More and more homeowners are recognizing the impact their land can have on the planet’s health when they unlawn. But some of the benefits of unlawning aren’t obvious. Here are 5 surprising reasons to unlawn. You can start to enjoy benefits right away by inviting nature onto part of your property.
1. Protection from Floods
The science is clear: the more vegetation on a piece of land, the less likely it is to flood. There are a few reasons why unlawning protects you from flooding:
- Roots create channels through soil, allowing better infiltration of groundwater and increasing soil’s capacity to hold water
- Plants drink excess water to perform photosynthesis
- Plants disrupt falling water before it reaches the soil, slowing the rushing flow
- Plant roots hold soil in place, preventing erosion that would otherwise worsen future floods
So, the more plants that exist on a piece of land, the more protected it (and all the land downstream) is from flooding. But doesn’t your lawn count as vegetation that covers your land? Yes, your grass is definitely better than bare soil. But adding layers of plants on top of the grass lawn amplifies the benefits.
While having grass is better than having no plants, it’s still pretty pathetic compared to other types of vegetation for preventing floods. Grass forms a root mat just under the soil surface. And this does more to prevent water infiltration than to encourage it. Trees and shrubs that reach deep into the soil with their roots are significantly more effective at controlling floodwater. And even herbaceous plants will tend to grow roots deeper into the soil than grass lawns.
Unlawn by adding native plants to suck up more rainwater and increase your soil’s capacity to hold excess water. You’ll also be protecting your soil and slowing down the rush of floodwaters.
2. Protection from Droughts
It may seem counterintuitive that unlawning can solve opposite problems, but it’s true! Remember how vegetation increases the soil’s ability to store water? It turns out that storing more water becomes really important when water is scarce. Adding native plants can have several other effects that may lessen the impact of floods:
- Shade from trees and shrubs cools the air, slowing water loss below the canopy
- Plants performing photosynthesis put water into the air (transpiration) steadily during the day, rather than all at once. And this helps stabilize local humidity
- Leaves and stalks that are damaged or killed by droughts drop onto the soil surface. This protects it from the drying effects of direct sunlight even more (but in a smaller area) than the shade of a living plant would
When it comes to drought, we’re talking about an unlawning benefit that a grass lawn doesn’t mimic at all. Grass provides virtually no shade and performs very little transpiration compared to larger plants. During a drought, many homeowners choose to water their grass lawn to keep it green. But this makes the drought worse for everyone. Those who don’t water are left with short brown blades that do nothing to protect the soil from intense sunlight.
If you unlawn by adding trees and shrubs; or even just let your grass and wildflowers grow into a meadow, you’ll be better protected from droughts. Shade and transpiration slowly release water from the soil into the air, resulting in a more stable local atmosphere. Plus, your soil will store more water prior to the flood. That could keep their roots alive so plants that succumb can resprout when it rains again.
We have all heard of the many benefits native pollinators have on our ecosystem health. And pollinators enhance our ability to grow food and medicine. They are indispensable! But they continue to face threats like habitat loss and poisoning by pesticides.
While some places benefit from beekeepers with nearby hives, every ecosystem has native pollinators. But native pollinators are specifically adapted to the local plants. When you unlawn with native plants, you can reverse the loss of a resource that native pollinator species depend on. For these species, the alternative to finding the right kind of plants is extinction.
For some of these native pollinators, the native plant they need to survive might not even have a flower that they like to visit. Some species depend on hollow plant stalks to protect their offspring through the winter before they emerge in the spring. Others need small bits of exposed soil to burrow down to form an underground nest. There are no pollinator species that benefit from an all-grass lawn.
When you unlawn, you can provide specific plants that native pollinators depend on for survival. These few plant species will also draw in generalist pollinators that are happy to visit any kind of flower. Before you know it, your property will be home to hundreds of species of butterflies, moths, bees, and other pollinators. And once you have caterpillars chewing on leaves and shoots, birds are bound to come and snatch some of their favorite food off your plants.
4. Secret Pathways
Remember all those kids’ books about traveling to magical lands? The wardrobe that leads to Narnia, the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 3/4, and the Bridge to Terabithia were all secret ways to enter another world. These fantastical versions of leaving everyday life aren’t as far from reality as you might think.
Instead of traveling away from your home into a magical land, you can bring some magic home when you unlawn. Or rather, you can invite some of the wonders of nature to inch closer toward your daily life.
It may not be obvious, but your lawn is connected to the natural world all around you. Even if you’re in the middle of the city, animals are always poking their noses in. They want to see if there’s a suitable place for them to live or eat before moving on. If you can provide even a few square yards of natural space by unlawning, those animals are much more likely to stop by to find food, water, or shelter. If you are mindful about how you unlawn, you can encourage pollinators, birds, small mammals, or even larger animals like foxes to visit your land or call it home for the winter without accidentally inviting skunks and ticks too close to home.
As more and more species face the challenge of habitat loss, connectivity is becoming critical. And when you unlawn a patch of habitat, you increase your yard’s connectivity. The connectivity of any nearby forests, parks, and streams is directly impacted by your lawn. With good connections to other wild places, your land can become a secret pathway. And you could become a wildlife photographer!
5. Be Happier
I know, I know. Every blog post promoting a new trend goes on and on about how it can “boost your mood!” or “cut down on stress.” But there are some serious mental health benefits you get to enjoy when you unlawn.
Did you know that patients heal faster in hospital rooms with a view of vegetation? It’s true, the healing power of nature is scientifically proven! And even if you’re not recovering from surgery, being around natural spaces can positively affect your mindset and overall health. You don’t even need to plan out a perfectly shaped garden to enjoy these benefits. Simply add a few native plants near the edge of your property. Or let part of your lawn grow into a meadow and you’ll start to enjoy the health benefits of being close to nature.
For most of us, nature is a far away place that we like to visit on weekends when the weather is nice. The rest of the time, we’re in the house, the office, or the car. Even people who work outside are mostly focused on maximizing the efficiency of our world, rather than observing the existing value of nature around us.
Nature, in reality, is everywhere. Even in our suburbs and cities, nature is ready to spring up between cracks in the sidewalk. Or on steep lots that don’t get mowed regularly. We can get more people to recognize that we aren’t separate from nature. And that we’re lucky to have nature nearby. We can invite nature to heal right in our backyards (and front yards). And we will start to heal too as a result.
Your reason to unlawn
All of these benefits of unlawning are immediate as soon as you start. But the larger you unlawn, the bigger the impact. And over time, these benefits grow with your plants! There is so much to learn and discover, but The Unlawning Guide has everything you need to know to begin. If you’re on the fence, read about Rewilding Myths to make sure you aren’t needlessly worried.