Drought conditions making your lawn brown? Spray painting your yard green? (there really are companies doing this). Here are some ideas that can save you time, money, energy and WATER.
It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century after the invention of the rotary mower and the development of seed mixes that the average American could have a lawn. The word “lawn” originally meant an area of meadow that was grazed by livestock. Early European lawns were composed of thyme, chamomile and clover, not turf grass. A recent NASA sponsored study found approximately 32 million acres of land in the U.S. covered by lawn, making it the largest single irrigated “crop” in the nation
To keep lawns green, weed-free and mowed, nearly 30 billion dollars were spent in 2002 on lawn care at an annual cost of 1,200 dollars per household. (Note: these are the stats for 13 years ago so there is even more money involved.) California water groups estimate that between 40-70% of all residential water use is for lawn maintenance. A 1,000 square foot lawn uses between 25,000-40,000 gallons of water per year. This is one reason why water agencies throughout California are asking homeowners to reduce or eliminate the amount of landscape devoted to a lawn. Some cities offer “cash for grass” programs as a further incentive.
Perhaps a lawn isn’t even needed. If a grassy area is really just space filler consider hardscapes, rock gardens or un-thirsty groundcovers. This is especially important with slopes that tend to shed water faster than it can soak in. Water draining into street gutters discharges directly or indirectly into streams, rivers and the ocean. Run off from landscapes frequently contains fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
These lists are not exhaustive. There are many other wonderful plant options to explore. The challenge is to understand that our recent drought conditions can teach us valuable lessons for living sustainably. Making water-wise choices in our landscapes…be they ditches, eroded hillsides or lawns. Having a smaller lawn or replacing it entirely would meet each of these principles—an inspiring and sustainable goal.
My thanks to John at North Star Nursery in Fort Bragg for his suggestions and to the outstanding and educational 2015 Bountiful Gardens catalog. Simply Succulent will be carrying selected seed packets of some of the plants suggested in this article.