Why Less Lawn is Better

By Elaine Simmons

Maintaining a thick, green lawn is a potent symbol of the American dream, but these lawns are an environmental wasteland, polluting ecosystems and producing greenhouse gasses.

Grass fertilizers, which typically contain large concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous, release compounds like nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas almost 300 times more potent than CO2. Fertilizers also wash off lawns, into storm sewers, and eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay, where they poison animals and create algal blooms that result in oxygen free “dead zones.” Weed killing herbicides often contain toxic chemicals that have been linked with cancer; these chemicals also run off into our waterways. Another major polluter is the gas-powered mower, which the EPA says produces 11 times the CO2 emissions of an average new car in a given span of time. 

Consider removing at least some of your lawn and, ideally, planting native plants that support butterflies, bees, and birds. You can expand your plant beds yourself or hire a landscaper to do more extensive work. I have done both. To expand my plant beds, I covered the grass with overlapping sheets of newspaper (roughly 4–5 sheets thick) topped with 2–3 inches of compost and leaf mulch. The process is quite easy and within 2–3 months the grass was gone. Alternatively, a landscaper can skim off the grass with a shovel. It took 2 guys about 30 minutes to remove what was left of my front yard turf. 

For determining what to plant instead of grass, consult the NovaRegion website. Avoid English ivy, vinca (periwinkle) and pachysandra, which are invasive and will crowd out native species. English ivy is the worst because it kills trees.

Grass-free lawns can be beautiful, as with this property in Lyon Park. Besides esthetics, the benefits are many!