Column, 655 words

Lose Your Lawn

Turning your lawn into something more beautiful and useful would save time and money while curbing pollution and water usage.

Jill Richardson

Have you taken your hounds fox hunting lately? You haven’t? Well, maybe you’ve gone to visit a friend’s estate in a horse and carriage? You haven’t done that either, have you? Most of the popular trends of 19th century British aristocracy are not the norm in 21st century America. Except for one: the lawn.

Centuries ago, most Europeans (and their descendants on our side of the pond) produced food on their land. Whether in the form of kitchen gardens, farm fields, or pastures for raising livestock, most folks relied on their land in order to eat.

Only the rich could afford to flaunt their wealth by devoting large areas of land to an inedible, yet beautifully manicured, green lawn. Back then, without lawn mowers, lawn maintenance required paying a servant to “mow” the lawn with a scythe. Lawns were mega status symbols.



The usefulness of the lawn as a status symbol is a thing of the past. Today, if your lawn serves a function at all, it’s as a soccer field or play area for your family. For many Americans, lawns yield no benefit at all. You mow it, you water it, you weed it, you fertilize it. Why?

Your lawn, if you’ve got one, might be covered with snow right now. But the groundhog has spoken and spring will be upon us soon. America’s No. 1 crop is lawn turf. As a nation, we spend $30 billion on our 40 billion acres of lawn each year.

Think about it. Is it time to ditch your lawn?

Lawns were status symbols because they were wasteful. They’ve lost their status, but they’re still plenty wasteful. If all lawns were watered at the recommended levels, then we’d use 238 gallons of water per person, per day maintaining them during the growing season. Most of us also use fertilizer, which is made using fossil fuels and often pollutes our waterways. All to grow a crop we don’t eat.

If your family plays soccer on your lawn, maybe you’ve got a good reason to keep on mowing and watering. If your lawn serves no purpose, consider your other options.

In arid areas where green lawns mimicking Merry Olde England are particularly ridiculous, you can try xeriscaping. That means planting drought-tolerant plants, often native to where you live, that survive and even thrive with little to no work or maintenance on your part. Done right, a yard full of natives can be beautiful. You won’t sacrifice any of your yard’s aesthetics if you go this route, and your neighbors will respect your choice. After an initial investment, you’ll be able to kick back while your neighbors continue investing time and money into their lawns year after year.

Even in parts of the country with plenty of rain, native plants are a good way to go. They’re already adapted to your climate, so they don’t require watering or mowing. I like to choose native plants with edible berries or beautiful flowers, or ones that attract butterflies and songbirds.

If you don’t mind doing a bit more work, start growing some food in your own yard. Vegetable gardens are rewarding, but most vegetables must be planted each year. Fruit trees, on the other hand, live for many years and bear fruit year in and year out.

Instead of ripping out your lawn — a monumental task, no doubt — you can compost it in place. There are many ways to do this, but the principle is always the same: Deny your lawn sunlight and keep it moist. Within a few months, the grass will die and break down, enriching the soil and readying it for whatever is next.

With the economy still in a rough patch, spending money on lawn care makes no sense. This spring, turn yours into something more beautiful and useful.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

  • gwpinetree

    Thanks! I’m ready to join a war on lawns.

  • Duck Hollow Farm

    I’m adamantly anti-lawn, especially since I live in a water-stressed state. Actually, I posted my rant “Death to Infidel Lawns” on my WordPress blog back on 21 June 2008. Nice to know I’m not alone.

  • Victoria1555

    Not sure what area you guys live in but in the Northeast we get enough rain and when you make a lawn organic it pretty much takes care of itself. What’s the big deal?

  • Lori Lathrop

    victoria – hmmm….. how to respond to your question??? Do you mow your yard with a scythe… I didn’t think so – think of how much GAS is WASTED around the country mowing grass!!! Now think about how many area’s of the US that do not get enough rain fall – unless you live on the moon – you should be aware that the midwest had the worst drought last season on record. Just try to picture a golf course in Phoenix Arizona keeping it’s grass green – how much WATER is WASTED now multiply that by millions – Our country is the only country that does not put gray water in our toilets or to water our LAWNS – in other words millions of people are putting DRINKING water on their LAWN while thousands of people DIE every day in Africa because they do not have access to clean water. Victoria perhaps this is not a big deal to you because you only think of your own “organic” lawn – try to see the much bigger picture. I could go on about how fertilizers pollute our water and how we have killed off our biodiversity that BEE’s need to feed and butterflies etc…. but I”m afraid the concept might be lost on you.

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  • Real World

    Umm I believe lawns are there to look nice, and most grass types require no special attention or maintenance to grow normally. Its not lawns that are the enemy, its the assholes who like to water them every 2 hours.