Who needs grass? Midland residents maintain sustainable lawn to promote biodiversity

Most property owners in the US with a front or back yard opt in for the standard buzzcut, turf grass lawn. Some may break up their patches of green with flowers or small gardens.

Crystal and Denise Laudeman chose to create a mini-ecosystem right in the middle of Midland.

For over a decade, the Laudemans have been curating their outdoor space into a sustainable lawn, a habitat focusing on planting native wildflowers and plants. Their lawn helps the region’s ecosystem and its populations of native birds and insects.

Sustainable lawns have been receiving a lot of push recently in places like Nevada and California. Denise Laudeman said the water shortages in these places are compelling people to plant more native fauna on their properties.

The two sisters said they grew up at their house on Washington Street and were always gardening as children and were interested in bugs and birds. What began as a small front garden began expanding across the whole yard around 2010, they said. They wanted to convert their front and back yards to help sustain local wildlife.

Walking through their yards feels truly like a different biome than the rest of Midland. Large trees tower over their front yard, with paths loosely formed by patches of native fauna such as milkweed, wild geraniums, raspberry bushes, and Michigan holly. Bees buzz around the plants, pollinating the ecosystem as birds chirp away in the spring evening.

Something that people will find very little of in the Laudemans’ yards is short, turf grass, which is by design. Crystal Laudeman said traditional turf grass lawns are not sustainable, especially species that are not native to Michigan, due to the amount of water they need to grow and stay healthy. Native plants also hold more water than traditional grass lawns, which can help address flooding, Denise Laudeman said.

Maintenance of their lawn is more laid-back than with buzz-cut turf grass lawns. Many of their plants are naturally perennial after they are planted, so not everything needs to be re-planted every spring, Crystal Laudeman said. Apart from some grass on their outlawn, the property is grass-free.

“There is maintenance to it,” Crystal Laudeman said. “There is weeding, thinning and keeping things under control. But for the most part, (we) let it go and do not cut things back in the fall. (We) do not cut things back in the spring because it is all habitat.”

They source the plants through native plant sales at the Chippewa Nature Center and Nature Niche, a local gift and lawn care store at 2004 W. Wackerly St.

Despite the atypical nature of their front yard, the Laudemans said they never get complaints from neighbors about it and regularly receive compliments. Their front yard is not a city ordinance violation, either, since the plants they have growing out front are defined as gardens. Crystal Laudeman said gardens must be clearly defined to qualify as such by the city, which they do with bricks.

The lawn also serves an environmental purpose. Crystal Laudeman said urban and suburban environments like Midland are food deserts for species like the monarch butterfly during migrations. The situation can be explained by a food chain. Denise Laudeman said local flowers feed local bees, which feed local birds, and so on. When one of these pieces is removed from an environment, biodiversity is destroyed, leaving local animals and insects in that area without food. Monarch butterflies, for instance, are left with little to feed on when migrating over a city environment, causing their populations to dwindle.

A lawn like the Laudemans’ provides a pit stop for the monarchs to feed and lay eggs at their milkweed. It also helps the bee populations, they said.

Also, the Laudemans love attracting local wildlife like monarchs, hummingbirds and most recently goldfinches. Denise Laudeman said they have even been recently visited by a red-tailed hawk.

“If you want your wildlife to continue, like the bees and your ecosystems, you need to have birds, rabbits, squirrels, the chipmunks,” Denise Laudeman said. “It is a sustained wildlife habitat.”

Elan Lipschitz is the executive director at Little Forks Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization in Midland. He said sustainable lawns do not have to be “jungles” if the homeowner does not want them to be. Those interested in having a sustainable lawn could set aside certain parts of their lawn for local fauna and maybe try planting local flowers in particular, Lipschitz said.

“What will be super helpful is having people see lawns that implement these practices where (people) can see some of the same beauty seen in any other part in nature and realize that other people could work on implementing them, too,” Lipschitz said.

He also said Little Forks started a program a couple years ago called Conservation At Home that recognizes landowners who implement sustainable practices on their properties. About 30 homes are participating in the project.

When Crystal Laudeman drives past large expanses of green in the city, all she can think is the garden she could make from the space.

“It is nice to just stand out in the yard and watch the birds and the butterflies come through…,” Crystal Laudeman said. “It is just calming. It is such a pain to try to maintain a lawn, to what purpose? I go drive around town sometimes and I see these huge lawns that are just grass and say, ‘That could be such a beautiful garden.'”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.