Please Stop the Lawn Care!

May 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Blog, Design, Permaculture, Weeds

Americans spend about 40 billion dollars per year on lawn care. Why do people devote all that time, effort, and money?


The Origin of the Grass Lawn

I have read accounts of the first lawn being at the Taj Mahal, but others say the first close cropped grass lawns came from wealthy landowners of 17th century England. I believe the current American obsession with lawns began there. Most of the available grasslands in England were grazed primarily by sheep. Only the wealthy could hire human labor to tend the grass around their homes. They “mowed” with scythes and hand weeded to give them the “perfect” lawn. The perfectly kept lawn became a symbol of wealth and status.


European immigrants brought the lawn to America, but like England, it was still confined to the wealthy elite. No doubt many a commoner looked on in envy at the manicured lawns of the elite. Industrialization, petroleum products, and the lawn mower finally put the lawn within reach of the average American, but it was still a mostly rural affair. The rampant growth of suburbia put the lawn front and center of housing across the country.     


Now we have codes and HOA’s that force people to maintain their “lawns” to a certain height, outlaw front yard gardens, and encourage uniformity and mono-crops.

One of my few lawn areas, simply because I can't get my brush cutter up the bank. In five years, this "lawn" has never been treated with anything.

What’s the harm, I like the way my “perfect” lawn looks.

Let’s set aside the ridiculous elitist premise that the lawn is based on, and think about it logically and honestly. Imagine you just built a house, I was your local landscaper, and we had a totally honest conversation. You called me up and asked me to come by to recommend a landscape.

 So I came by and said, “Mr. or Mrs. so and so this is what I want to do with your property. I want to install a grass lawn just like everyone else in the neighborhood. I know how important it is for you to fit in and follow the herd. It is innate in our DNA after all.”

You said, “Great I love to fit in. It makes me feel safe and secure. I’m sure there will be many benefits to my new lawn, since everyone else is doing it.”

“There are some benefits for sure. Your neighbors will be so impressed. It will be green and completely weed free, just like theirs. Your dog will have a nice green bathroom, and your kids can have a place to play.”

“How can you be so sure that it will be green and weed free?”

“Don’t worry we have a fantastic pre-emergent herbicide that we’ll apply to the soil to prevent a lot of those pesky weeds from coming up, and the ones that do manage to grow, we’ll spray those with another herbicide. Then we’ll apply fertilizers four or five times a year to keep the lawn green. Then we’ll apply an insecticide for the grubs and fungicides as needed for disease. Oh, I almost forgot, we need to install an irrigation system, because the grass will go dormant in the summer if you don’t keep up the watering, especially with the added watering requirements of heavily fertilized lawns. We can also do the spring start up and shut down for you as well as repairs. That reminds me, we will also need to mow it more often, because it’s going to grow faster with all that water and fertilizer. And of course we will have to aerate and seed it every year. Those big machines compact the soil pretty quickly causing more weeds that we have to spray.”

“That sounds like a lot of work, and my kids don’t like to play in a lawn. They like to play in the woods.”

“It certainly is a lot of work, but that’s what I’m here for. We’ve got this lawn care stuff down to a science. We’ve got big mowers, spreaders, sprayers, aerators, and all the fuel we need to run them.”    

“It doesn’t seem very beneficial to me. I mean I’m paying you a bunch of money every year to give me something that doesn’t give me anything, except my neighbor’s approval. What would happen if I didn’t put any chemicals on the lawn?”

“Well that would be cheaper for sure, but you would have “weeds” everywhere and your neighbors would be annoyed. Granted weeds grow to help uncompact the soil, fix nitrogen, and accumulate nutrients, but they look so ugly. I mean they’re all different shapes, textures, have flowers, and a lot of them you can actually eat. Who the hell would want that? Wouldn’t it be better to kill the weeds and make sure it’s toxic to eat anything from your lawn? I thought you wanted to fit in. Do I need to call the HOA on you?”

“So let me get this straight. If I don’t treat the lawn at all, other plants will grow that help the soil negating the need to treat the lawn, mow it so often, aerate, or irrigate? Plus I wouldn’t have to worry about my dog ingesting poison and healthy food would grow that I could eat?”

“Yeah but nobody does that. You’ll be the crazy hippy in the neighborhood that doesn’t like to waste money and resources, damage the environment, or ingest poisons.”

“I don’t mind having a small lawn area for picnics or playing catch, but I would rather it be more like a meadow with many plants than a monocropped lawn filled with poison. I would only have to mow it a couple of times a month and I could have a garden and grow some of my own food without worrying about pesticides.”

“But then you wouldn’t be paying me all that money. That would be terrible for the economy. Don’t be so stingy. You hippies are always so cheap.”

“Oh, I’m still going to spend money on my property, but I’ve decided to spend it with someone who cares about what my property can do for my family, someone who cares about people and cares about the earth. I met with a permaculture designer earlier today, and he’s going to install an herb spiral near my front door so I can easily cut herbs for dinner. He’s going to install a food forest connected to a swale system that will be beautiful, provide for its own irrigation, and provide the play area that my kids prefer. And to top it off, we can harvest beautiful organic produce. He’s going to leave us some lawn area, but he called it a mowable meadow and it will be very low maintenance.”

“That’s different. I thought you wanted to fit in.”

“Oh, it’s different, but that’s the beauty of it. I will have the most beautiful “landscape” in the neighborhood. And my “landscape” will produce the healthiest food and environment for my family. As far as fitting in goes, I think my neighbors will be envious. They will become fast friends as I give them fresh produce over the years. They will want their own permaculture gardens. I will make sure to keep ahold of my permaculture designer’s number.”

Mowable Meadow


For eleven years, I was the majority owner and President of a successful lawn and landscape company in the suburbs of D.C. I don’t think people realize what they are doing to their property and themselves when they treat their property like it’s the 17th hole at Augusta National. The wasted money, water, fuel, labor, and environmental damages are staggering. There is a better way. Please stop and think for yourself. Start the trend in your neighborhood. Find a permaculture designer. For professional landscapers out there, I would jump on the permaculture freight train that’s coming your way. You can either be on it working with Mother Nature, or you can get run over trying to work against her.     

Lawn area between the gardens, acts as a staging area for lots of activity. Also, never treated and infrequently mowed.

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