The Great American Lawn

Another Thursday evening, and another useless 45 minutes spent mowing my lawn. Well, not totally useless, since my property at least looks maintained. But this is coming with an environmental cost—namely the spew of particulates and other smoky stuff from my lawnmower—not to mention the gas I am using. Ugh. Can my lawn care really be so contrary to my desire to incorporate sustainability into my life?

Upon further review, I have decided that my lawn actually rates pretty well on the sustainability front. This is really most based on what I do not do versus what I actually do. I could dump in fertilizer and weed killers every year, but I do not. I could use the hose to water the lawn every couple of days or so, but I do not. I basically just leave it alone, except for mowing it when starts to look a little straggly— enough to make sure that my property looks maintained. The additional thing I probably should do is to have the lawn aerated each fall. That helps with the soil compaction and gives the grass room to grow.

I recently read an article about “sustainable lawns for a better future.” I was happy to read that my overall regimen of “let it be” was actually pretty much in line with what they (Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia) recommend for keeping a lawn “sustainable”—literally as if I have the opportunity to be the environmental steward of the patch of property known as my lawn. That was pretty cool. The overall philosophy is to not do too much to make my lawn “pretty”.

My lawn is certainly not real pretty. I figure, for example, that I have approximately equal amounts of grass, clover, and weeds. Fortunately, I have also learned that some percentage of clover is more than OK in my lawn. If my goal is to grow a weed-free lawn, this combination of weeds, clover, and grass would be a problem. However, the important thing is that I have no real need to look at a beautiful lawn—just one that looks maintained.

But having a lawn that is merely maintained is not enough in many quarters. I happened to be in Orlando this weekend, and the local paper had a column from someone who wants to replace the ubiquitous sod “grasses” that many homeowners associations demand with some more “Florida friendly” variety—or more native to the Florida environment and not manufactured like sod pallets are. These sod “grasses” look elegantly pristine but are also very high maintenance in terms of water (a critical issue in Florida), fertilizer, and weed-killing pesticides that combine to make these pallets very environmentally costly (not to say financially costly). The native varieties are easier to maintain and are better for the environment.

What struck me about the article is that Florida actually passed a law forbidding homeowner associations from mandating sod grass. Under the law, they would have to allow an individual homeowner to replace sod with some more naturally occurring growth, like trees, shrubs, rocks, and different varieties of grass. Many people in Florida, as well as the other states, live in communities with a “homeowners association” that has the power to mandate the type of lawn you have. So this law potentially affects a lot of people and a lot of lawn area.

I hope the Florida law is part of a growing trend where more and more property owners come to the conclusion that having a pristine lawn is not the goal of lawn maintenance. My attitude is that a lawn should look fairly clean, and generally green—both in color and how it is being maintained.


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2 Responses to “The Great American Lawn”

  1. Dennis R. Mahon Says:

    Thank you for your insights… I have similar feelings but just got a “friendly reminder” from my homeowners assn about the grassless areas in my front lawn. So I’m searching for suggestions… and your article will help me stay the course of not going crazy sodding but finding another way. Thank you.

    • leoscribe Says:


      Thanks for your comments. I was very intrigued to find out that many homeowner’s groups enforce sod. I had no idea, and hopefully some of them will loosen that over time.


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