Turf War

There is something about the ubiquitous suburban lawn in a place like Texas (or much of America west of the Mississippi for that matter) that is unequivocally silly. Depending on conditions, a 25-by-40-foot yard can drink up to 10,000 gallons of water each summer. In places like central Texas, lawns account for 60 percent of urban water use. Keeping America’s grass perfectly cropped requires 38 million lawnmowers, most of which use horrendously polluting two-stroke engines. Americans apply more than 70 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns with obvious detrimental effects on human health.

Ironically, the very idea of the lawn is not even American – it’s British invention. Yet more than half the country’s households, 60 million Americans, continue to pour to the tune of 30 billion dollars into the lawn care industry on a yearly basis. This doesn’t even include the untold millions of dollars more that Americans spend on professional lawn-care services. And the question that few people deign to ask is “why”?

The simple answer is that the lawn, for many Americans, is more than just a form of horticulture. The lawn is a cultural institution complete with its own set of values and rules. For some, lawn care is almost a neurotic obsession. It must be green, it must be watered, and it must be cut. For others, it is a status symbol, or an indicator of having “made it” in America – much like the white picket fence or two-car garage. It is so powerful, that many extreme lawn fanatics living in areas unsuitable for lawns have resorted to putting in imitation grass made of polyethylene or other fossil fuel derivatives just to have a “beautiful” lawn. Perhaps it could be excused as an aesthetic practice or tradition, a kind of mass monoculture, but when we consider the economic and environmental expenses of pursuing such a environmentally costly practice, one must question why we still do what we do in this day and age.

The solution to this seemingly absurd fixation with the stereotypical grassy villain is not to toss them out altogether, but to adapt them appropriately to regional climates while still fulfilling our aesthetic desires. This is known as “xeriscaping”, and has become an increasingly popular alternative preferred by homeowners and eco-builders alike.

4 Xeriscaping Techniques for a “Green” Lawn

1. Use drip irrigation

A proven and effective way of cutting water usage by 50% to 70% is to use drip irrigation as opposed to traditional sprinkler set-ups. Traditional sprinklers typically throw water high into the air where it is immediately, and wastefully, blown away by the wind or evaporates.

2. Limit lawn area and shape

Limit lawn area to places that it will be used for recreation and not simply looked at. Areas other than usable space in the front of the house need not have grass cover. Generally, the shape of grassy areas should match the radius of the sprinkler, typically a circle, for maximum efficiency. The corners, nooks and crannies of a typically rectangular yard can be planted with bushes, flowers, or other types of groundcover that aren’t as voraciously thirsty for water as turf grass.

3. Use native, drought-resistant plants

Forget Kentucky Bluegrass. In places like Texas, it is much better to plant Buffalo Grass or other native species that stay greener during times of drought and require no more water than what naturally falls from the sky. For areas that don’t need turf grass, consider planting drought-adapted flowering perennials like Autumn sages or Pavonias that require little water yet add seasonal splashes of color to your yard. Eco-conscious builders, such as Native offer a variety of sustainable planting options that go beyond the usual suburban fare.

4. Mulch, mulch, and more mulch!

Mulching is always a good idea. A layer of mulch will hold and retain moisture in the ground while inhibiting the growth of weeds. Eco-builders, such as Native, will even recycle leftover Cedar into mulch for a truly “green” yard. In fact the mulch need not even be made from wood. Eco-builders can just about mulch and recycle anything, even old tires, to shape the terrain for drainage.