A Case for Getting Rid of Lawns? (Or Not)


backyard with wood deck and lawnhouse logic logo

By Lisa Kaplan Gordon

When I grew up, a lush, green lawn was every suburbanite's dream, a sign they'd achieved the American dream of homeownership and a weed-free front yard. Today, I still love a lawn. I love the look, feel and smell of grass. And I'm willing to pay almost $700 a year to the people -- mowers, weeders, aerators, chemical treaters -- who keep my turf looking great.

But suddenly, grass lawns are public enemy No. 1. Some drought-stricken places are banning new lawns because they are, basically, unquenchable. The anti-turf people say get rid of lawns because:
  • Mowers are loud and polluting.
  • Fertilizers contaminate the watershed.
  • Lawns gulp tens of thousands of gallons of water every time you irrigate them.
I live in Virginia, where we've got enough water -- for now. Still, in the heat of summer, I water at sunup. Not only because it's best for the lawn, but because I don't relish the fish eye I get from neighbors who don't share my love of fescue.

Why I Love Lawns

I believe lawns are a friend to man and beast. And so does the EPA, which says a healthy lawn:
  • Provides feeding grounds for birds, who munch on the insects and worms found beneath grass.
  • Prevents soil erosion.
  • Filters contaminants from rainwater runoff.
  • Absorbs airborne pollutants like dust and soot.
  • Converts carbon dioxide to oxygen, which helps clean the air.
Granted, plants and trees perform many of the same services. And many homeowners are replacing lawns with native species plants and even vegetable gardens. One of my neighbors, who has solar panels on her roof and a Chevy Volt in her driveway, has turned her front yard into a tomato and pumpkin patch. She's a lovely person. But her yard is a mess, with vines snaking every which way, leaf mulch and wood chips rotting in smoking mounds, wire cages dotting the landscape. Good luck trying to sell that house.

In fact, studies show that well-kept landscaping can add 15 percent to the price of a home. The studies don't parse the value of lawns alone, but a flawless, emerald lawn obviously makes a property look better and more saleable. I realize not everyone has a love affair with lawns. In fact, my HouseLogic colleagues have different views.

She Hates Grass

One HouseLogic contributor, Lara Edge, hates her lawn in Tennessee, which "serves no purpose except to sprout weeds," she says. Instead of mowing "outdoor carpeting," she'd rather grow vegetables in her front yard -- the only sunny, level spot on her property. Alas, her HOA prohibits veggies in the front yard, saying it hurts curb appeal.

"The notion that you're sacrificing curb appeal and beauty if you plant vegetables in your front yard is just plain wrong," Edge says. "A little nurturing goes a long way in creating edible beauty."

He Hates Weeds

John Riha, another HouseLogic contributor, loves his lawn; but the weeds love it more. "It's disappeared under a crazy quilt of every known type of common weed -- dandelions, crabgrass, nutsedge, purslane -- you name it, and I've got it," Riha says.

So, instead of waging a weed battle he won't win, he gradually replaces each weed he digs up with bulbs and plants indigenous to southern Oregon. Indigenous plants are much more likely to survive drought or cold snaps than plants imported from far-flung places. Plus, they're pretty.

Alternatives to Lawns

If no lawn, then what? Check out these ideas: This article was originally published on HouseLogic.

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