Photo: Marc Dufresne

Want a healthier lawn? Instead of bagging fall leaves, get a more environmentally friendly yard

By Susan Barton

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But I think it’s a good idea to sort of flip that paradigm and design areas of the lawn that provide for play and gathering spaces, and then figure out what everything else can be.

I think this is very good advice.

Being a homeowner in Japan, in my neighborhood most of the houses fall into one of two categories:

New houses: don’t have yards at all. All of the available land is concreted over for parking. They look like miserable, depressing places to live.

Old houses: have yards, and they are all given over to highly trimmed, decorative gardens of varying sizes. These look way nicer than the depressing newer houses, but they share one thing in common which is that they are not laid out with humans in mind. They don’t have places for anyone to sit down with a coffee and enjoy the pretty garden, or for kids to play in them, or families to have lunch on a picnic table or anything like that. Despite being so pretty I often find these places a bit depressing too.

I have a small yard and try to make actual use of it. We made space for a picnic table, and a small lawn just big enough to set up a kiddie pool in the summer or to set up additional lawn chairs or to let the kids do whatever they want with it. We have space for a hammock too which is great, and enough tree cover so that we have some nice green shade in the summer. Several of these trees produce fruit (oranges, grapes, olives, etc) so my kids and I have fun harvesting those. This requires some work, especially trimming the trees and clearing up leaves so they don’t bother the neighbors, but its so worth it. My next door neighbor, who also has kids, took the opposite approach and completely concreted over his entire property so he wouldn’t have to deal with weeds, etc. They get no use out of their property as a result while I get a ton of enjoyment from mine.

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My lawn is about 80% weeds. It looks and mows like grass but is much more resilient (drought, kids etc). The daisies, clover and buttercups are pretty and are enjoyed by wildlife.

Bag your leaves each year either by mowing or raking. Make holes in the bags and store them in a corner out of the way. Next year you will have sacks of free, high quality leaf mulch. Saves me cash each year as it refreshes the mulch under my fruit trees. It creates a 'woodland floor' which is a brilliant ecosystem.

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In addition to blocking out much needed sunlight, I also believe the tree type plays a role. Some tree's leaves produce chemicals as protection to stop animals or insects from eating them. When they fall to the ground and decay, I believe those chemicals leak into the soil and damage the surrounding plants

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Caring a for a lawn requires additional space for tools and machinery. It also means additional cost like electricity and/or gas. The final cost is time to not only do a proper job, but also, find the opportune time to cut the grass and trim the yard, while not getting complaints from sometimes whiny noise sensitive neighbors who might be jealous of the attractive appearance of your place or angry because the unattractive appearance of your place. Luckily, Japan does not have all of the problems associated with HOAs.

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I have no lawns just gardens front and back with trees, flowers, meadow flowers, a bit rough but tidy. Plenty of places to sit except for the problem of mosquitos.

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These days if Japanese houses have lawns they are usually the cursed plastic ones requiring no treatments other than a hose down.

The height of madness for the front lawn is the US.

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Some tree's leaves produce chemicals as protection to stop animals or insects from eating them.

Juglans, walnut trees, definitely do this, as do some pines, though not Japanese ones as far as I know.

We have closely mown weeds in place of a lawn. Clover, dandelions, bull grasses, etc. When mown short it looks fine and can be used like a lawn. It's just not as nice to lie on, something the vast majority of people never do with their lawn anyway. We have a lot of trees and a lot of autumn leaves. Its easiest to just rake them than use a leaf vacuum. Blowers and vacuums are best on patios, wood decks, stone stairs etc., something where there's nothing for the leaves to catch on, so that you can clear it in seconds. Leaves on a lawn are much harder work.

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My neighbor has a compost bin and she puts her leave in it. She has done that for years and now it produces great stuff that she can use wherever it is needed. Her garden is spectacular.

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"A healthier lawn"? In Japan, who has a lawn?

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