With a passion unmatched in other countries, American’s water, spray, weed, and mow between 35 million – 50 million acres of lawn, all without suspecting any negative impact on their health or environmental health.
In his book on the history of America’s obsession with the perfect lawn, Ted Steinberg writes, “The rise of the perfect lawn represents one of the most profound transformations ever in the history of the American landscape.” The industrial lawn, which is the single largest ‘crop’ produced in the United States, takes a greater environmental toll than most people realize.
Behind the Obsession: Big Business
The industrial turf lawn is a historically recent invention. In the late 1800’s, as inventors secured dozens of patents to modernize the lawn mower, a new landscape imperative was on the rise, marked by the words of Frank J. Scott in The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds: “A smooth, closely-shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban house.”
Since then, an industry born of the obsession for a perfectly manicured lawn has been collecting vast profits. Using the media and other marketing tactics to instill fear in those who do not succumb to the peer pressure of the quest for the perfect lawn, the lawn care industry in America currently rakes in about 40 billion dollars each year.
The Cost of the Industrial Lawn
Although grass can prevent soil erosion and storm-water runoff, the quest for the perfect turf has a dark side for the health of both the public and environment. A symbol of status, and maintained by enormous peer pressure, at what cost does a uniformly green, neatly edged, weed-free industrial turf lawn come?
From the book American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, the following list includes some of what the turf industry does not want you to know:
- Between 1994 and 2004, an estimated average of 75,884 Americans per year were injured using lawn mowers or roughly the same number of people injured by firearms.
- Using a gas-powered leaf blower for half an hour creates as many polluting hydrocarbon emissions as driving a car seventy-seven hundred miles at a speed of 30 miles per hour.
- Nearly half of the households sampled in one study failed to carefully read and follow the label directions when using pesticides and fertilizer.
- Approximately seven million birds die each year because of lawn-care pesticides.
- In the process of refueling their lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and other garden equipment, Americans spill about seventeen million gallons of gasoline every summer, or about 50 per cent more oil than marred the Alaskan coast during the notorious Exxon Valdez disaster.
- A single golf course in Tampa, Florida – a state that leads the nation with over a thousand of these emerald green creations – uses 178,800 gallons of water per day, enough to meet the daily water needs of more than twenty-two hundred Americans.
- Suburban households and lawn-care operators apply more herbicides per acre on lawns than most farmers spread to grow crops.
- Of the approximately sixty thousand landscape workers in California subject to leaf-blower noise every day, less than one in ten is likely to be wearing hearing protection.
- Diazinon, for decades a widely used lawn-care pesticide similar in chemical composition to nerve gas but touted as safe, was finally banned by the EPA in 2000, and yet a loophole allowed retailers to go right on selling it as late as 2002.
- Lawn chemicals are commonly tracked into the home, where they build up in the carpet, thus placing small children, whose developing bodies are far more vulnerable to toxins, at risk of chronic exposure.
According to the authors of Redesigning the American Lawn, we must rethink the way we care for our lawns in order to create an environmentally sustainable world.
8 Sustainable & Low-Maintenance Lawn Alternatives
In the Oxford English Dictionary, a lawn is defined as: ‘an area of short, regularly mown grass in the garden of a house or park’. This definition fits perfectly the description of an industrial lawn, but it is not the only definition of a lawn.
The following lawn alternatives not only require little water and maintenance, they represent sustainable ways to care for our little piece of the planet.
1. The Freedom Lawn
Creating a freedom lawn is simple and one of the best ways to decrease maintenance requirements and reduce your impact on the environment. Freedom lawns incorporate various grasses, broad leaf weeds, and many other native plant species that are able to survive the mowing process.
By simply abandoning frequent fertilization practices, pesticide spraying, watering, and rigorous mowing, your lawn will gradually become a freedom lawn. In the process your lawn may develop bare spots, but with the constant flux of seeds from neighboring herbs, shrubs, and trees, new plants will soon take hold.
Due to an increase in microorganisms, diversity of species and improvements in soil health, your freedom lawn will naturally become more disease resistant. Less frequent mowing will be required due to decreased growth rates from the lack of fertilization and irrigation.
2. The Rock Lawn
The sky is the limit for how you arrange and decorate your yard with decorative rocks and plants, so be creative and don’t be afraid to try something new. It’s your yard, and you can turn it into a beautiful work of maintenance-free art.
For some inspiration, refer to the book Rock Garden Design and Construction to help you get started._
3. The Chamomile Lawn
People have been accenting their homes with herbal lawns since the medieval times. A fragrant, soothing alternative to grass, a chamomile lawn is easy to install and a treat to walk on.
Because it grows only to 2 1/2 inches in height, there is no need to mow chamomile. Instead, the occasional trim with garden sheers can be used to level out uneven growth.
Chamomile turf is quick and easy to lay, and it releases a refreshing apple fragrance into the air.
Click here_to buy Chamomile Lawn Seeds
4. The Thyme Lawn
Creeping Thyme is a low maintenance herbal lawn alternative that requires no mowing, watering or care, and can take a lot of abuse. When you step on the fragrant herbs, they emit a lovely scent.
Creeping Thyme is suitable as a lawn substitute in small areas, and an ideal ground cover to use between stepping stones or near to patios and walkways. Once it blooms, the thyme lawn becomes a carpet of beautiful, lavender flowers that lasts much of the season.
Click here to buy Creeping Thyme Lawn Seeds
5. The Peanut Lawn
Ideal for warmer climates, Perennial peanut is an attractive, low-maintenance ground cover that blooms all summer long with bright yellow flowers.
This robust perennial plant is drought-tolerant and requires little or no watering after it is established.
Once your plants are established, you can easily create cuttings and share this magnificent plant with friends.
6. The Yarrow Lawn
Yarrow (Achillea spp.) is a mat-forming perennial plant with upright foliage that resembles grass from a distance.
It needs little water and infrequent mowing, yet stands up to foot traffic very well.
Yarrow ground cover requires provides a low-maintenance lawn that makes your home stand out.
Click here to buy Low Growing Grass and Flower Seeds with Yarrow
7. The Selfheal Lawn
Selfheal is a short, grassland perennial with bright green oval leaves, and violet, hooded flowers. This lawn alternative plant flowers from June to September.
Selfheal is found on grasslands such as meadows, pasture, lawns, roadsides and woodland clearings.
On lawns and pastures, Selfheal can become abundant and spread to form large patches. Selfheal is a plant of the deadnettle family, and is like a magnet for bumble bees.
Click here to buy Selfheal Lawn Seeds
8. The Leptinella Squalida Lawn
This evergreen from New Zealand grows only to a height of 1 inch. The Leptinella Squalida adds beauty to any landscape, with tiny white flowers in spring, and bronze colored leaves in fall and winter.
Strong and steppable, with little to no mowing or watering, Leptinella Squalida makes an excellent alternative to turf lawn.
Click here to buy Leptinella Squalida Lawn Seeds
Learn More with Books about The Lawn
|The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession||American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn||Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony|