It is iconic. The American lawn: green, neatly cut and free of any plant but grass. No violets. No clover. Definitely no dandelions!
It ranks right up there with motherhood, baseball and apple pie as a symbol of America. Think of those lush, green golf courses in the deserts out west, or the photos of Phoenix transplants from the Midwest with lawns. The American lawn is more than a stereotype – it is an expensive addiction.
Moreover, like most addictions, lawns are expensive. A little background:
The most common species of grass used for lawns in this area include red fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Both are “cool season” grasses because they turn green and begin growing when it is still cool during the day. In fact, cool season grasses prefer cool wet conditions, and survive winter cold and summer droughts by going dormant.
Did you read that? Let me repeat: the grass species that comprise our lawns grow best in cool, wet conditions and go dormant during hot, dry (and very cold) weather.
In other words, it is necessary to water these species during hot, dry weather to keep them green and growing. But, what do Americans do? We don’t just water our lawns, we fertilize them to help them grow thicker and faster. And, the more they grow, the more we mow. I don’t know about anyone else, but I do not want my lawn growing any faster or thicker than it does already.
Did you know that up to 70% of household water use goes to outside watering? And, if you live in town, you pay for every gallon of water you use.
But it’s not just water use that goes up to maintain lawns. A study by Yale University estimated that U.S. residents use more than 600,000,000 gallons of gas to mow and trim lawns each year. Cutting lawn mowing in the US by just one percent would save 6 million gallons of gasoline a year. A ten percent cut would save 60 million gallons of gas each year.
The easiest way to cut back on mowing is to let the lawn go dormant in the summer. Stop watering the lawn for a few weeks, the grass will stop growing and the mower will sit idle.
Another way to keep the mower in the garage is by planting a slow-grow grass mix. Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin (www.prairienursery.com) sells a fescue mix that only needs to be mowed a couple of times a year. Once established, the slow-growing lawn doesn’t need to watered or fertilized either.
Converting part of the lawn to a native plant garden is one more way to reduce the need for mowing and watering. Native grasses and wildflowers are beautiful, drought-resistant and low maintenance.
Reducing the area of lawn on your property is one aspect of Conservation @ Home, a program that recognizes property owners who provide habitat for nature in their yards. To find more information about the program, click here.