It’s no wonder that we are addicted to lawns. It is quick and easy to landscape with, and most of all, it’s affordable. In fact, grass is the cheapest groundcover you can put down, but in the end are you really saving money? Water may still be relatively inexpensive, but add in the cost of purchasing and maintaining your weed whackers, leaf blowers, lawn mowers or that weekly bill from your lawn care company, and the pennies add up. Not to mention the gasoline to power those machines, and to fill the trucks to get those machines and people to you. Or the cost of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to keep it looking like a lush green carpet.
This is all part of what’s called the Turf-Grass Industry. Americans spend 60 BILLION dollars on our lawns. Not just on residential lawns, but in stadiums, along highways, and around commercial properties as well. After World War II, residential homes with perfectly square lawns popped up all across America. Where front yards were once animal pens and gardens, lawns quickly became the popular icon of upper and middle class Americans.
Today, nearly 2% of America is covered in lawn. That’s more than double the amount of paved roads in this country, which make up about 1.3%. In other words, lawns cover 40.5 million acres or roughly an area the size of Iowa.
Just think about how much water you use on your lawn: Ten gallons? Fifteen gallons? Actually, it’s closer to 28 gallons! The same study showed that people living in arid areas use even more water – up to 32 gallons of water per square foot. It only makes sense that when you are trying to grow a plant that likes cool, moist soil, of course you would need more water. Considering that in order to grow lawn well, it is recommended to water up to one inch per year, multiply water to acreage and the amount of water used is hard to comprehend. That’s 20 TRILLION (yes with a T) gallons of water a year.
It may be easy to point our fingers at agriculture. After all, we can see the rainbows of irrigation spray for miles and miles through the ‘breadbasket’ states. The entirety of water used on crops, however, is only slightly over what we use on lawns at 30 trillion gallons of water. We are essentially using almost as much water on something that does not provide food for us.
I’m not saying don’t have a lawn. I get it. You have kids and dogs who want to romp and play, and who doesn’t like a cool place to picnic with the grass between your toes? My question is: do we really need grass in every nook and cranny? Does it make sense to put lawn between highways? Or along black pavement where the grass will fry no matter how much we water it? Do we really need acres and acres of lawn just to look pretty in front of our homes?
Where could you add a shrub bed? Grow a garden? Put in drought tolerant flowers like lavender or hedge roses? There are many, many options to beautify your yard without the hassle of taking care of a lawn, or the waste and pollution that goes along with having one.
Less than 1% of our planet’s water is drinkable, and with our growing population, and the effects of global warming, maybe it’s time we stop arguing over who’s wasting and who’s polluting water, and start doing something about it ourselves.