stories high.  If all card-senders reduced their mailings by just one card, it would save 50,000 cubic yards of paper; anyway, some friends might appreciate a personal call rather than a card.

When choosing cards, look for greetings that are made from recycled materials, or that bear a label that guarantees ‘responsible’ sources for their materials. Green criteria may get a bit complicated, though: the National Wildlife Federation produces beautiful cards that carry the FSC label for responsible sourcing; but the cards themselves are larger than most, measuring 8 X 5.75 inches. Do browse the beautiful cards made by Dale Newman, which will be on offer at the upcoming Craft Group sales; these use a fraction of the paper that you are likely to find in commercially made cards; and of course, they are special for the creative touches that Dale adds to each card.  In fact, the Craft Group holiday sales will include some great choices, both for gifts and holiday decoration.

If you have relevant ideas, questions, requests, or stories, please send them to jennfontaine@gmail.com.  

Sources:

Holiday Shopping – Part One

Green Living Tip:  Holiday Shopping – Part One
Adapted by – Jen Fontaine

With the holiday season just around the corner, we’re all likely to be doing more shopping than usual: looking for gifts, shopping for ingredients to make special meals for family and guests. So it seemed like a good time to share a series of ideas on shopping. This is just a first installment, borrowing five tips from a website dedicated to this area:

  1. Look for solar- or hand-powered devices, rather than those that require batteries. Since this is not always an easy search, consider looking into rechargeable batteries.
  2. Avoid synthetic fragrances and air fresheners. These often contain phthalates, which are also found in nail polish and other products, and are at best questionable in terms of their health impact. To give your home a holiday feel, consider just keeping some cloves and cinnamon sticks simmering in a pan on the stove.
  3. Beware of plastics; some of these contain Bisphenol A, better known as BPA. Try to use and choose stainless steel, aluminum, or glass; and consider safe wood toys decorated with lead-free paint.
  4. Don’t buy wrapping paper (even if it’s recycled!). There are dozens of other creative ways to wrap gifts:  use a pretty towel or napkin, a scarf, or even the Sunday comics. This may seem like a small adjustment to make; but apparently, Americans produce 25% more trash during the holiday season, which amounts to 25 million tons of garbage!  Quoting from the site below:  “[I]f every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.”
  5. Be wary of the term “natural,” which actually doesn’t carry much meaning. Look for labels that certify products as organic, non-toxic, fair-trade, etc.  A list of labels we can trust are given on the site.

Source:  http://www.biggreenpurse.com/ten-rules-for-green-shopping

Please send comments, questions, stories, tips and requests to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Helping The Birds This Winter – Part II

Green Living Tip:  Helping the Birds This Winter – Part II
By Jen Fontaine

We all enjoy listening to bird song or watching a hummingbird in our back yards.  But birds are not only decorative, some species pollinate flowers or help other plants to reproduce (imagine a world without squash, tomatoes, apples, peaches and strawberries!).  Many birds provide pest control by eating aphids, Japanese beetles, European corn borers, and other unwanted garden visitors; and you don’t need a garden to appreciate the birds that eat mosquitoes!  If you don’t like weeding (and who does?), you might consider attracting finches, crows, towhees, and blackbirds which eat weed seeds. Going out beyond the home garden, birds help spread seeds and keep disease in check in forests; and scavenging birds dispose of dead animal carcasses, helping to control diseases on that front.

But there’s more.  If you plan next year’s garden in a way to attract birds, you’ll also likely be using native plants—and these tend to require less effort, as they are often drought-tolerant and disease resistant. Plus, the same plants will tend to attract bees, another valuable pollinator. Of course, next year’s yard and garden plans may seem far in the future.  But you may settle in to research your plans, when the evenings get too dark and cold for outdoor activities. 

There are other things to do as well, all of which fit well into our winter schedules.  For instance, some of us are becoming more careful to keep bird feeders supplied.  Apparently, Americans put out about 1 million tons of seed in a year.  A January 2017 article in Living Bird magazine analyses the effects of feeders on bird populations.  Luckily, there is good news:  apparently the bird species that visit feeders regularly are thriving; for instance, those lovely red cardinals we see are expanding their population and increasing their range.  The down sides (possible disease spread, predation, injuries from window strikes) are apparently relatively minor; and so by all means keep up your plans to feed our feathered friends this winter.

