What’s new in natural yards? May 2017

Two weeks ago, the City of Madison made a change to how it will handle emerald ash borer (EAB).

Previously, the City had decided that it would not give any ash trees that were already unhealthy a treatment to protect them from EAB. What the City did not make clear to residents was that any tree located under a power line would be considered unhealthy, regardless of what condition it was actually in.

In thinking about the impact that this decision would have, the City realized that older neighborhoods in Madison, which have overhead power lines, stood to lose a lot of trees, while newer neighborhoods, in which the lines are underground, would be able to keep their trees. Recognizing the immense value of trees to nearby residents – due to trees’ ability to clean the air, reduce flooding, moderate temperatures, increase property values, and so on – the City concluded that it would not be fair for some neighborhoods to lose a lot of trees while others are able to keep their trees.

Based on this conclusion, Madison’s Common Council voted that ash trees under power lines should be treated to protect them from EAB, provided that they meet the City’s other requirements for treatment.

The full text of the resolution can be read here.

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017

What’s new in natural yards? February 2017 #2

For the first time since 1978, Madison has updated its ordinances related to “natural lawns”, which will now be called “natural landscapes”.

The new ordinance can be summarized as follows:

  1. Grass in residential yards may not exceed eight inches in height.
  2. Grass in residential yards may exceed eight inches in height, if the property owner obtains a permit.
  3. Grass in residential yards may exceed eight inches in height without a permit, if the area containing the tall grass only occupies a certain limited percentage of the yard, and if this area is a certain distance from the property lines, and if the tall grass is a species found on a brief list included in the ordinance.

The ordinance can be read here.

City officials hope that this will make it easier to have a natural yard in Madison, and plan to continue working on ways to encourage gardening practices that are friendly to pollinators and the environment.

What’s new in natural yards? February 2017 #2

Where does yard waste go?

In the past, yard waste went to landfills, just like other types of waste produced around the home. In 1993, Wisconsin passed a law making it illegal to dispose of yard waste in landfills.

Unlike some other types of household waste, yard waste is organic: that is, it is biodegradable. However, waste does not decompose in landfills. This is because in landfills, waste is packed in tightly, preventing air from circulating. Without air, the organisms that normally would break down the waste are unable to survive and do their jobs.

Some organisms can survive these conditions. Though these organisms are able to break down waste, they do so through a process that produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Sending organic waste to a place where it either does not decompose, or decomposes in a way that contributes to climate change, is not a good practice. In addition, before the 1993 law went into effect, up to 20% of the landfill-bound waste stream was organic yard waste. That just takes up a lot of space!

A better way to deal with yard waste is to let it decompose in a way that produces healthy soil, instead of greenhouse gases. Currently, Madison collects yard waste and takes it to be composted centrally. This collection process, however, comes with its own harms. First, yard waste awaiting collection sits on or near the street, where nutrients can leak out of it and pollute our lakes. Second, collection is done using large trucks, which burn fossil fuels and make a lot of noise.

The need for collection of yard waste can be reduced if homeowners compost their own waste in a corner of their yard. In addition, yard waste itself can be reduced by eliminating unnecessary cutting of plants.

Where does yard waste go?

What’s new in natural yards? – March 2016

California has recently adopted new state-wide ordinances limiting the size of lawns. As of December 1, 2015, lawn cannot occupy more than 25% of the landscaped area of a property.

This rule takes effect immediately for all newly-developed properties. Existing homes and businesses will be required to come into compliance if they undertake major renovations of their current landscaping.

The primary purpose of the law is to reduce water usage. The new limits on lawns are expected to save 20% of the water usage of a new home, or 35% of a commercial property’s water use.

The new ordinances also limit turf grass on street medians and terraces, and require lawns on commercial properties to be intended to serve some functional purpose, such as recreation or public assembly.

Many California property owners got rid of their lawns even while having one was still legal. Last summer, the state stopped offering cash incentives for lawn removal, after emptying its $340 million fund earmarked for that purpose.

What’s new in natural yards? – March 2016

What’s new in natural yards? – January 2016

Wisconsin has just released a State Pollinator Protection Plan. The full document can be found here.

The goals of the plan are to increase public understanding of issues facing pollinators, and encourage voluntary actions to help pollinators. The plan will not create any new regulations.

“Urban flower gardens often harbor diverse pollinator communities, but in areas dominated by skyscrapers or grass lawns pollinator diversity tends to be low,” the plan explains, in its opening section. The second section of the plan is divided into four parts, each describing what a specific group of people can do to help pollinators.

One of these sections, “Best Management Practices For Improving Pollinator Habitat in Gardens & Lawns” is directed towards homeowners. It is just a few pages long and can be read on its own. It begins on page 14 of the PDF linked above. The section suggests landscaping with a diversity of native plants that are suited to the site conditions. It also encourages homeowners to “leave things a little messy” – bare soil, leaf litter, and brush piles are all important habitat elements for pollinators.

The plan is currently in a public comment period. Its official website lists the following instructions for submitting comments:

Email comments by Friday, Feb. 19, to DATCPAgriculture@wisconsin.gov. Written comments may be mailed to: DATCP, ATTN Pollinator Protection Plan, PO Box 8911, Madison, WI 53708-8911. They must be received by Feb. 19.

 

What’s new in natural yards? – January 2016

What’s new in natural yards? – Part 2

The movement towards natural yards is gaining steam in Madison. It’s already a popular practice, as was discovered in a survey conducted by an east-side neighborhood association. This survey, which reviewed the front yards of about 100 homes, found that 71% of the homes were violating city ordinances. The yards contained flowers near the sidewalk or shrubs along the driveway, both of which are forbidden on the grounds that they could block visibility and present hazards to motorists.

Due to changing public attitudes towards residential landscaping practices, and to the city’s new pollinator protection initiative, the local zoning board is currently revising the existing yard-related ordinances. The new wording is likely to make it more clear that the purpose of the ordinances is to prevent neglect of property, not to stop homeowners from gardening in an environmentally-friendly way.

Madison’s Committee on the Environment is working on the pollinator protection plan and the ordinance changes. Their next meeting is Monday, October 19, at 4:30 PM, in room 108 of the City-County Building.

What’s new in natural yards? – Part 2

What other landscaping choices are legal in Madison?

Madison city ordinances seek to prevent neglect of homes and yards. So long as a property is being appropriately taken care of, however, a wide variety of landscaping choices are legal.

-Conventional lawns of short grass are legal and are still common in the city. In some parts of the United States, lawns are not legal, mostly due to the unsustainable amount of water they require in areas prone to drought conditions.

-Tall grass is legal, so long as the property owner follows the process to notify the city that they have a natural yard.

-Garden beds containing flowers or vegetables are legal.

-It’s legal to have a yard containing many trees, with leaf litter covering the ground underneath them. Wooded lots are generally considered to be one of the most valuable types of real estate.

-It’s legal to fill a yard with hundreds of pink plastic flamingoes, which are the official city bird.

Large metal sculptures are also a legal addition to a Madison yard.

Most if not all of these choices are in actual use in Madison, bringing a wonderful diversity to our city.

What other landscaping choices are legal in Madison?