The Changing Nature of the American Lawn

Girl with pink tutu and butterfly wings having a ball running across grass

Some of my favorite memories as a child are playing on my grandparents’ front lawn. I remember as a small child how expansive it seemed, and I loved the smell when Grandpa freshly cut it. 

My Grandpa took great pride in his perfectly manicured front lawn as did all the neighbors. They’d walk over, admire each other’s lawns, share tips and tricks for keeping them lush (and gopher free), and it was a unifying sense of pride for the neighborhood. 

I still get a rush of nostalgia when I think back on those times as I understand that along with our climate, the American lawn tradition is beginning to change. 

The death of the traditional lawn

As vast regions of the western United States move into the grip of the first mega drought in the last 1,200 years, a major fatality is our traditional American lawn. 

Brought into popularity in the late 19th century with the advent of the lawn mower, a lush green lawn became a symbol of prosperity and the American Dream. However, rapid population growth alongside water shortages now make a lush green lawn seem almost indulgent. 

American lawns require 9 billion gallons a day to keep green, according to EPA statistics. Outdoor water use often accounts for half or more of all residential water demand, especially in the hotter inland areas where population growth is now fastest. 

We continue to see outdoor water usage rise as population growth drives development and single-family home construction. This is all happening against decreased water supply as global temperatures increase and fresh water basins dry up.

Gas-powered lawn mowers and pollution

Water usage isn’t the only environmental issue associated with the traditional American lawn. 

Americans use 800 million gallons of gas every year for lawn equipment, and 17 million gallons of gas are spilled while refueling mowers — that’s more than was leaked by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. 

According to the EPA, hour per hour,  gasoline powered lawn mowers produce 11 times as much air pollution as a new car

Pesticides are also a problem. Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, and these chemicals can end up in our drinking water and waterways

From green lawns to xeriscaping

As we face climate change and water shortages, many Americans are considering future generations and beginning to do what so many environmentalists have been begging us to do for so long: getting rid of lawns.

How are we doing this? We’re replacing expanses of grass with artificial turf, or re-landscaping with native plants, or xeriscaping, which reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental watering.

Xeriscaping can reduce home water usage by 50 to 75%, which is a significant reduction in water and its associated costs. 

In California, many cities have offered residents conservation incentives to replace their lawns with xeriscaping, and it works! In Novato, for example, the city’s water department estimated that homeowners who chose xeriscaping saved 120 gallons of water a day

Drought-resistant landscaping in Burbank, California
Cory Doctorow | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The beauty of drought-resistant yards

People are often surprised how aesthetically pleasing a well designed, drought-resistant yard and outdoor area can look. Decorative granite rocks and beautiful, blooming native plants are very low-maintenance and have a natural beauty that can certainly rival a green lawn. 

While drought-resistant yards will always need to be maintained to keep the vegetation clear of weeds and overgrowth, it’s a low maintenance alternative to the traditional expansive green lawn, and the savings on water costs can’t be ignored. 

From green grass to cactus and succulents

Maybe the yard of the future will feature wildflowers and native grasses and succulent greenery, all jumbled together in assuring asymmetry. 

You can certainly create a unique look to your home and play with colors and plants to create a space that can look far more interesting than just a plot of green grass. 

Maybe someday our grandkids’ nostalgic memories of outdoor play will involve cacti and succulents, sand and rock, and natural habitat. Perhaps we will come to find all that chaos beautiful, and it will become our new American yard.

The changing nature of lawn care

As American lawns change, so is lawn care. Lawn Love is adapting to these changes. In California, where we’re based, sales of gas-powered lawn care equipment will be banned starting in 2024. As a result, lawn care gear will emit less pollution. 

In coming years, your lawn care will be battery-powered and your Lawn Love pro may be doing less mowing and more caring for your xeriscaped yard. 

I feel like Grandpa would approve of these changes to the traditional American lawn, and maybe even be happy to give gopher chasing a rest.

Main Photo Credit: Max Pixel | Public Domain

Angie Yamaguchi

Angie Yamaguchi is the People Operations Manager at Lawn Love, and when she's not busy helping keep the team happy and healthy, she enjoys dabbling in writing. She's also a mom to 2 boys, loves trail running, and tending to her thriving San Diego patio garden. She has a blooming climbing rosebush she's particularly proud of.