But more than 400 bird species are considered endangered; and those include many that rarely or never visit feeders.  So what can we do there?  Well, take out memberships in Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.birds.cornell.edu); and consider giving such memberships as holiday gifts; these sites contain treasure troves of bird-related information and activities, and both offer a regular newsletter.  Audubon has adoption programs as well; an adopted Great Horned Owl, hummingbird, or even a Bald Eagle, could make an exciting gift for a child or teen, and would have the extra benefit of encouraging further learning for everyone involved.  The Audubon site also features a link to legislative actions, so there is much to be done all in one place at www.Audubon.org.

Finally, we have all heard that outdoor cats kill birds at alarming rates—but not everyone realizes that these avian victims number in the billions every year. So consider keeping kitty mostly indoors, where her prey will likely be limited to small mice.

Sources:  http://www.thingscouldbeworse.org/home/benefits-birds/

Have a question, a tip of your own, or even a story?  Please send to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Helping The Birds This Winter

Green Sanctuary

Small changes made by many people make big changes for our world.  Be part of it!

Green Living Tip:  Helping the Birds This Winter
By Jen Fontaine

We all enjoy listening to bird song or watching a hummingbird in our back yards.  But birds are not only decorative.  Some species pollinate flowers or help other plants to reproduce (imagine a world without squash, tomatoes, apples, peaches and strawberries!).  Many birds provide pest control by eating aphids, Japanese beetles, European corn borers, and other unwanted garden visitors; and you don’t need a garden to appreciate the birds that eat mosquitoes!  If you don’t like weeding (and who does?), you might consider attracting finches, crows, towhees, and blackbirds, which eat weed seeds. Going out beyond the home garden, birds help spread seeds and keep disease in check in forests; and scavenging birds dispose of dead animal carcasses, helping to control diseases on that front.

But there’s more.  If you plan next year’s garden in a way to attract birds, you’ll also likely be using native plants—and these tend to require less effort, as they are often drought-tolerant and disease resistant. Plus, the same plants will tend to attract bees, another valuable pollinator. Of course, next year’s yard and garden plans may seem far in the future.  But you may settle in to research your plans, when the evenings get too dark and cold for outdoor activities. 

There are other things to do as well, all of which fit well into our winter schedules.  For instance, some of us are becoming more careful to keep bird feeders supplied.  Apparently, Americans put out about 1 million tons of seed in a year.  A January 2017 article in Living Bird magazine analyses the effects of feeders on bird populations.  Luckily, there is good news:  apparently the bird species that visit feeders regularly are thriving; for instance, those lovely red cardinals we see are expanding their population and increasing their range.  The down sides (possible disease spread, predation, injuries from window strikes) are apparently relatively minor; and so by all means keep up your plans to feed our feathered friends this winter.

But more than 400 bird species are considered endangered; and those include many that rarely or never visit feeders.  So what can we do there?  Well, take out memberships in Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.birds.cornell.edu); and consider giving such memberships as holiday gifts; these sites contain treasure troves of bird-related information and activities, and both offer a regular newsletter.  Audubon has adoption programs as well; an adopted Great Horned Owl, hummingbird, or even a Bald Eagle, could make an exciting gift for a child or teen, and would have the extra benefit of encouraging further learning for everyone involved.  The Audubon site also features a link to legislative actions, so there is much to be done all in one place at www.Audubon.org.

Finally, we have all heard that outdoor cats kill birds at alarming rates—but not everyone realizes that these avian victims number in the billions every year. So consider keeping kitty mostly indoors, where her prey will likely be limited to small mice.

Sources:

Have a question, a tip of your own, or a story?  Please send these to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Ideas For Weathering The Winter

 GREEN LIVING IDEA

UUA Green Sanctuary –  Small changes made by many people make big changes for our world. Be part of it! 

Green Living Tip:  Ideas for Weathering the Winter
Adapted by Jen Fontaine

It seems only weeks ago that we were submitting ideas for staying cool. But as this week’s contribution goes to press, we’re expecting temperatures in the thirties tonight. Of course, we’ve still got some warm times coming; but it’s a good time to think ahead about the coming winter.

