My Problem with Lawn

I’ve been gardening for a good part of two decades professionally, and so many times when I tell people I’m a gardener they assume that I do “lawn care” I get deeply offended.  As if doing lawns is morally depraved,  I always get really defensive and blurt out “I don’t take care of lawns, I take them out!”.  I know this is not the best way to react, but I’ve always felt like it was an insult to just assume that I simply mow lawns (no offense to those of you who do, I just don’t).  I guess to some people gardening means mowing lawns, which is proof of how limiting and narrow the idea of maintaining a lawn, for the sake of having lawn is.  While I don’t love a monochromatic yard full of grass, I do also believe that it does have it’s appropriate uses.  I have a very small patch of grass in my backyard beneath a large tree.  It’s a token piece of lawn that is surrounding my fire pit.  It gets watered on accident when I hand water the vegetable garden and perennial bed surrounding it.  I mow it a few times a year and let it go to seed. I also water it prior to making a small fire in the pit so that any ashes won’t catch the grass on fire.

So you may ask ‘why do I loathe lawns so much?’.  Maybe it’s my way of being a non conformist, or maybe it’s because I find it wasteful, or maybe it is just a preference.  Anyway let’s look into it a little deeper.

  • Lawn is Bad for the environment
    • high water usage, ‘Nationally, outdoor water use accounts for 30 percent of household use yet can be much higher in drier parts of the country and in more water-intensive landscapes. For example, the arid West has some of the highest per capita residential water use because of landscape irrigation.’ According to the EPA.
    • chemical inputs, polluting wildlife and waterways. Homeowners spend billions of dollars and typically use 10 times the amount of pesticide and fertilizers per acre on their lawns as farmers do on crops; the majority of these chemicals are wasted due to inappropriate timing and application. These chemicals then runoff and become a major source of water pollution.
    • Weed free lawns are bad for bees and other wildlife.
  • It is Too Much Work, it requires weekly trimming to keep it looking decent. In the U.S. alone lawncare is a $40 billion dollar industry and takes approximately 3 billion man hours.
    •  While it might seem like more work to care for  anything other than grass, it’s actually not .  It can take a little bit of imagination and time to get the plants for a garden established to out compete the weeds.  Once the plants fill in, it’s just a matter of weeding a few times throughout the season,  a seasonal pruning, and a good mulching depending on what you grow. With a little bit of planning it can become very low maintenance.
  • It’s Expensive, to install a lawn you can look at spending anywhere from $1-$3 a square foot, and that doesn’t include the sprinklers and water and treatments.  To maintain it you either have to have some extra time or extra money to pay someone to mow it.  If you decide to not mow it some cities will actually fine you.
  • It is going out of style. Lawn has been wildly popular as an elitist ritual starting in Europe and spreading in the US during the industrial revolution.  While having a perfect green lawn was the ideal in past generations, sustainability and environmental consciousness are becoming more important now, as we start to deal with climate change.
    • Actually, once you get over the idea of high-maintenance lawn-for-lawn-sake, a whole world of low-maintenance landscaping possibilities opens up–from beautiful, low-maintenance groudcovers to trees, shrubs, native grasses, wildflowers or even patios and stone paths. Or—even more practical, why not grow some food?
    • A well planted garden looks far more interesting than a boring lawn according to me.


I try to get rid of lawn wherever and whenever I can.  My favorite projects are when people are ready to rip out a section of lawn to plant something more interesting.  If you simply can’t fathom getting rid of the grass, another more eco friendly option is to interplant some clover or plant a drought tolerant species of grass, and of course get your sprinkler system tuned up and timed to water less. You will likely need to do some research or hire a professional for this.

One easy place to start reducing your square footage of lawn is taking out that pesky park strip!  In fact, I took out a huge park strip last week.  Our aim on the project is to make it as drought tolerant and low maintenance as possible.  Check out my next post on how to create a gorgeous park strip in place of lawn.




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