Mailing List Sign Up

Pros and Cons of Lawns

Report From PIA – January 25

Gardening blogs and gardeners on twitter have been abuzz with talk about the study done at the University of California Irvine about the environmental impact of lawns. Basically, it says that although turf sequesters carbon in the soil, the care of lawns negate this benefit.

My immediate thought was that all lawns are not equal. I understand that the study focused on the turf in parks, and this is grass that is maintained by mowing, fertilizing, liming, dethatching, and watering. These public lawns and golf courses depend heavily on herbicides and insecticides as well.

Given the fact that all lawn products need to be manufactured and shipped, and most of the machines maintaining those lawns burn fossil fuels, it’s not surprising that the researchers concluded that greenhouse gas emissions would be lower if lawns didn’t exist.

And yet, all lawns are not equal. If we learn to water and fertilize less, so that we don’t have to mow as frequently, and if we aren’t weed and grub phobic so we don’t have to use herbicides and pesticides, couldn’t turf be less environmentally harmful?

I like having some lawn, but I don’t need or want a monoculture of grass. Weeds are welcome in my turf, and if the crows and skunks dig in search of grubs, well, they are welcome to them.

Instead of condemning all lawns, perhaps it’s beneficial to be thoughtful about the role that they play in our landscapes and our lives. Turf provides places for us to play. It serves as a good frame for flowerbeds and shrub borders. Lawns also function as an area that is inhospitable to many wild animals, since it leaves them exposed, and this helps us to keep those critters that we don’t want in our homes and gardens at bay.

There are reasons to plant a lawn, but not, perhaps, to keep up that grass-only, chemical saturated turf that Americans have gotten into the habit of maintaining.

For all of the things we humans do, there are thoughtful, less-toxic ways to proceed. When we approach all of our actions with the knowledge that everything is connected to everything else, we realize that we have many options and there are always better choices.

A lawn provides a break between hardscape and garden beds. Turf can be a green pathway between one part of the yard and another.

A lawn provides a break between hardscape and garden beds. Turf can be a green pathway between one part of the yard and another.

4 comments to Pros and Cons of Lawns

  • the last lawn I had was full of weeds and died away every summer from lack of water. I hated it. In my new house I planted a clover lawn. Except for whacking it back once a year I do nothing to it. It stays green all summer. I love it.

  • I love clover too, Melanie! I seeded it in with the grass at Poison Ivy Acres the first spring we were here. When I was a kid, that’s what a lawn was… a lot of clover, and some grass. Bring back the good old days.

  • Dear C.L.,

    When our young grandson comes to visit, besides working in the garden or cooking with Grammie and Grampie, he likes to play croquet, horseshoes, and badminton — weather permitting. We do it on our so-called lawn, full of clover, weeds, ajuga and who knows what else. We would not be able to do it on a prairie, or if every square inch of our small lot was a garden.

    For us, we need some turf.

    Your blog is the best I’ve read. If OK, I would love to quote you. Keep up your inspiring words.

    Thank you! ~ Hilda

  • Hilda,
    Thanks! Yes, I agree about some “lawn” being a good thing. Your comment about the lawn full of weeds and ajuga reminded me of the time when we lived in a rental on the North Shore. We didn’t do anything to the grass other than mow it. In the spring some little yellow buttercups bloomed along with the purple ajuga. I thought it looked like an impressionist painting, but clearly others did not because I began finding lawn company info tucked in my door, and got phone calls from the same. Once someone called from Lawn Doctor, a franchise at that time, and my response was, “Oh we’re way past Lawn Doctor, but if you see Lawn Mortician tell him to give me a call.”