As a modest start, I’ve adapted a list of mostly inexpensive ideas from the Environmental Protection Agency’s site. These are small steps anyone can take, or at least explore.  We’ll have more ideas as the weeks go by—but for now, here are a few as starters:

  • Consider using non-toxic de-icing substances such as clean clay cat litter, sand, or fireplace/stove ash to avoid spreading hazardous waste from chemicals. Chemical de-icers can be harmful to pets, plants, and the environment. Antifreeze that leaks from car engines and chemical snow melters can pollute surface waters and groundwater.  It’s a good idea to try some safe alternatives.
  • Winterize your vehicle by checking your air filter and fluid levels, checking tires for tread wear and proper inflation, and checking the condition of your windshield wipers. Steps like these can increase safety, as well as preventing pollution when broken car components or escaping chemical waste end up on roadways.
  • If you have a wood-burning fireplace, save your ashes. Cold wood ashes make a great addition to compost, and eventually to the soil where we spread the compost.
  • Use electric snow removal products rather than gasoline-powered ones. Electric products do not emit greenhouse gases. Of course, if you don’t mind some winter exercise, snow shovels, ice crackers, and brooms work well and are even more ‘energy efficient’!
  • If you have a manual thermostat or no thermostat at all, one way to save energy and money this winter is to install a programmable thermostat. The EPA estimates that this step can save about $100 a year for many homes. Many people also find programmable lights very useful and energy-efficient.
  • Close the recycling loop. When shopping for clothing, check for labels on jackets, scarves, gloves, and boots, to find items made from recycled materials. Many fleece products are made from recycled plastic soda bottles, and some clothing and shoe manufacturers use recycled cotton scraps and rubber tires.
  • Winter storms often cause power outages. Prevent waste by keeping rechargeable batteries rather than disposable ones for emergency use. If you do use disposable batteries, reduce hazardous waste by buying batteries with low mercury content. And once again (note added by Jen), candles can be a low-tech alternative, assuming they can be monitored and used safely.
  • Recycle old newspapers by making rolled paper logs for your fireplace. Roll newspaper sheets around a broomstick, then soak your paper ‘log’ thoroughly in water. Dry the log overnight and use like ordinary wood. Always follow proper safety precautions with any fire, of course.
  • To make sure your heating system (boiler, furnace or heat pump) is operating at its most efficient, it is a good idea to have a regular servicing done before the serious cold weather sets in.

Source:  borrowed, edited and adapted from https://www3.epa.gov/epahome/hi-winter.htm.

Do you have a green tip, idea, comment, or story to share?  If so, please send it to jennfontaine@gail.com.

Dealing With Fall Leaves

Green Living Tip:  Dealing with Fall Leaves
By Jen Fontaine

If you’re worried about the pesky layer of leaves that is carpeting your yard at this time of year, you can take heart:  there are many solutions. Many areas offer a regular schedule of yard waste pickup dates, and if your township or borough offers pickup in biodegradable bags to be composted, this can be an easy solution to the leaf-buildup problem

However, there are other alternatives for the adventurous.  These leaves are rich in nutrients, and so there are many ways to take advantage of this natural resource. Use them as mulch, whole or shredded (see the note below on shredding); there are no seeds to worry about, so the leaves make a good moisture-holding layer while discouraging weeds.

Use them as cover for tender perennials: a 6-inch layer of leaves can protect vulnerable plants over the winter. One example: garlic planted in fall can sprout during warm winter spells; but a blanket of leaves will prevent that—the garlic will put down roots, but not sprout through the leaf cover. 

Add them directly to your compost pile:  these leaves are rich in carbon, and can provide a balance to nitrogen-rich yard waste, such as fresh grass clippings. Just spread them directly in the garden; shredded leaves can integrate well and work to improve the soil: they lighten heavy soils,, and provide nutrients to feed earthworms and helpful microbes.

Let them sit for two years, packed into their own storage areas (cages, plastic bags with insulation holes), shredding is not needed. In time, the leaves will turn into “leaf mold,” which looks like light compost and can do wonders for soil (I’ve been told it’s especially helpful worked into a bed of carrots).  The second source below features a link to a helpful video on this process.

