Maintained with pride and diligence, clean-cut grass lawns are a staple of the American suburb and home. Yet, behind the beauty of these vast green expanses lie the consumptive and inefficient water practices needed to maintain them; it is time for Americans to explore the plethora of more practical, and what many say better looking, alternatives to grass lawns.
A representation of the eccentric culture of American consumerism, grass lawns came to fruition during the nation’s unprecedented era of growth in the decades following World War II. Despite their impractical nature, grass lawns planted themselves in communities across America via federally financed suburbs, and further advancements in sprinkler system, seeding, and lawn mower technologies. While the United States found itself fighting wars across the world, Americans at home took up their own fight against weeds. As such, the lawn boom continued into the present day, where millions of Americans inefficiently maintain lawns to satisfy standards telling them to do so.
Maintaining a grass lawn is time consuming and expensive; a caretaker has to use copious amounts of water, energy, and money to construct a lawn that ultimately looks like everyone else’s. Annually, it is estimated that landscape irrigation accounts for nearly one-third of all residential water usage —nine billion gallons a day — while nearly half of that water is expected to be wasted due to leakage or evaporation. A further NASA study estimates that grass cultivation covers three times more land than that of any other crop. For a plant which serves no purpose other than to uphold societal standards, this is a significant price to pay.
Luckily for the environment, there remain sustainable alternatives. Rain-wise, pollinator, edible, or succulent gardens are all alternatives put forth by the California Department of Water Resources, which provides online guides to beautiful garden constructions using a diverse range of plants and innovative irrigation techniques. These styles of landscaping, which are only a few of many, are more sustainable, diverse, and attainable for all, saving an estimated 55 percent of water as compared to the traditional grass lawn.
Behind these diverse, sustainable, and low-maintenance gardens, it is time to reform the standard of monotonous, depletive, and unobtainable grass lawns that have dominated the American landscape. Starting small, these new landscapes can be a step in the directions of environmental sustainability, social equity, and expressive individuality in a progressing America.