What does a lawn cost?
Your first thought upon seeing this question is probably about maintenance; how much will fertilizer, seed, pesticides, or a lawnmower cost? As it stands, keeping your lawn green – if you’ve got a conventional one – in and of itself is not a green decision. Pristine lawns have an environmental price tag – one that involves water quality, water wastage and runoff, habitats for pollinators, air quality, and biodiversity.
The Effects of Runoff
As of 2017, according to the EPA, half of the average American family’s water usage is dedicated to watering lawns and gardens, and “landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day.” Gas consumption nears 200 million gallons, and pesticide consumption is approximately 70 million pounds, both per annum.
Lawn chemicals, including herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers, end up in runoff from lawns and eventually make their way into storm sewers and local bodies of water, containing excess nitrates, phosphorus, and potassium that results in harmful algal blooms that crowd out native fish and insects in their aquatic habitat. Not only do lawn chemicals pose a risk to local ecosystems, but they are also harmful to wildlife, pets, and humans. It can increase the risk of lymphoma in pets. Studies have suggested that the risk of several neurological diseases, cancers, and deficiencies can be influenced by exposure to lawn chemicals.
Mowers and Pollination
Speaking of humans—everyone has a personal stake in the survival of the bees, butterflies, mosquitos, and other pollinators, seeing as they’re integral to the continued food supply and therefore the relatively comfortable continuation of the human species. In addition, pristine lawns are yet another uninhabitable space for pollinators that could otherwise use the space to transfer pollen and reproduce. Native bee species across the USA and worldwide have experienced major population declines that are largely due to habitat loss. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service conducted a study that found that less frequently mowed lawns hosted more native bee species; the “sweet spot” appears to be two weeks. Even small changes like this, if certain limitations prevent you from transforming your current lawn space, can help reduce the negative impact of lawns and/or their related maintenance.
What needs to change?
To that end, mitigating the impact of uniform suburban lawn maintenance doesn’t require doing away with them entirely. The eradication of a typical turfgrass lawn isn’t the objective of a “no-mow” movement.
So what are the alternatives?
- Be as environmentally conscious as possible when maintaining your lawn.
- Naturalize your lawn.
- Convert your lawn to a “no-mow” lawn.
There are four types of “no-mow lawns” as the NRDC states: “1) naturalized or unmowed turf grass that is left to grow wild; 2) low-growing turf grasses that require little grooming (most are a blend of fescues); 3) native or naturalized landscapes where turf is replaced with native plants as well as noninvasive, climate-friendly ones that can thrive in local conditions; and 4) yards where edible plants—vegetables and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs—replace a portion of turf. (According to the National Gardening Association, one in three families now grows some portion of the food they consume.)”
See this NRDC article for advice about proper lawn conversion.
To summarize, you should check for incentives and local ordinances, get expert advice from a landscaper or a neighbor that has naturalized their yard, weed correctly, and plant native species.
Want to learn more about ways to help the environment? Check out this article from another GirlSpring contributor.
Lerman, S., 20 June 2018. Want To Help Bees? Take A Break From Lawn Mowing | US Forest Service. [online] Fs.usda.gov. Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2020].
Lerman, Susannah B.; Contosta, Alexandra R.; Milam, Joan; Bang, Christofer. 2018. To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards. Biological Conservation. 221: 160-174. https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/55816
MARC, 2020. Lawn Chemicals. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2020].
Paul, E., 20 June 2019. Lawns May Be Green, But They’Re Terrible For The Environment. [online] Ggwash.org. Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2020].
Talbot, M., 30 September 2016. More Sustainable (And Beautiful) Alternatives To A Grass Lawn. [online] NRDC. Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2020].
Watersense, 2 February 2017. US Outdoor Water Use | Watersense | US EPA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2020].