For some of these uses, it’s a good idea to shred leaves, which makes them less likely to block light, and makes their helpful contents more available.  A simple way to do this is to drive a lawnmower over the leaves several times.  The first source below gives more details—and warns against some relatively uncommon leaf types, like sycamore, which need to be composted before being used in the garden.

Please keep in touch; send any ideas, experiences, or questions you have to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

More on Lawn Alternatives

Green Living Tip:  More on Lawn Alternatives
By Jen Fontaine

It’s great to be back, after a week’s ‘break’ caused by the proverbial ‘circumstances beyond our control.’ Our last tip shared a few thoughts on how to deal with or replace the greedy lawns that so many of us maintain, at considerable cost in water, effort and fertilizer.  This week’s tip just goes one step further, looking at a few practical examples. 

Some nurseries offer grasses that require little care; one example, featured on the first site below, is a “No Mow” lawn, which consists of a mix of fescue grasses that forms a thick carpet: this combination is drought resistant, tolerates sun or shade, is recommended for our area, and needs no mowing (or at most one or two mowings a year, depending on the look you prefer). Another choice is Dwarf Mondo Grass, which grows only two to four inches tall and can be planted in both sun and shade.  If you’re hoping for a traditional grassy look, options like these might meet your needs while helping you save on water and lawnmower fuel.

Other plants come in a wide variety; the same nursery that lists the fescue grass combination offers eighteen other choices, ranging from tall plants, like ferns and sedges, too much smaller plants.  There’s no quick way to choose, since each variety has its own requirements, pros and cons.  So in this short column, we can only hope to give a few examples. An attractive choice is Bearberry, a native plant that is deer-resistant, grows at most an inch high, tolerates part shade as well as full sun, attracts butterflies  and other pollinators, and needs little water; but there is a down side:  this little plant likes sand or light soil, so won’t grow on heavy clay soils. 

Those with heavier soils might consider Wild Ginger, another native plant that again needs little water, is host to a type of swallowtail butterfly, and looks good planted along with native ferns.  Another plus: these plants can be spaced a foot apart and will still form a carpet in two to three years.  But there’s always a catch: wild ginger requires shade, or at least partial shade. Taller plants may be less suitable as lawn replacements, but can be used wherever foot traffic is light, or in borders.  An attractive example is Goat’s Beard, which grows up to 6 inches tall and produces feathery white flowers.  Once again, this plant attracts butterflies and other pollinators and can grow in a range of soil types;  but like wild ginger, this plant loves shade.  Also to consider: it spreads slowly, so would require more plants per square foot to fill in a space in a short time.

The list of alternatives is much too long to cover here.  If you’re thinking of replacing your lawn with an ecologically friendly substitute, do explore on your own, keeping in mind the factors we’ve been looking at: soil, light and water requirements, speed of spreading, height and appearance. Also important: check whether your favorite plant is a native.  Not all sites or nurseries provide this information, but a plant’s status can usually be discovered with a bit of detective work. The ‘native’ versus ‘invasive’ question may be tricky, though. One listing for Creeping Jenny, for instance, claims that this plant is “considered invasive in some regions of the country,” which does not give a clear answer for PA residents; a similar warning comes with Dwarf White Clover, which  offers the questionable benefit of being “less invasive” than some of its cousins.

There are at least some clear answers. Beware of English Ivy and periwinkle, both of which are dangerously invasive and can escape to forests where they crowd out local species.  Others may be tricky, like Pachysandra, which comes in two varieties, Allegheny and Japanese (you’ll easily be able to tell which is local from the names).  On the safe side, you can find dozens of phlox varieties, almost all of which are native.  Check out the last two sources below for a discussion of native ground covers.  The last is especially valuable, as it covers native plants for our area. 

Please keep in touch:  send comments, ideas, stories to share, questions or requests to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Sources:   
http://www.prairienursery.com/resources-and-guides/no-mow-resources/drought-tolerant-no-mow?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImPCOiZPS1gIVwrbACh1KsQxqEAAYASAAE
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https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/native_groundcovers

http://www.moontwp.com/pdf/NativeGroundcovers.pdf