Bird-Friendly Lawn

I have a neighbor who dreams of
having a lush meadow in her front yard, but she’s not quite ready to give up
her tidy green lawn. She’s found a way
to have the best of both worlds by keeping most of the lawn neat and manicured,
while letting a good-sized section just outside her kitchen window go to seed
for the birds. Here’s how she does it:

The lawn is kept green through
organic means only: she adds a generous
sprinkling of alfalfa meal in the spring and again in mid-summer. Alfalfa meal is an inexpensive soil
amendment that provides nitrogen and many other nutrients that a healthy lawn
needs. She sprinkles it over the lawn
just before a rainstorm to make sure the nutrients soak into the ground. 

Next, she sets the blade on her
mower high—three to four inches—to provide a little shelter for insects and
conserve water. Of course, the grass
clippings stay on the lawn to decompose, further adding to the lawn’s health. 

Finally, she gives the lawn infrequent,
deep waterings, encouraging deep root growth.

The section of the lawn that is
dedicated to the birds has grown a little every year. It started out as a four by four-foot square around a bird feeder
on a pole. Since it was difficult to
mow around the pole, and the birds were dropping seed anyway, she decided to
simply stop mowing the area under the feeder. The following year, she expanded the “no-mow” zone by another few feet,
adding some native California wildflower seeds in fall such as California poppy
and clarkia. A year after that, the
“no-mow” area grew by two more feet, and she continued to let the mixture of
grass and wildflower seed expand. Over
time, she’s kept the area squared off, mowing around it in straight lines so
that it is obvious that this weedy patch is really a well-defined wild spot in
the middle of an otherwise clean, green lawn.

Now her mowing chores have been
reduced by nearly a third, and the area that she’s left for the birds requires
less water and no fertilizer. Very little
maintenance is required: she simply
cuts the dead stalks down with a string trimmer in late winter, after the birds
have had their fill of seeds.

The flurry of activity around her
feeder proves that this strategy is popular with the birds, and with the
neighbors: while they might have been
reluctant at first to share their block of manicured green lawns with a wild
and slightly unkempt bird paradise, they have been won over. Several neighbors have asked for help
getting their own “wild lawns” started.