Preferring Nature to Conformity: Wild And Free Lawn Alternatives Are Better

By Teo Spengler | July 4, 2020
by Teo Spengler
July 4, 2020

“American as apple pie,” the saying goes, but who has time to make pies these days other than maybe at Thanksgiving? The more appropriate expression might be “American as a well-trimmed lawn,” since a green, grassy expanse of yard has been an overt sign of the American dream for generations.

That’s changing slowly, and I for one am glad. If I want to experience a patch of uniform green grass with no weeds, I’ll go to a golf course.

Truth about Lawns – at Least How I See It

In my own space, I prefer a little wildness and a lot of diversity as opposed to growing traditional green lawns, and it’s better for the planet. Here’s why.

Well-Kept, Green Lawns Signal Conformity

The American lawn, green, uniform and well cut, is a manifestation of the American dream of home ownership. It signals to others that the owner is a success and will be a good neighbor. It also suggests your socio-economic character, since maintaining a traditional lawn is expensive and time-consuming.

In fact, many homeowner associations require lawn maintenance in their regulations. It gives a house and a neighborhood a certain status, suggesting both that status is important to the homeowner and conformity to the rules of status. No thank you.

Lawns Involve a Battle Against Nature

A deeper truth about lawns is that they may look “natural,” but they are not natural. Have you ever found a typical American lawn in the middle of a wild area? Nature loves diversity like that found in a meadow or a prairie, where many different life forms can be sustained by a vibrant mix of plant life.

To create and maintain a lawn is to fight against whatever landscape and ecosystem nature provided. All that grows on the land naturally must be removed before the lawn is seeded, and that’s just the beginning. Think of the work required: the constant fertilization, irrigation, weeding, care and mowing. That takes out an entire ecosystem, from beneficial bugs, butterflies and birds to native habitat.

Traditional Lawns Destroy the Environment

Traditional lawns not only remove natural ecosystems, but they also pollute the environment. Americans rely heavily on toxic chemicals to take care of lawns. We fertilize our lawns with chemicals, get rid of bugs and grubs with chemicals, and mow the grass with gas-powered movers.

When you hear that some 40 million acres of lawns exist in the contiguous United States alone, it’s easy to understand the detrimental impact that much habitat loss and that many chemicals will have on the earth. How much better – and to my eyes, more beautiful – it would be to replace a uniform, one-species lawn with a mix of different native plants. These lawn alternatives are much better.

Native plants require little maintenance after establishment, need minimal irrigation and no fertilizer, and provide forage and housing for pollinators and useful insects. It’s a win-win option that could make a significant difference in the health of the planet.

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  • Suzi
    Comment added July 11, 2020Reply

    Agree with some others here. Excellent concept with which I am totally on board. However, what do we plant instead?? Loved the article. Thought it was going to offer suggestions... where to begin... something. Thanks for the inspiration! We need some support about how to make this happen.

  • Calyxia
    Comment added July 10, 2020Reply

    It sounds good, but where are your suggestions for the alternatives? For me, the alternative seems to be giving full reign to foxtails, in their many vicious and thoroughly unpleasant varieties -- not fun! Please fill in this gross omission! or your idea (which I agree with in theory) will be lost to most or all readers.

  • Christina Dorward
    Comment added July 7, 2020Reply

    I am glad to see your view, as it is mine as well. I hope you can continue spreading the word. There are a few places in PA that sell native plants, and I am trying to replace some of my flowers with those. It is difficult to figure out how to arrange them so they look pleasing. I already have several and there is a lot of increase in bees and other insects. It's a lot of researching!

  • Michele
    Comment added July 6, 2020Reply

    My goal is to not have a lawn. I have made great progress on my little half-acre city lot. I have ducks and chickens in the back and there is an orchard of various dwarf fruit trees as well as a small pond in their fenced in area. The front and side yard is almost complete with multiple garden beds and walkways weaving throughout. I probably have about a quarter of the property left to convert but we have already noticed a HUGE difference. Pollinators and wildlife are abundant and I only need to water the veggies during a drought now.

  • N. DeNazario
    Comment added July 6, 2020Reply

    I would love to see an article that outlined how to grow a small prairie instead of having my urban lawn and I wish there were some landscaping companies that could be recommended for that as well. I need something pertinent for Denver, CO. Thanks.

  • Lisa Stege
    Comment added July 6, 2020Reply

    I recently purchased a home in Southern Arizona with a large backyard that has a lawn.
    I have reduced the size of the lawn, but there is only so much I can do as far as spoiling the look and function of the yard if I remove more lawn. I wish that your article made some suggestions as to the alternatives. I do need a low ground cover that can be walked on for some areas, and I already have border plants spaced out and landscape gravel on the considerable pathways.

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